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Durham City Council discusses proposed $5 million development, raises affordable housing concerns

Downtown Durham’s skyline may have a massive new addition. 

The Durham City Council heard a proposal for a new building called The James on Sept. 8. If approved, the building, which would be a 32-floor apartment complex, is slated to be the tallest in Durham.

The project was developed by Craig Davis Properties, a property development firm in the Research Triangle Park area. Currently, the proposed area is occupied by a city-owned parking garage that was built in 1987, but CDP, who owns the air rights above the garage, offered Durham $5 million for the location. 

“There are thousands moving into this area. And we know that there's an opportunity to provide housing of the quality that they would like,” said Earl Guill, vice president of development for CDP.

But CDP’s proposal faced criticism from council members due to the lack of affordability of the units in the building. 

“We don’t really need $5 million. But we do need affordable housing,” said council member DeDreana Freeman in the meeting.

Council member Leonardo Williams was more open to the project. In an interview with The Chronicle, he stressed the importance of constructing various housing options geared towards people of different incomes to prevent gentrification. 

“When I say we need to start with housing, we need high wealth housing to accommodate high wealth people,” said Williams. “Because if we don't do that … then those high wealth people are going to move somewhere.”

High-income people “take away the housing supply from the folks that are at moderate income levels … That's what produces gentrification, homelessness, all of those things,” Williams added.

Guill said that he hopes to attract some employees of companies, such as Meta and Apple, that have recently opened offices in the Triangle area, while continuing to support housing in Durham. 

Although the plan for The James does not currently contain non-luxury housing options, CDP agreed to donate $650,000 to the Durham affordable housing fund, which is roughly equivalent to six units of housing, according to Guill.

“We are committed to affordable housing in Durham. We intend to do the best thing for the city. But certainly [affordable housing] will be a component, whether it's a contribution, or whether it's actually building the units or incorporating them,” Guill said.

Some council members believe the developers should offer some affordable housing within The James. Guill said he was open to changing the initial plan to add more-affordable housing options into the complex. 

“We are certainly looking at it. We certainly heard that from Council members during our presentation. So we were absolutely taking that to heart,” he said.

During the meeting, some council members emphasized the importance of available parking spaces, due to the current parking structure’s proximity to The Carolina Theatre.

Guill said that even though CDP’s plan is to remove parking spaces, it is not that large of a concern because the issue “is around proximity as opposed to availability.”

“There is enough public parking in downtown Durham within a quarter mile or five to six minute walk in the surrounding two blocks from [The Carolina Theatre and other venues],” Guill said.

Williams agreed with Guill, saying that there is “ample parking downtown” and “convenience of parking” is the issue. 

CDP’s plan is to keep over 80 public parking spaces on the first level of the west side of the parking deck, with the other spaces reserved for the residents of The James. The east side of the parking deck will remain unchanged — it has parking for office workers during the day and is open to the public during night and weekend hours. 

Guill and CDP believe there will be many benefits from this project, including new jobs as a result of the construction and revenue generated from its residents. 

“We estimate that there will probably be over 200 more permanent jobs as a result of that,” Guill said. 

Williams also said that the revenue from the purchase could help the city fund government services, with affordable housing being an option.

“Our job as a local government is to generate revenue and spend it,” Williams said. “So we generate revenue to spend it on the services and resources that we need to keep our society functioning. But if we're only going to build things that do not generate revenue, then we're in trouble.”

CDP’s next step is to come back to the City Council with a revised proposal. 

“I'm really interested in hearing what they have to say. Does that mean I'm gonna go with it? Maybe, maybe not. I don't know, I have to see what they come back with,” Williams said.

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