Stand with Walltown on Northgate Mall Redevelopment

Durham City Council

Around 70 Durham residents gathered at Walltown Park on April 24th to hear a community-centered vision for the redevelopment of Northgate Mall

Sign our Petition to Stand with Walltown on Northgate Mall Redevelopment

On Monday, May 10, 2021, the Walltown Community Association and Northgate Mall Neighborhood Council submitted the letter below to Durham's Mayor and City Council. We urged them to help preserve the wealth and identity of the historically Black working-class neighborhood of Walltown by establishing zoning and development policies on the current Northgate Mall property that will limit the further displacement of Walltown residents. While the City is looking into options for responding to our requests, we want to continue building support and demonstrate that equitable development is an important matter to all Durham residents.

To learn more about Walltown and our organizing efforts:


Petition by
Walltown  Community Association
Durham, North Carolina

To: Durham City Council
From: [Your Name]

Dear Mayor Schewel and Members of the Durham City Council,

The Walltown Community Association (WCA) and the Northgate Mall Neighborhood Council (NMNC) urge you to help preserve the wealth and identity of the historically Black working-class neighborhood of Walltown by establishing zoning and development policies on the current Northgate Mall property that will limit the further displacement of Walltown residents.


What is at stake in the redevelopment of Northgate Mall?

The story of economic growth in Durham over the last decade has been a story of gentrification and displacement. As that growth continues, more must be done to keep residents in their homes, democratize the development process and create economic value for the most vulnerable.

Walltown was founded in 1906 by George Wall, a formerly enslaved man who moved to Durham to continue working for Trinity College (eventually Duke University). Since then, the neighborhood has been home to generations of Black working-class families who, in the face of structural racism, have embodied a spirit of self-determination and resilience. When Northgate Mall, formerly under the ownership of Durham’s Rand family, sought to encroach upon residential space, residents organized to keep their land. Now that the mall has been purchased by Northwood Investors, a multi-national real estate investment group, Walltown has organized again to ensure its survival and opportunity to be included in Durham’s economic prosperity.

Unfortunately, this struggle is not new to Black neighborhoods in Durham and not limited to Walltown. We experienced this before when the state bulldozed the Hayti community to build NC Highway 147 under the guise of urban renewal. Bragtown and Merrick Moore are currently engaged in their own struggles around preservation and equitable development. If we, as a city, are not proactive and progressive, the history of destructive development will repeat itself once again.


What do Durham residents envision for the redevelopment of Northgate Mall?

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 a recent 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.


How can the City of Durham support the implementation of this vision?

Regardless of how Northwood responds to our requests for community benefits, there is one immediate action that we request to prevent displacement and preserve Black wealth:

  • Add Walltown to the City’s Longtime Homeowner Grant Program (with no requirement of proximity to City-led revitalization efforts) for this year (tax year 2021) and extend the deadline until July 31st so that adequate outreach can be made to prospective applicants.


To proactively pursue our aforementioned priorities for the Northgate Mall redevelopment, we ask the City to:

  • Explore rezoning the property (options available under NC general statute 160D) so that the developer has to comply with achieving BOTH high density and public goods. There are many examples, both in and outside of North Carolina, where local government, private developers, and community members have worked together to implement community-centered design goals, including the provision of affordable housing in a mixed-use development. This could mean instituting a development moratorium to give you time to conduct the rezoning and develop a plan for the site.


If Northwood continues to put profit over people by disregarding the impact on and input of Durham residents, we request that the City:

  • Refuse to provide any special accommodations or benefits to Northwood as they roll out their site plan for Phase One of the development. This includes but is not limited to: tax breaks, paying for enhancements to sewage or other utility lines, modifying traffic patterns, expediting permits, and providing fee waivers. If any unofficial commitments by the City have already been made, these need to be made public and publicly rescinded.


  • Reject any proposal from Northwood to rezone the property in a way that would increase the building height allowed (currently set at 50 feet for the CC and CG designation). Based on conversations with their staff, it is likely that Northwood will apply for a zoning change to include taller buildings in Phase Two of their redevelopment. There is no reason to grant them this change if they have no intent of including any of the community benefits Durham residents have requested.


  • Consider exercising the power of eminent domain to reclaim part of the property for the establishment of community benefits allowed under North Carolina law (statute 40A-3).


It is our hope that, as Durham’s highest ranking elected officials, you see the historic importance of your (in)actions on this matter. The shadow of displacement and destruction that hung over Hayti now looms over Walltown. With some of the world’s largest corporations establishing campuses in the city and region, courageous leadership and policy making will be needed to prevent private equity from steamrolling through Black and working-class neighborhoods. We hope you will join us in compelling Northwood Ravin to embrace our vision for affordable housing, affordable retail, community and green space, and infrastructure to sustain the environment. Together, we can set the tone for how corporations and developers engage with us moving forward and ensure that Durham remains a city in which all can flourish.

Respectfully,

Walltown Community Association

Northgate Mall Neighborhood Council


With endorsement from the following neighborhood associations:

Northgate Park Neighborhood Association

Duke Park Neighborhood Association

Trinity Park Neighborhood Association

Watts Hospital-Hillandale Neighborhood Association

Old West Durham Neighborhood Association