714 Iredell Street, one of the houses in the path of development.
Monday afternoon, Executive Director, Wendy Hillis, and Independent Weekly
Editor, Lisa Sorg, met with representatives of Blacknall Memorial Church regarding their imminent purchase of three historic houses on Iredell Street and proposed demolition of two of those structures to accommodate a surface parking lot. You can read a summary of that meeting in Indy Week.
Two things are clear. One is that the acquisition of land on that block of Iredell Street is a bit of a chess game for the landlocked church, which wants to acquire land adjacent to control future options for expansion and parking. The second is that the sales price reflects the value of this land as determined by its redevelopment potential, rather than its existing structures and use. If the church does not acquire these properties, a developer — likely one in search of another apartment/ condo project — will.
That said, demolition of two historic houses for a surface parking lot (no matter how much the church says they need parking) is clearly not the highest and best use for this land, which is dense and urban. Future development in this area must take the planned light rail into account, and, in fact, the area has been rezoned to accommodate more dense development.
An additional element to consider is affordable housing. Small mill houses, such as these, have been affordable housing in Durham for a century. Sadly, we are seeing the incremental loss of our existing affordable housing resources to development projects, to the conversion to commercial uses, and to small-to-big renovations. Granted, the houses on Iredell Street are not currently residential, but they once were. In the discussion of Durham’s housing needs, we need to be talking about how to preserve and utilize the resources we already have.
In this case, the good news is that, should the land be acquired, the church has committed to engaging us in continued discussions about moving the houses to new lots. We will continue to report back to you as discussions progress.