Last week, confusion erupted in response to the INDY’s publication of an April 3 letter, sent from Habitat for Humanity of Durham to members of Durham’s city council and board of county commissioners, in which a spokesperson for Durham Habitat stated that the organization did not authorize its co-sponsorship of the proposed “SCAD” text amendment to Durham’s zoning ordinance.

The letter—which also stated that Durham Habitat’s involvement in the proposal “was enacted through an unauthorized third party” and noted that “the same third party has been speaking and negotiating on the behalf of Habitat for Humanity of Durham with members of City Council and others”—seemed, to many observers, inaccurate and easily refutable.

While Durham Habitat had requested three weeks prior that its name “be removed from all documents regarding [SCAD’s] process and application” in a memo to city and county governing bodies, readers were quick to point out that representatives of the organization had publicly expressed support for SCAD on numerous occasions in the year since the text amendment was submitted for approval.

(SCAD, which stands for “Simplifying Codes for Affordable Development,” was submitted for approval in May 2022 and, until recently, named Raleigh developer Jim Anthony and Durham Habitat as co-applicants. Read the INDY’s original cover story on the proposal’s content and road to approval here.)

But documents and emails from both Habitat and SCAD-involved parties obtained by the INDY show that Habitat didn’t authorize its co-sponsorship. They also reveal the identity of the alleged third party, a Durham builder and sometime Habitat volunteer who is associated with local companies that own a significant number of properties in the city’s urban core, led the fundraising effort around writing and filing the proposed text changes, and drafted a large portion of the changes himself. Finally, the records indicate that the city made a significant misstep in its review of the SCAD application, according to guidelines set out in Durham’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).

At nonprofit organizations, all key decisions must be made by the board of directors. According to the minutes from Durham Habitat’s April 7, 2022 board meeting, the board did vote on a motion related to SCAD.

“[Board member] Leon [Meyers] motion [sic] that Habitat support changes to setback, flag lots, parking lots and residential development in commercial zones,” the minutes read. 

Another board member seconded, and the motion carried.

Indeed, on the second page of the original SCAD application, Durham Habitat is identified as supporting four specific elements of the proposal: setback modifications, flag lot modifications, parking requirement modifications, and the allowance of residential construction in nonresidential districts.

But supporting four provisions is different from co-sponsoring the entire text amendment. To authorize Durham Habitat’s role as a co-applicant of SCAD—as stated on the first page of the original application—the board would’ve had to put it to a vote.

That vote never happened, according to the board minutes and Habitat officials.

Durham developer Bob Chapman, who has assisted in funding and crafting the SCAD proposal,  recently provided three emails to the INDY that he says prove Durham Habitat signed off on its co-sponsorship. The emails involve exchanges between Leon Meyers, who then served as a general board member of Durham Habitat; Vicky Garcia, who then served as chair of Durham Habitat’s board of directors; and Aaron Lubeck, a Durham builder, designer, and the registered agent of at least two companies—Sandbox Society LLC and University City LLC—that own more than two dozen properties in Durham.

Minutes after this story published, and hours after our requested deadline, Lubeck responded to the INDY’s request for comment. (See editor’s note below). But Chapman says Lubeck helped initiate the creation of SCAD and, alongside Durham real estate development consultant Dave Olverson, penned the bulk of its text.

Chapman told the INDY that SCAD “grew out of work that [Lubeck] was doing for Habitat for Humanity” a number of years ago. At the time, Lubeck had jotted down regulatory issues that thwarted the organization from building houses, Chapman says, and many of those issues are what SCAD seeks to resolve.

Chapman also credits Lubeck with securing the money to fund SCAD: in order to pay the city’s filing fee and to pay Olverson for his work, Lubeck raised nearly $30,000 in donations, Chapman says. Most contributors donated between $1,000 and $1,500.

At some point during the fundraising campaign, Chapman says Lubeck reached out to Meyers, “his friend on the [Durham Habitat] board,” to seek the organization’s support on SCAD. That request ultimately led to the email exchange that Chapman says conveyed an authorization of co-sponsorship. 

Meyers and Garcia did not respond to the INDY’s request for comment.

The first email, dated April 25, was sent from Lubeck to Meyers. 

“The application copy for the text amendment is attached,” Lubeck wrote. “It calls out Habitat’s support specifically, as you suggested. Please let me know if there are any problems with this.”

Bob Chapman

The next email shows Meyers passing the message along to Garcia, the board chair.

“Aaron Lubeck sent this draft application for Durham UDO changes to confirm that its statement regarding Habitat support for the changes is consistent with the Board’s actions on this matter,” Meyers wrote on April 27. “It looks fine to me – could you please confirm?” 

A few hours later, Garcia replied, “Looks good tome [sic]. Thanks so much for your work on this.”

But the attachment referenced by Lubeck and Meyers was not included in Chapman’s printed out copies of the emails, which were neatly formatted on white paper with key lines highlighted in yellow. When the INDY requested to see the emails in their original form, with the attachment included, Chapman reached out to Lubeck, who reported to Chapman that he could not produce them, Chapman told the INDY.

It’s not clear, then, whether the attachment in question was just the second page of the application with Habitat’s agreed-upon support of the four provisions.

Until March 1, when the INDY published an article naming Durham Habitat as a co-applicant of SCAD, the board was unaware of Durham Habitat’s alleged official co-sponsorship role in the proposal, according to Carleena Deonanan, a longtime member and current chair of the organization’s board of directors, a role in which she’s served since November. One day after this revelation, the board voted to withdraw its name from SCAD. Then it launched an investigation.

In interviews conducted by the board, Garcia, Meyers, and Jim Belanger—who took over as interim Durham Habitat CEO in March 2022—all said they had not, at any point, communicated an authorization of co-sponsorship to Lubeck, Anthony, or city staff.

On March 14, Belanger signed an affidavit stating that, in his role as interim CEO of Habitat in May 2022, he “did not authorize the filing of the Application with Habitat’s name included.”

But, as people pointed out, at the planning commission’s December 13 meeting Belanger stated, “Habitat for Humanity of Durham is supportive of this proposal” during a public comment period on SCAD.

“We’re facing headwinds: gentrification, inflation, rising costs of land, the number of people moving in,” Belanger said during the comment period. “They’re all big issues that [Durham Habitat] can’t really address. But these proposed amendments help. These are the things that will help us build homes and solve problems.”

At a joint city-county planning commission (JCCPC) meeting on August 3, too, Nicole Tyra—Durham Habitat’s then-new director of construction and planning—said that her organization had “been involved in the text amendments.”

“Most of these changes allow us to make very thoughtful and best use of the lots that we do have in our land banks so we can continue to provide more and affordable housing in the Durham area,” Tyra told the JCCPC.

But at no point in either meeting did anyone—Belanger, Tyra, Olverson, public commenters, commissioners, nor planning staff—explicitly state that Durham Habitat was a co-sponsor of SCAD. 

At both meetings, the format is the same: Olverson gives a brief overview of the proposal before leaving the stand to allow others, whom he describes as “people we’ve been working with on crafting this” or “a couple other folks,” to speak. A Durham Habitat representative expresses support, as do Steve Toler and Tiffany Elder. Toler says he’s led the community engagement process around SCAD. Elder identifies herself as the co-chair of The Collective, a consortium of Black real estate professionals in Durham that she says has been active in helping to shape SCAD.

Belanger, Tyra, Toler, and Elder all appear to be speaking in the same capacity. But only Durham Habitat’s name is listed as a co-sponsor, alongside Jim Anthony’s, on the application.

In March, as Durham Habitat’s board was investigating how exactly the organization became listed as a co-sponsor of SCAD, Lubeck’s name came up again and again, Deonanan says.  

In emails between Lubeck, Meyers, Tyra, and former CEO Lexie Vaughn, dated February 2022, Lubeck stressed the importance of the organization’s co-sponsorship. (Vaughn stepped down from her role as CEO in March 2022.)

“Having habitat as the applicant… would expedite the process and help as we get into the dog days of process this summer,” Lubeck wrote in a February 20 email. “I know the votes are on council. It’s just a matter of us getting it there.”

“It’s a much steeper hill to climb without Habitat on board,” Lubeck wrote in another email the next week.

On January 4, 2023, Lubeck and Olverson gave a presentation on SCAD during a Durham Environmental Affairs Board meeting. The minutes from the meeting—which a number of city officials, including city council member DeDreana Freeman, attended—show Lubeck repeatedly invoking Durham Habitat.

At one point, a panelist asked Lubeck whether SCAD’s proposed Progressing Affordably Toward Housing (PATH) program would require for-sale homes to remain affordable beyond their initial sale.

“It was very clear for the applicant, which is Habitat for Humanity, that homes will not have restrictions [on affordability] upon resale,” Lubeck replied. 

Aaron Lubeck

The PATH program is not one of the four SCAD elements that Durham Habitat expressed support for.

“The affordability aspects of SCAD do not comport with Habitat’s affordable housing model,” Deonanan told the INDY.

Lubeck as the alleged third party has helped shed some light on an unsolicited email the INDY received from Durham Habitat on February 9 while reporting its original story on SCAD.

In the email, Tyra and Tiana Joyner, who took over as Durham Habitat CEO in January, stated, “We work for one of the applicants, Habitat for Humanity of Durham.”

“Durham Habitat is an applicant on SCAD because we’re on the front lines of affordable housing and as Durham has boomed our work has become increasingly difficult,” Joyner and Tyra continued.

But a January 23 email from Lubeck to Tyra, forwarded to the INDY by Deonanan, reveals that the statement wasn’t written by Durham Habitat—it was written by Lubeck.

“Hoping to have you send quote to, something of this sort (she will likely seek to interview you, so I have created a small barrier to that, should you want to use it):,” Lubeck wrote in the email.

“‘Hey Lena – It is my understanding that you are doing a piece on SCAD provisions, which I have heard is possibly going to be negative coverage of the applicants. I work for one of those applicants, Durham Habitat. I have reservations about being interviewed, but you can quote me here: Nicole Tyra here from Habitat. I am Director of Construction. We’re applicant on SCAD because we’re on the front lines of affordable housing, and as Durham has boomed, our work has become harder and harder.’”

The rest of Lubeck’s message parallels the statement INDY Week received from Tyra and Joyner on February 9 almost word for word.

While the two staffers didn’t copy and paste Lubeck’s statement—they edited it to be more concise, and signed it with their own names—there’s a reason why the word “applicant” didn’t set off any alarm bells.

“Having habitat as the applicant… would expedite the process and help as we get into the dog days of process this summer,” Lubeck wrote in a February 20 email. “I know the votes are on council. It’s just a matter of us getting it there.”

Joyner says during her first week on the job as CEO, in early January, Lubeck requested to meet with her. At that meeting, Lubeck told her that Durham Habitat was “one of thirty applicants” of SCAD, she says.

On March 8—one day after Durham Habitat requested, in a letter to Durham’s city council and board of county commissioners, that its name be removed from all SCAD-related documents—Lubeck emailed Joyner with a message that Deonanan says all but solidified his role as the unauthorized third party.

“I am obligated to discuss the withdrawal with the city council members who have stuck their neck out on behalf of habitat,” Lubeck wrote.

“I don’t understand why you would be obligated to speak on behalf of Habitat to City Council,” Joyner replied. “Have you been speaking on behalf of Habitat?”

“Politicians who stood up for Habitat are now exposed by the Habitat board move, and I need to tell them something,” Lubeck responded.

The next day, Joyner sent Lubeck a cease and desist letter.

“During the course of our correspondence, we have become aware that you have been speaking on our behalf and garnering support from local politicians using Habitat for Humanity of Durham, as it relates to this text amendment,” Joyner wrote. “Although we appreciate all your work as a volunteer, in an effort to maintain clear boundaries, we must inform you that you are not authorized to speak or represent the interests of Habitat for Humanity of Durham.”

While SCAD proponents have argued, in recent weeks, that Durham Habitat’s request to withdraw its name from SCAD was sparked by the INDY’s March 1 article, or by so-called NIMBYs coercing Habitat board members, Deonanan says all external pressure related to the organization’s stance on the proposal has, in fact, come from the proponents.

Trinity Design/Build president Alan Spruyt, for instance, sent Durham Habitat a letter on April 11 that condemned the organization’s “eleventh hour withdrawal of support.”

“I wonder why, after providing several years of free site planning and related consulting, Habitat decided to thank Aaron Lubeck for his pro bono contributions with a cease and desist letter,” Spruyt wrote.

SCAD proponents have also threatened and harassed Deonanan and Joyner over the phone, Deonanan says. These calls have been particularly unsettling, she says, because she and Joyner are women of color and the harassers are all white men.

“We didn’t get spooked,” Deonanan says. “We got smart.”

Of all the evidence suggesting that Durham Habitat never authorized its co-sponsorship role on the SCAD proposal, one piece has been hidden in plain sight since last May: the organization never signed its name on the application. Both Anthony and Durham Habitat are listed as applicants, but only Anthony signed his name.

It’s particularly bewildering, then, that Durham planning director Sara Young nor anyone else in the city-county planning department ever verified the organization’s co-sponsorship—a basic step that the city’s UDO mandates for all applications for development approval, including text amendments, that aren’t initiated by the city or county.

Young did not respond to the INDY’s request for comment.

Section 3.2.4 of the UDO states that upon receiving an application, “the director of the appropriate department, or designee, shall review the application and confer with the applicant to ensure an understanding of the applicable requirements of this Ordinance; that the applicant has submitted all of the information they intend to submit; and that the application represents precisely and completely what the applicant proposes to do.”

This never happened, Deonanan says—nor did the “pre-application conference” mandated by Section 3.2.2 of the UDO. At least, not when anyone from Durham Habitat was around.

On March 7, shortly after Durham Habitat requested that the city remove its name from all documents related to SCAD, Young emailed Joyner to ask whether “the other applicants” had been “notified of your withdrawal.” Before Joyner responded, Young sent another email stating that “we cannot remove Habitat from the application itself as we do not have authority to modify someone’s application.”

Joyner, unsure of how she was supposed to contact the “other applicants” on a proposal with which Durham Habitat was minimally involved, replied, “I reviewed the application and I see James/ Jim Anthony is the signer on the application attached. Can you please share with me any additional information or documents that provide Habitat’s support and authority to be included in the application?”

“The only document we have with Habitat listed is the application,” Young wrote in a reply. “While Jim signed it he listed Habitat as one of the firms (although Habitat did not sign). That is the only place Habitat appears that I am aware of.”

Notably absent while all of this has unfolded is the only ostensibly authorized applicant, Jim Anthony. Anthony has repeatedly not responded to INDY Week’s request for interviews. Given recent revelations, it’s unclear what exactly his role in the proposal is. 

Chapman, while showing the INDY emails between Lubeck and former Habitat board members, may have dropped a hint. He mentioned that Anthony in the past helped one of Chapman’s builders get approved for a bond on a previous project he did for Duke University.

“I [approached] Duke [officials] and I said, ‘if Jim Anthony signs a guarantee, would that work?’” Chapman said. “And they said, ‘His signature is as good as gold.’”

Upon closer inspection, it looks more like pyrite. 

“Why do they need our support so badly?” Deonanan asks. “Why do they need to commandeer Habitat? Why did they make us the Trojan horse?”

Editor’s note: Minutes after our story published, and hours after our requested deadline, Aaron Lubeck sent us the following email at 1:45 p.m. in response to questions we sent. We are publishing the email in full here.

Follow Staff Writer Lena Geller on Twitter or send an email to Comment on this story at

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