A couple hundred people gathered in a historic African American Durham neighborhood Wednesday to bring attention to one of the last, undeveloped plots of land near downtown.
Durham CAN – which stands for Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods – wants the city to buy back 20 acres of land from a private developer and redevelop it as an affordable housing project
The "Fayette Place" public housing development was built in 1967 and demolished in 2009. When Campus Apartments purchased the property, it was originally supposed to be new student housing for North Carolina Central University, and then affordable housing.
Today, the land still sits vacant.
At a news conference, Pastor William Lucas of First Chronicles Community Church described the sprawling, fenced-in area as an eyesore.
"My job is to give you a tour. So I want to give you a tour of dandelions, of crab grass to steps that lead nowhere," Lucas said.
Several area pastors addressed the crowd outside the former "Fayette Place" and called for the city to develop the desolate piece of land that looks more like an old cemetery, with leftover pieces of cement sticking up.
"I am very familiar with this property. It is not owned by the city, it is owned by a private developer," said Durham Mayor Bill Bell. "That's what people need to understand."
Bell did not speak at the Durham CAN news conference, but he was a part of the crowd, along with several other city councilmen.
Bell said redeveloping the land is easier said than done.
"We don’t have a definite plan, but it is certainly an opportunity to bring affordable housing into this area, mixed income affordable housing," he said. "But again, we have to wait until the legal process goes through in terms of land being transferred to the proper entity to allow that to happen."
Campus Apartments purchased the property for $4 million dollars. Martin Eakes, co-founder and CEO of the Durham-based Self Help and the Center for Responsible Lending, said his organization is willing to help.
"The continuing neglect of Fayette Place is disrespectful to the community and contrary to the spirit of the 2007 purchase agreement. Self Help Credit Union will put our resources behind helping the community," Eakes said to a cheering crowd. "We stand 100 percent behind the community's call for the Durham Housing Authority to regain possession of the property."
Time is of the essence. Durham CAN says the city has to make a decision before the end of August 2016 or lose control of the land permanently.