About six weeks ago, Trace Ramsey noticed new neighbors moving their belongings into 215 North Briggs Avenue, the long-vacant house next door to him in east Durham. Not long after, he says, he observed people out in the yard, trimming the lawn and the bushes. But nobody was sleeping there at night.
"So, a few weeks ago, I walked over and peeked in the window," Ramsey says, "and there was this big 'DURHAM REPUBLICANS' banner in the living room."
Ramsey did a little research online and discovered that his new neighbor was, in fact, the Durham County Republican Party. Here's the thing: the 200 block of North Briggs Avenue is residentially zoned; technically, it is RU-5(2). That means the Durham GOP—or any entity that intends to use a house on the block for nonresidential purposes—would have to, at minimum, apply for a change-of-use permit with the Durham City-County Planning Department.
Immanuel Jarvis, chairman of the Durham GOP, tells the INDY, "We verified everything with the city of Durham zoning laws before we moved in. The house can be used as a library and resource center without additional permitting fees and registration, and that's how we'll be using the space—as a headquarters for community outreach in this great neighborhood in Durham. It would have been very foolish of us to take ownership of a location and not be sure we could use it as such."
But Steve Medlin, director of the Durham City-County Planning Department, says his office has no applications on file regarding 215 North Briggs.
"A community service use permit is potentially allowed in an RU-5(2), but nobody has applied for it at that address," Medlin says. "If they did apply, they would have to meet the standards for a community service facility. Typically, that means activities that are nonprofit in nature, like education, training, and counseling. They would have to complete a change-of-occupancy form, from residential to nonresidential, showing the site is up to compliance with the building codes. And they would have to submit a plan that shows they have adequate parking on-site."
Since the Durham GOP has completed none of these requirements, Medlin says, the situation is "most likely a zoning enforcement violation."
"We don't have the authority to go in and tell them to cease and desist," Medlin adds. "They would have the opportunity to appeal, or submit their plans, or come into compliance. If none of that happened, we would eventually get to the stage where we have an enforcement action to bring the site into compliance."