Robert Frost once wrote "Good fences make good neighbors."
Ol' Bobby must not have been talking about Duke and its Durham neighbors.
The option of building a fence that would surround East Campus became a major sticking point in the University's development plan. Durham's Zoning Board voted 5-0 in favor of the plan at City Hall last night. The unanimous vote proves misleading, however, as it was preceded by a month of intense debate with various neighborhood associations.
"At one level it sort of felt like the theater of the absurd," said John Burness Senior Vice President for Public and Government Relations.
"On another level [the fence] took on an enormous symbolic importance to the neighborhoods around east campus," he added. According to Burness, the university never planed to build a fence.
Neighborhood representatives, however, wanted to prevent a fence from ever being built, a demand university trustees were not willing to accept.
In a letter to the 12 presidents of the Neighborhood Partnership neighborhood associations, President Nan Keohane wrote "committing never to do something, would... limit the decisions of future Duke presidents and trustees to ensure the safety of our students when circumstances may be very different from today." She continued, "The university's trustees and I... are committed to building bridges, not fences."
Although there are no bridges in the University's plan for development, many significant details were settled upon. Burness said Duke will have a large degree of architectural freedom to build on its interior property. Zoning proposals will not be required, unless the University wants to build on the perimeter of a campus. No new buildings will be allowed within 250 feet of the East Campus wall, aside from a new dormitory, a plan for which is currently being discussed. Additionally, future buildings on east must be no taller than Baldwin Auditorium.
The medical center, now considered residential zoning, will fall under university zoning regulations, allowing for additions to be made with fewer delays.
Overall, negotiations went smoothly between the University and zoning officials. "We went through a pretty elaborate process and countless meetings with the reps, and we reached an agreement on about 90 percent of them," Burness said.
Still, the fence issue required extensive deliberation and city officials took notice.
"I really appreciate the effort Duke made toward the neighborhood and the development plan." said Jackie Brown, a member of the Durham Zoning Board.
The long and arduous process of approving a zoning plan, which began last November for the University, is not over yet. City council will have the final vote on zoning approval. Still, according to Burness, the hard part is most likely done.
"We walked through different issues and I think that both sides were working very hard to find a win win situation," Burness said, adding "I think we did."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.