This letter is reprinted in its entirety from the ABCD Listserve with permission of the author, our esteemed colleague, Dan Ellison.
Ellison is a long time supporter of Arts and Culture in Durham. Read this 2007 profile in The Independent to find out more about him.
from Daniel Ellison
Permission was granted to the Clarion Content to reprint this letter in its entirety.
Until convinced otherwise, I am opposed to such a closing of Holland Street alley. My reasoning is as follows:
1. The Holland Street Alley belongs to all of us, as Durham residents. Privatizing public property is an important decision. It should be fully vetted. That vetting has not yet happened.
2. The Alley is used by residents and visitors. It is a shady respite in downtown, with human-scale features and sit-able stone walls. There is a strong likelihood that its use will increase, as all activity in Downtown increases. It is a great location for small-scale acoustic performance, it just needs to be put on people’s radar for its availability.
3. Public funds were used to design the unique features of the Alley; it is the only Alley in downtown Durham with its unique features.
4. The Alley includes a patio area which could accommodate at least 10 tables for café dining. There does not need to be a deck extending from the Holland Hotel first floor in order to accommodate outdoor dining. (I can envision several special outdoor food-service possibilities in that space that could either be operated by the Holland Hotel’s restaurant or operated by other contracted vendors; the proposed privatization and deck would preclude almost any other creative use of that Alley and preclude any creative use that might be income-producing to the City.)
5. The proposed construction of a deck, includes, at the northern end, what in effect becomes a wall that at its highest is approximately 9 feet tall.
6. The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) Staff recommended against approving the developer’s design plan for the Alley; by the time this proposal came up in the HPC meeting, it had already been one of the lengthiest HPC meetings (I am told the meeting was 5 hours long and that this was the last item) and several of the HPC commissioners had already left –under the rules of the HPC, the votes of those early-leaving commissioners were counted as approving the proposal. In fact, one of the early-leaving commissioners that I spoke with was against the plan — I do not know about the others. In addition, procedurally, the HPC was not voting on whether or not the Alley should be privatized/closed, but simply voting on “if it is closed, does the proposed design meet the requirements of the Historic District Guidelines. I have some question as to whether the developers had the authority to apply for a “certificate of appropriateness (COA)” for the construction in the Alley, since they are neither owners of the Alley or leaseholders of the Alley. COA applications are signed by the Owner of the property in question. The City did not make this COA application. If the application was made without property authority, is the approval void ab initiio?
7. If the Alley is privatized, it could become a buildable lot. (the owners of the two adjacent properties could either joint venture or the alley/lot could be sold as one parcel. It has true fair market value as a buildable lot in Downtown Durham. The City should not be giving away valuable property–this give-away was not part of any original request to the City for economic incentives. If there is to be new construction in this Alley, the City should consider that intentionally and decide on a plan for the best use of this City-owned parcel.
8. Unlike other alleys that directly serve a back entrance to a building, the majority of Holland Street Alley simply passes by the building. Its utility to the building is minimal until the very northern part of the cobblestone portion. Accordingly, the adjacent property owners do not have the same extent of direct appurtenant interest in this alley that they might otherwise have in a “true service alley.”
9. The street/alley is currently a fire lane; if it is closed and altered as proposed, it may also affect the use of the alley that is adjacent to the southern side of the Armory parking lot.
10. If the City deems that this is a street that should be privatized, then an opportunity should be given for anyone to bid on purchasing it and proposing a specific use that is in keeping with overall plans for downtown Durham.
I am a strong supporter of the plans, in general, for the conversion of the former Home Savings building/NC Mutual Savings Bank building into a boutique hotel with rooftop bar and first floor restaurant. I look forward to that renovation proceeding, but I hope that their plans for the alley can be modified.