DURHAM – Greenfire Development has secured another two months’ delay from Durham’s Historic Preservation Commission so it can refine its plans for replacing part of the Liberty Warehouse with 160 apartments.
Commission members agreed to the postponement on Tuesday, rather than commencing a hearing on whether to give Greenfire a “certificate of appropriateness” allowing demolition of the damaged southern portion of the warehouse.
The postponement “will allow us to continue work through our program for building,” said Paul Smith, Greenfire’s managing partner. “We’d prefer to present a solution to the commission rather than just a generic application for demolition.”
“See you in February,” commission Chairman Andrew Sprouse told Smith after the panel agreed to the delay.
Greenfire needs an OK from the preservation commission because the Liberty Warehouse is a local historic landmark.
Landmark status gives Greenfire a 50 percent break on the warehouse’s property taxes, in return for the company giving the commission a say over changes to the building’s exterior.
The warehouse’s future has been in doubt since it suffered a partial roof collapse amid a storm that hit in May 2011. The incident forced several tenants of the former tobacco auction house to relocate, and spawned a lawsuit by some of them against Greenfire.
They allege the developer neglected the building’s maintenance. A Greenfire-hired engineering report, however, claims the warehouse’s drainage system was poorly designed and wasn’t up to the job of handling the rains that hit just before the collapse.
Greenfire now seeks to knock down the southern portion of the warehouse, the part most heavily affected by the incident.
The preservation commission by state law can’t veto demolition but can delay it for up to a year. The clock on any delay would start as soon as it acts on Greenfire’s certificate request.
The commission also has until April – six months from the time Greenfire filed for the certificate – to decide the issue one way or another.
Should it fail to rule, the certificate by law will be “automatically approved,” city/county Senior Planner Lisa Miller said.
Greenfire also faces a city “demolition by neglect” action, having failed to repair the warehouse by an Oct. 15 deadline.
The city in theory could penalize Greenfire, but it’s holding off because the company is working to have the local-landmark label removed. That would take the matter out of the preservation arena entirely, but the City Council would have to agree to the “de-designation.”