What is the background of the Pinecrest property, and why was Phillip Clark Custom Builders selected to develop it?

A pillar of the Durham, North Carolina, community, the late Duke University heiress and philanthropist Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans spent much of her life promoting the arts and humanities through various philanthropic efforts in Durham. Semans lived on the 15-acre Pinecrest estate in the Forest Hills neighborhood for many years until her passing in 2012.

Mary’s son, James D.B.T. Semans, and his wife, Margaret Rich, inherited the property. Facing high property taxes and considerable expenses associated with maintaining the historic property and grounds, the Semans family made the difficult decision to sell the property. They deliberately launched an in-depth, two-year search to find the right developer who would honor the family’s legacy and maintain property’s integrity.

The Semans family selected Phillip Clark Custom Builders based on our decades of experience building beautiful, classic homes and communities within intown neighborhoods and historic districts.

What does Phillip Clark Custom Builders have planned for the Pinecrest property?

We are proposing a walkable neighborhood that is worthy of its setting in Forest Hills and is respectful of the special legacy and heritage of the Semans property. We are drawing inspiration from the Pinecrest property itself, including the sprawling greenery and tree canopy, while seeking to create a remarkable community concept with high quality homes that seamlessly complement nearby residences and communities. In our proposal, we’ve also committed to investing in shared greenspaces and gardens that are accessible to all of Forest Hills.

Is this the best way to preserve this historic property?

Durham is a fast-growing city and Forest Hills serves as a long-sought after area to live just a mile outside of the burgeoning downtown area. Not only does our proposed development align with the City of Durham’s growth plan and the Semans family wishes, but other Durham organizations and community members support the project, as well. For example, Preservation Durham supports our plan to preserve the historic homes, and we will continue to work closely with them throughout the planning process.

In a different scenario, with no changes to the property’s current RS-20 zoning, another developer could theoretically purchase the land, split it into 24 lots and build two homes per acre. They could either build all 24 homes or sell off lots one by one. In this case, the neighborhood would not have input on the homes that are built on this land. Alternatively, a developer could theoretically choose to clear cut the property and keep the space entirely private.

What have you done to involve Forest Hills residents and the surrounding neighbors in your development plans?

We have held more than 15 meetings with neighborhood groups and the larger community to discuss every aspect of the project. In these meetings, we actively listened to feedback and concerns and made changes to our site plan as conversations evolved. With full transparency, we have also provided regular updates to the neighborhood via letters and listservs.

A small faction of neighborhood residents have expressed five key areas of concern: housing density, garage location, perimeter buffer, traffic and home style (single-family attached vs. detached homes). We have continued to hone the site plans and make modifications to address these five areas of concerns. 

What specific changes have you made to the plans for Pinecrest after hearing input from neighbors? 

  • Housing Density: Our original plan from the fall of 2017 proposed 59 units, including the two flats in the historical home. In the spring of 2018, we reduced the density of the site plan to 48 units, and in the summer of 2018, we further reduced the density of the site plan to 42 units.Our aim is to create a community of the highest quality and to respect and enhance the value, quality of life and architectural character of Forest Hills. We very much appreciate and have applied the community feedback received, but will not compromise on architectural quality, detailing and materials necessary to achieve our vision. By committing to 42 units, it allows us to create elegant, classic homes that respect the existing homes of Forest Hills.
  • Garage location: Originally, the orientation of the homes on the perimeter of the property included some outward-facing garages. In the current plan, all garages face inward, avoiding numerous driveways and points of access along Kent Street and Westwood Drive.
  • Perimeter buffer: Some residents expressed interest in having the homes set back further from the road. Our current plan has increased the setbacks off the perimeter of the property.
  • Traffic: We commissioned a professional traffic study that was completed in the spring of 2018. The results of this study were shared in neighborhood community meetings and concluded that the traffic resulting from our proposed development would be no more significant than if 24 homes were to be developed on the property by right. Additionally, the parking structures that we have designed aim to minimize visibility of vehicles.
  • Home style: The vast majority of the development proposes attached, single-family homes. In order to have a village-type streetscape without wide public roads, Durham ordinances require a technical attachment be made between the homes. Our plan envisions these attachments as garden sheds, trellis parking spaces or similar structures. The large historic home on the property will be split into two flats. Preservation Durham supports our plan to preserve the historic nature of the homes on the property, and we will continue to work closely with them throughout the planning process.

What will be done to preserve tree canopy?

The tree canopy is an integral part of the Forest Hills neighborhood and a prime reason why this property was so appealing to us. Like the residents of the neighborhood, we want to preserve the area and maintain as many trees as possible. While it is inevitable that trees will be removed to construct new homes, our current plan calls for an approximate $1,000,000 expenditure for the creation of shared greenspaces, tree replacement and garden development.

Has any consideration been given to potential storm water issues? 

We will strictly follow all local and state storm water regulations. We are considering utilizing bio-retention ponds and/or underground detention.

Will the Pinecrest community be public and accessible to all neighbors?

Yes. Additionally, we plan to create a public trail through the meadow on the east side of the property. We aim to create amenities that are accessible to all of Forest Hills. 

Will the Pinecrest development be a gated community? 

No, this will not be a gated community.

Will there be any commercial structures?

No, the Pinecrest development will be strictly residential.

Do you have to change the current zoning to move forward with the proposed plan? 

We’ve stated our intention to seek a 20 percent reduction in density to build a total of 38 homes on the property, in addition to renovating two existing units and creating two flats within the historic home on the property. We committed to building this specific number of units in our planning conversations and within our original zoning application, with input and direction from the Durham City-County Planning Department. We abide by that commitment.

What is the timeline to build this community, as proposed?

If approved, our anticipated plan is to build out the community in phases over the course of 2-3 years. Work would be restricted to comply with city ordinances. We would under no circumstances allow work before 7 a.m. Additionally, we would discourage work on Saturdays and prohibit work on Sundays and all major holidays.