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Council approves zoning law

In a move sure to affect future development on Central Campus, the Durham City Council adopted an ordinance Monday night that established a new university-college District but prevented any large retail centers aimed at the off-campus population from falling into the new zoning district.

This new district will preserve specific standards for development at the edges of a university campus to insure compatibility with surrounding non-university properties. The final ordinance resulted from discussion between several neighborhood associations and University representatives, including University Architect John Pearce.

John Schelp, president of the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association, said concerned residents met with University officials three times to finalize the ordinance.

One of its stipulations was that "limited retail uses, such as university-related bookstores and dining facilities located within other buildings, shall be permitted, to the extent that they are designed to serve the on-campus population of the university and not to attract additional traffic to the campus."

"We came up with what we thought was an agreement," Schelp said. "Then we learned that Duke was still lobbying for this one change." Schelp referred to the University's desire to strike the words "limited" and "on" from the section on permitted uses for the new zoning district. Such a change concerned residents, Schelp said, particularly in light of recent plans for Central Campus development.

"I don't know if the intention was necessarily to go behind our backs," said Tom Miller, president of the Watts Hospital-Hillandale Neighborhood Association. "But it was a little irksome."

Miller said he understood how colleges must have a certain amount of commercial use, but he said any commercial use aimed at off-campus customers should fall under regular commercial zoning instead of the university-college district, which might give such a University enterprise an unfair advantage.

"I received an e-mail from [Executive Vice President] Tallman Trask [saying] that the University had informed the city manager that they're fine with the language 'as is,'" Miller said of the University's eventual consent to the original wording. "I think [our success] is partly due to [President] Nan [Keohane]'s general personality." Both neighborhood presidents expressed sadness at her upcoming departure.

IN OTHER BUSINESS: The council passed new housing improvement ordinances, aimed at expediting the process of dealing with unsafe and dilapidated buildings by expanding the city's power.

The local act of the unsafe building ordinance confers "additional authority" by giving "the City an expedited procedure for demolishing residential buildings," according to the ordinance wording circulated by Charlene Montford, director of the housing department. Without a court order, state law only allows demolition of non-residential buildings.

"We have the chance to go out to the community and make it a better place," said Fred Foster of the Durham Voter Coalition. Other speakers praised the council's responsiveness to neighborhood needs and for implementing faster removal of unsafe buildings.


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