By The Horns | January 22, 2023

“I hope that we can find a way forward, I hope that we can find a plan, but I’m so sick and tired of only being against and no dang’on plan for it.”

By The Horns | January 22, 2023

Welcome to the newest edition of By The Horns, a newsletter covering the Durham City Council. This series is intended to help guide those attempting to understand the mechanics of Durham city government, stay informed on issues throughout Durham, and learn the tools necessary to be a more engaged citizen.

Photo by Elliot Blumberg
Photo by Elliot Blumberg

The Meeting Agenda for January 17 can be found here.

The By The Horns Resource Guide can be found here.


“I hope that we can find a way forward, I hope that we can find a plan, but I’m so sick and tired of only being against and no dang’on plan for it.” - Councilmember Leonard Williams

Many folks in chamber, citizens and council alike, were visibly frustrated after a long night of deliberation over Durham’s future. I can’t blame anyone. We all want to know what the plan is for our city. As Williams alluded to in the meeting, these choices are challenging and not made in isolation. But Tuesday’s meeting left a lot of us with more questions than answers.

I know it’s my job to distill the meetings for you, but it’s really worth re-watching this one top-to-bottom, even if it takes a couple sittings to get through it.

Call to Order

A Brief Summary of the Meeting

  • Mayor O’Neal was absent from the meeting. I don’t know that her presence would have swayed the outcome of any voting, but we missed her nonetheless. Hope you had a productive trip to DC!
  • The single ceremonial item proclaimed 2023 as “The Year of the Trails,” coinciding with the statewide proclamation of the same name.
  • Four items on the General Business Agenda, two of which passed without much fanfare: Zoning Map Change - 1311 NC Highway 54 West (an old Eckerd drug store near Jordan High School), and Consolidated Annexation - Crescent Townes (currently the property is in Chapel Hill). The big ticket item was Kemp Road Residential, the final item of the night.

Kemp Road Residential, Revisited

Back in October, I wrote about the last time Kemp Road Residential was brought in front of council. The item was never voted on. Instead, it was sent back to the planning over concerns about a lack of capacity from the fire department. At the time, it looked like a major win for opponents of development in the area.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Nil Ghosh, the attorney representing the project for Morningstar Law Group, pushed back on the idea that the capacity of the fire department was ever a hinderance on the progress of the development. (2:32:48) Ghosh noted this back in October when the project was first rejected.

Photo by Elliot Blumberg
Photo by Elliot Blumberg

“I do feel like this project is being asked to answer for fire safety in a way that I’m not sure I’ve seen other projects held to that standard,” he said Tuesday. And trust me, he would know. He represents nearly all of them. Can we get this man a day off? Maybe a spa day? Kemp Road Residential is a proposed 665-unit development in an area already bursting at the seams with new construction, so it makes sense why staff might have different standards, but in the case, no differentiation was levied against the project by the fire department.

Photo by Elliot Blumberg
Photo by Elliot Blumberg

Fire and EMS capacity was just one of a laundry list of issues raised by members of the community; water quality, affordability, appropriate construction permitting, adequate infrastructure like schools and roads, tree preservation, and wildlife protection. Tina Motley, one of the opponents, made accusations toward council that, let’s just say, we’re not well-received.

“Anyone that suggests that we would jump up and down for developers, or that we’re in the pocket of developers. How about I say that, ‘Preserve Rural Durham are a bunch of White folk that are afraid of urbanization.’ Is that fair? Does that help the debate?” (3:07:07)

Issues like these have been brought up numerous times by members of Preserve Rural Durham and others. In the past, the council vote has leaned in favor of the development, typically with a 4-3 split. But as council members made their remarks after closing the public hearing, the tenor of early responses from Councilpersons Johnson and Caballero suggested that we might get a different outcome. Caballero’s comments in particular offer insight into the challenges the city faces when assessing how we develop in Durham.

“I understand Councilmember Freeman’s frustration but a lot of that is just capitalism. A lot of the frustrations that we’re feeling is because we live in a system that commodifies housing, that doesn’t declare housing as a human right, that makes it so people are interested, in fact there were two folks who were opponents who are real estate agents who have made a lot of money off a really hot market in Durham. And so, all of us are feeling those frustrations.”

She continues to note that the state and federal government hamstring city staff when it comes to making our own policies around development. Councilmember Williams said as much shortly after.

“We have a lot of issues out there but one thing we can’t control is how many people are moving to this area. It’s going to hurt one way or the other. That is something we have to mitigate as best as we can, and as best we can within our jurisdiction.”

The vote for Kemp Road Residential failed 2-4 with Councilpersons Williams and Middleton voting in favor.

Can 3-D Printing Help Solve the Housing Crisis?
Standard construction can be slow, costly, and inefficient. Machines might do it better.


The Kemp Road project, and the discourse surrounding it at Tuesday’s meeting, are a perfect encapsulation of the challenges Durham faces, and the need for more clarity around the vision for our future. I’ve been to nearly every meeting since August 2022. At times, I find it hard to connect the dots between votes cast by council, the values they express during the meetings, and the goals laid out in the Strategic Plan.

Envision - City of Durham Strategic Plan | Durham, NC
Know the City of Durham’s Strategic Plan.

If you haven’t already, take a look at the Strategic Plan. My criticism as of late is that “there’s no plan.” While I recognize that the word “plan” is in the title, I’m not convinced that our decision-making always aligns.

I’d love to know what others think! Send me an email or a message on social media with your thoughts on the Strategic Plan.

Additional Items

My friends Bliss Floccare and Ryan Cocca joined the Council Watchdog crew for their first council meeting. In fact, Bliss raised the bar for our group by getting up to speak on behalf of the wildlife in our community. No one else in our group has spoken on an agenda item. You can thank her for any references to “people over deer” in future meetings.

Photo by Justin Laidlaw
Photo by Justin Laidlaw

Erik Landfried, a transportation expert and colleague of mine at Bike Durham, shared this tweet a few days ago detailing “road ownership” in various North Carolina cities.

This is just another example of how the State can hinder our ability to build communities the way we envision. You can learn more during my conversation with Erik on {redacted}, my new {redacted}, coming soon!

🐂 🐂 🐂