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Bell, Brown criticize Durham Historic Preservation Commission

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Mayor Bill Bell wants the City Council to have a conversation on “what our vision is for the city … what we would like to see in terms of physical development.”

Bell made the comment at today’s City Council work session, and with it some questions about the role of appointed committees in general and the Historic Preservation Commission in particular after its hearing on the City Center project Tuesday.

“I question some of the issues that were being raised,” Bell said, and mentioned comments about the 26-story building’s effect on the Durham skyline.

He said he was also concerned about committees’ authority to defer decisions, creating delays for developers

“I appreciate the time it takes and the due diligence” to make sound decisions, but “I’m also sensitive to the developers who come before those committees,” Bell said.

“They deserve a timely, expeditious process.”

Councilman Eugene Brown concurred and added his own criticism of the Preservation Commission.

“They also talked about shadows the building would create on the street. If you build a tall building it’s going to create shadows,” said Brown, who is a past president of Preservation Durham.

“The issues you raised are salient and it is a question not only of time but of control,” he said.

The Preservation Commission has authority to block development it does not consider “appropriate” in designated historic districts, and to delay demolition requests for up to a year for structures of certain historic status.

West Village owner Federal Capital Partners abandoned plans for a new apartment building on part of its property within a historic district after the Preservation Commission raised objections “about materials to be used,” Brown said.

“The hearings became so acrimonious and tedious that Federal Capital pulled out,” Brown said. “That’s a rather significant impact on Durham. … What kind of a message does that send nationwide?”

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About the blogger

Jim Wise is a Durham News/N&O reporter and columnist who follows city and county government land-use and neighborhood issues. He's author of "Durham: A Bull City Story" and "Durham Tales: The Morris Street Maple, the Plastic Cow, the Durham Day That Was and More ... "