Legislative approval proposed for Dix land use

Proposed law may complicate plans for a park on former hospital property

lbonner@newsobserver.com April 11, 2012 


Ruth Bromer walks her 2-year-old border terrier Kiwi through the cemetery near the soccer fields at Dorothea Dix in Raleigh on Thursday, September 30, 2011. One of the proposals for the Dix property is to turn it into a destination park.

SHAWN ROCCO — 2011 News and Observer file photo

Legislators will be asked to pass a law this spring that would require them to formally sign off on any sale or lease of the Dorothea Dix hospital property near downtown.

The law would complicate plans to put a park on the property, an initiative that got a boost this year from Gov. Bev Perdue.

Without a law requiring legislative approval, the Council of State – a group of statewide elected officials – could approve the Dix property land sale without the legislature’s input.

After years of pushing to have a landmark park on the property, plans lurched forward in February. Perdue released the results of a property appraisal and told the Department of Administration to look for a “tenant representative” to study the options for moving 1,300 state employees who work on the campus. The property includes a state psychiatric hospital that will be emptied of its final few dozen patients in August.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, proposed Tuesday that an oversight committee in health and human services recommend a law that would prevent the Dix property from being “sold, leased, rented, or gifted” without legislative approval. The suggestion to introduce such a bill passed with unanimous committee support. Legislative committees spent this winter readying proposed bills to file when the legislature returns for its short session in May. This would be one of them.

Wake residents began working years ago to turn the Dix property into a 306-acre park. In 2007, former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker offered to have the city buy the Dix property from the state for $10 million.

The recent appraisal says the land is worth much more than that. It put the current value at $60 million and its value in a “fully rebounded market” at $86 million.

Dollar said the proposed bill isn’t a knock against the park idea, but represents the legislature’s interest in having a say in what happens to the land and where state employees who work at the site will move.

“This is a very important piece of state property,” Dollar said.

“We want to ensure that the General Assembly has the final say in the disposition of the property,” he said. “We want to get all the options on the table and make sure we have all the information at hand before decisions are made.”

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the legislators she has spoken to are supportive of a park. One thing all legislators want is for the proceeds of a sale to go to mental health, she said.

McFarlane said she heard a lot of support from residents during her campaign last year, and hopes a deal to create the park can be struck this year.

“I just really think the will is there,” she said.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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