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Mary Duke Biddle estate will be turned into upscale townhouses

Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans | Photo by Chris Hildreth, Special to the Chronicle
Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans | Photo by Chris Hildreth, Special to the Chronicle

The Mary Duke Biddle estate, located about two miles from Duke's West Campus, will soon be turned into townhouses.

Following the Durham City Council's approval of the land's rezoning in December 2018, the land is set to be repurposed for upscale townhouses in the Forest Hills neighborhood. 

The house on the estate, known as Pinecrest, was designed by architect George Watts Carr and built in 1927 for James Orr Cobb. In 1935, the house was sold to philanthropist Mary Duke Biddle, for whom the estate is named, according to a report from the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office.

Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, her daughter, lived there until her death in 2012. 

The great-granddaughter of Washington Duke and granddaughter of James Duke, Semans moved to North Carolina as a teenager. She later enrolled at Duke Women’s College, receiving a degree in art history, and subsequently married Josiah Charles Trent, the namesake of the Central Campus building. Her son, James Duke Semans, inherited the property after her death. He died in December 2018. 

In 2013, the estate was added to the National Register of Historic Places, according to a News and Observer article. 

Now, Pinecrest will be converted into two-dwelling houses, and 38 houses will be built on the surrounding land in Revival, Federal and Tudor styles similar to Forest Hills.

Nearby residents were initially wary that the townhouse rezoning plan would disrupt the neighborhood.

“There’s quite a concern that the entire character of the neighborhood is at stake here,” Forest Hills local Anjen Chenn said in a WRAL article in November 2017. "Before you know it, what we know as a community that we love and moved into is at risk. What we’re not hearing is a compelling reason for why these developers want to come in and establish this development at the density of housing that they have.” 

To address residents' concerns, the developers decided to cap the number of houses at 38, fewer homes than was originally proposed. The homes will cost between $700,000 and $950,000 each.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the number of townhouses built would be 38, and it was updated to reflect that is the total number of houses. The Chronicle regrets the error. 


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