DURHAM — Less than two weeks after backing away from involving itself in the controversial 751 South development, the City Council waded in Monday night.
By a 5-2 vote, the council extended the city's Urban Growth Area to include the proposed 751 South property on N.C. 751 near the Chatham County line.
While Mayor Bill Bell and some council members repeatedly said they were voting on the extension alone, its approval does allow the council to approve the developers' requests for connecting to city water and sewer lines and for annexation into the city.
The council is waiting on a cost-benefit analysis of annexing the 167-acre tract before considering the extension. City Manager Tom Bonfield said Monday night that he expects that review to be done within 30 days.
Several council members also have said they want to wait until a lawsuit is settled over a rezoning that county commissioners approved for the project last August.
The reason for extending the UGA, though, was to bring it into line with a 2006 ruling by then-Durham Planning Director Frank Duke that reset a Jordan Lake watershed boundary such that the 751 South site was no longer within a restricted-development zone.
Public comments as well as the council members' own discussion left no doubt that 751 South was truly the matter at hand. Thirteen speakers favoring the UGA extension praised the project for creating jobs, meeting strict environmental standards, accommodating growth, increasing tax revenue and serving as a model of "new urbanist" development.
Six speakers opposing extension disputed the estimates of economic benefits, said the location near already polluted New Hope Creek and Jordan Lake is inappropriate for dense development and called the project a case of "urban sprawl" far from the central city where Durham's stated policy is to concentrate dense development.
As proposed, 751 South could include up to 1,300 residences, 300,000 square feet each of office and retail space and 150,000 square feet of "civic floor area" on N.C. 751 near the Chatham County line.
The project has been an object of fierce contention for three years, over its possible environmental effects and the process by which it has been maneuvered through planning, review and approval processes -- largely stemming from Duke's 2006 ruling.