The three-acre, tree-studded meadow next to the Greystone Inn on Morehead Avenue would be clearcut for 140 apartments, according to a proposal that will come before the Durham Historic Preservation Commission this week. [pdf-1]

Under the proposal, Greensboro developer Lomax Properties would construct three buildings, varying from two to five stories, to house 140 units at 518 Morehead Ave, which is in the Morehead Hill Historic District. Two buildings would face Morehead, while the third would be located toward the back of the land, near the Durham Freeway. The center of the development would be converted to asphalt parking. Plans also show a swimming pool near the third building.

Next door, the 103-year-old inn, currently owned by Randal Brame, who plans to sell the property, would become a conference center and a clubhouse for the apartment residents.

The nine-member Historic Preservation Commission will discuss the proposal Tuesday, Aug. 5, at 8:30 a.m in the Committee Room on the Second Floor of City Hall. The neighborhood association will likely ask the Historic Preservation Commission to require the developer to meet the minimum guidelines for new construction in a historic district.

The HPC could determine the proposal complies with historic guidelines and grant a Certificate of Appropriateness, or it could deny a COA based on those guidelines. If denied, the developer could choose to come back to the HPC with an amended proposal. If the proposal clears the HPC, it still must undergo review and approval by other departments and come before City Council for a vote.

Planning staff made numerous objections to the proposal, including concerns about tree loss, building scale, height and mass, compared to other buildings in the historic Morehead Hill neighborhood.

On Sunday evening, 25 members of the Morehead Hill Neighborhood Association met in Orchard Park, two blocks south of the project site, to discuss the pros and cons of the development. While several residents vehemently opposed the plan under any circumstances, calling it “an affront to the city of Durham from a historical perspective,” others noted that zoning allows projects of this nature to be built on the land, saying it is “less worse.”

“If not this, then what?” said David Ball. “We’re in a metropolitan neighborhood. There’s no pretending we are in bucolic Morehead Hill.”

Lomax Properties specializes in multifamily housing and office buildings, according to its website. Ron Horvath of Durham is the site designer.

There are 455 households in Morehead Hill; the apartment complex, if fully occupied, would increase that number by a third. There was consensus among association members that traffic, which is already heavy on Morehead and Vickers avenues and Parker Street, which serves as an onramp to the Durham Freeway, would worsen. Most members who attended also objected to the vast swath of asphalt that would lie in the center of the development.

A larger issue for the city is whether demand can meet the supply of new apartments—at least 2,200 are planned, under construction or have recently opened near downtown Durham. With the exception of the Southside project, which is heavily subsidized by the city, none of the new apartments are affordable for middle- and low-income families.

Nearly 550 new apartments are within a half-mile of the Greystone Inn; Whetstone, which is on Willard Street south of the Durham Transit Center, has 204 units with price ranges from $1,000 for a studio to $1,600 for a two-bedroom. 605 Apartments at 605 W. Chapel Hill St. is renting 338 units with prices from $999 to $1,990.

According to HPC documents, in 1937, four single-family houses sat on that lot; owned by some of the wealthiest Durham residents, they were later torn down. While photos of those homes are not publicly available, the Morehead Hill Neighborhood Association website includes a history of other homes that have been demolished.

Look for updates on this blog Tuesday and in Wednesday’s print edition of the INDY.