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Northgate Mall Redevelopment


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A disaster for the city and neighborhoods around it.

I hold the far-left neighborhood vocalists and a racist City Council responsible for this project missing all of its potential.


Not everyone in the community shares the opinions of the Community Association and we aren't being heard.  We all want more affordable housing and to stop sprawl eating away at our rural open space and farmlands but, there's a thing called the law of unintended consequences.  I have been a city planner for over 30 years but my master's degree is in landscape architecture.  I have fought to end sprawl and soul-less places for my entire career.  What I see happening in Durham is bewildering and it starts with a fundamental misunderstanding of cause and effect.  What are community expectations?  We want to stop sprawl, we want more affordability housing, we want less automobile dependence, we want better access to opportunity, we want safer neighborhoods, and we want to protect the environment.  
The way to achieve these things is to encourage more, not less, development in areas of Durham that are already developed.  The cost to develop in Durham coupled with the cost of construction is driving development away from the core (where it should be) and out into less-regulated areas where open space and farmland make development less expensive.  This hurts the City, and our goals, by siphoning tax revenue away from where it's most needed and can do the most to help people.  Instead of a project adding to the City's revenues and helping to pay for more of the services and infrastructure we need, lots sit vacant or underutilized.  
We bemoan the loss of trees in the center of our city at the expense of forests outside of it.  Instead of a transit-supportive city, we are perpetuating automobile dependence, which by the way, for low-income residents is an additional burden of approximately $9000 a year.  Instead of working with developers in a spirit of building commonality, we treat them like the enemy.  Instead of partnering with the developers to subsidize affordability housing, we demand they shoulder the burden of our demands solely on their shoulders.  When they walk away from a project because our demands become too onerous, we are left for years and decades with empty lots and dilapidated buildings effectively cutting off our noses to spite our faces.  
The only issue I see getting much attention from the Association is the redevelopment of Northgate Mall.  What are we doing to make Roxboro Road more bike, pedestrian, and comfortable for transit users?   Why are we OK with the City not working with NCDOT to make improvements to the street to make it more useful for all?  You want "affordable retail" and a grocery store?  Roxboro Road is filled with empty buildings that are basically inaccessible and contribute little to the City or residents.  Instead of fighting a developer, what are you doing to make Roxboro Road a place for small businesses to succeed and accessible to people who don't or can't drive a car?  You want more affordable housing?  Make it easier for developers to build and get the City to subsidize the construction.  Because an empty Mall producing no jobs or revenue is so much better than a mixed-use development with more housing?  The Walltown Community Association (and the City of Durham's political elite) fail to appreciate the damage they are doing to the goals we share - and we can thank them for more sprawl, less accessibility, more automobile dependence, and less revenue to fund the programs we need to help people in need.  
If you've made it this far, you should be checking out some articles on the subject of cause and effect and the law of unintended consequences in many professional urban design, city planning, and architecture journals.  Here are a few from The Atlantic Monthly:
New market-rate development helps relieve pressure on local housing prices.


Why Your House Was So Expensive:  Material-cost inflation, anti-building rules, NIMBY attitudes, and barriers to innovation have created a housing-affordability crisis.

Community Input Is Bad, Actually Angry neighborhood associations have the power to halt the construction of vital infrastructure. It doesn’t have to be this way.

-----  Signed, M. Cyr
f 2019, they would own the entire property save for the old Macy’s, which was purchased, and still owned, by Duke University Health System. In August 2021, Northwood submitted a site plan for the redevelopment of the property focused on a mix of residential, retail, and office space. While Phase One of the initial plan did not meet community expectations, Northwood said they would be open to negotiating around community benefits in Phase Two when they planned to request a zoning change to increase the height limits on the property.

What’s at Stake Now?

Now Northwood is back with a new plan, one centered on scientific labs doing research and development and office space. There is no inclusion of affordable housing in this new plan. In fact, there is no inclusion of housing at all. Yet, while they are no longer seeking a height increase (at least not at this moment), they still need to rezone the property. So this Thursday, Northwood is hosting a virtual community meeting as a requirement of their rezoning application. Per the letter that went out to property owners within 600 feet of the mall: “The developer is proposing a rezoning to Commercial General with a development plan (CG(D)) to allow for life science use in addition to office, retail, and amenity space.” 


Action You Can Take Now

The Walltown Community Association is calling on people around the city to attend Thursday’s meeting and tell Northwood Investors that if they want to change the zoning at Northgate Mall, they need to fully integrate the priorities of Durham residents. Since December 2018, Walltown has led an effort to design a community-centered vision for the redevelopment of Northgate Mall (the details of our work and findings can be explored in the report, Building a Place for All People: A Community-Centered Vision for the New Northgate Mall). We have engaged well over 600 residents via surveys, focus groups, outdoor presentations, and an April 2021 press conference. In hearing from Northgate’s most proximate neighbors, and from those around the city, it is clear that an equitable redevelopment of the mall property must create connection to the community. Connection is created by an inviting and welcoming space (affordable living, shopping, and entertainment; open and accessible physical environment) for all Durham residents. Our priorities for the redevelopment include:

  1. Affordable Housing: We want 30% of the housing units on the property to be priced for people at or below the Walltown median income ($37,222 annually).

  2. Affordable Retail: We want a grocery store that pays living wages and retail set-asides for non-chain local businesses, especially BIPOC-owned.

  3. Accessible Community-centered Design: We want a community greenspace that connects the property with Walltown park by opening up along Guess Road. We want a dedicated community space, such as a Durham County library branch containing a Walltown history hub.

  4. Environmental Sustainability: We want enhanced stormwater reduction infrastructure to significantly reduce runoff and excessive flooding in and around Ellerbe Creek.


Remember that the zoning of the property is where we as residents have power. We are not going to concede that power simply because the “market” is providing a lucrative alternative to what we envision as the most just and equitable future for our community.


We must make it clear to Northwood and the Durham City Council that it is a political non-starter to not expand housing supply for lower income residents when the proposed development will exacerbate the already intense financial pressure on renters and homeowners in adjacent neighborhoods, especially Walltown. 


Any development that threatens to displace, must balance out the act with housing to replace.


Instructions for Attending Northwood’s Virtual Community Meeting


The meeting will be held on August 25th at 6:00PM - 7:00PM Eastern Time. To attend the meeting by PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, or Android device,

  • Upon registration, you will receive a confirmation email with instructions on how to access the meeting.


To attend the meeting by phone, dial one of the following numbers:

 +1 301 715 8592 or

 +1 309 205 3325 or

 888 788 0099 (Toll Free)


Enter Webinar ID: 88676286887


For attendance purposes as required by the City of Durham, individuals participating via telephone will be unmuted and asked to identify themselves including their name and address.


You are encouraged to join the meeting via your computer or smartphone so that you will have access to Zoom Webinar’s interactive features including Raise Hand and Chat.


Per the letter: “If you have questions or cannot attend the meeting but would like further information, please feel free to call me at 919-287-0824 or contact me by e-mail at [email protected]. Patrick Byker with Morningstar Law Group is the Land Use Attorney representing the project and may also be reached by phone at 919-590-0384 or email at [email protected]


On behalf of the Walltown Community Association,

Brandon J. Williams
"From beatboxers to beat breakers, like the yellow brick road we go where the beat takes us..."
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