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Duke, neighbors laud house purchases

Seven down, four on their way and one question mark.

That's the word on 12 houses the University bought in Trinity Park and Trinity Heights-adjacent to East Campus-in February 2006. Seventeen months later, the deal has garnered positive reviews from the University, the seller and the neighborhood.

"I have no complaints," said Jennifer Minnelli, president of the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association. "We're very pleased. We think it's going to improve property values to have those be owner-occupied residential properties."

The houses, which had been rental properties owned by Guy Solie, Trinity '67, were purchased by Duke-owned Durham Realty in an effort to cut down on neighbors' complaints about unruly student tenants.

Under a gradual sell-off, most of them have now been sold or are under contract-but not all.

"There's one house that I don't have to name that's not on the market," said Jeff Potter, Duke's director of real estate administration.

The most notable of the properties-610 N. Buchanan Blvd, site of the March 13, 2006, party that spawned the lacrosse case-was bought too late to prevent trouble and remains in limbo.

The house is not under contract, Potter said, adding that any decision will be made by senior administrators.

President Richard Brodhead indicated in an e-mail that there are currently no plans to decide the house's status.

Potter said three houses are currently under contract and a buyer is being sought for a fourth, the sole property located in Trinity Heights.

The purchase of the 12 houses-as well as three empty lots near campus-was the result of a conversation Solie had with administrators, and both he and Duke officials said the deal was a unique chance to improve the neighborhood.

"We certainly didn't go through the exercise to make money. We will have spent more money buying the houses than we made selling them," Potter said, noting the renovation costs. "We think it's had a very good effect in terms of improving the neighborhood and making them valuable properties."

Covenants on the houses now require that any residents be single-family homeowners.

Minnelli said residents had detected a decrease in noise and other complaints, but added that pre-existing student leases on some of the houses during the past year meant that the coming year will provide the most definitive indication of the purchase's effects.

Comparative statistics for the past two years were not available from the Durham Police Department.

"[The deal] was designed to do two things," said John Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations. "One was to help stabilize the neighborhood, and the other was to address some of the outstanding concerns about behavior over there. The neighbors have indicated to us that they're pleased."

Solie, too, said he thought the move was good for Trinity Park and for student life, as well as helping him to continue a transition in his business toward apartment management.


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