Moves by a private water company and the developers of the controversial proposed 751 South development in south Durham near Jordan Lake have Durham officials on the defensive.
A recent request by Aqua North Carolina, a subsidiary of Aqua America, to the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, has project opponents worried the developer may have found a back door to providing water service to the project. Southern Durham Development’s inability to get water service for its project has been the main obstacle holding it up.
Aqua N.C. has approached Chatham County about buying 850,000 gallons per day from the county, and the commissioners voted 4-1 to draft a contract for it.
Aqua N.C. President Tom Roberts confirmed that the company has talked with Southern Durham Development, but the water Aqua would be getting originates in Durham. It would be sold to Chatham, which would sell it to Aqua, and then potentially to 751 South customers.
Donald Greeley, the director of Durham’s Water Management Department, has sent a letter to Chatham County Public Works Director David Hughes, asking that the agreement between Durham and Chatham on water sales be amended to clarify that water Chatham buys from Durham is not to end up outside Chatham County.
Greeley contends that that is the intent of the original water agreement.
Lake impact feared
The 751 South development would include 1,300 homes and up to 600,000 square feet of retail space on 167 acres. Opponents claim it would threaten the water quality of Jordan Lake. A proposed sewer line crosses sensitive habitat, including more than a mile of Army Corps of Engineers property.
The Durham County Board of Commissioners approved 751 South, introduced in 2008, in a divisive process, but the Durham City Council voted against extending water lines to the development. Durham County commissioners, however, approved sewer service for the project in July.
Southern Durham Development turned to the state legislature, getting a Cleveland County Republican, Rep. Tim Moore, to present a bill in June that would have overruled the City Council’s denial of water service.
The bill, which passed the House but died in the Senate by one vote, would have required cities to let property owners outside city limits but within designated “urban growth areas” connect to municipal water-sewer systems.
The City Council had expanded the city’s urban growth area to include the tract in January, but in February the council unanimously rejected Southern Durham’s application for annexation and utility extension after an analysis found annexation would not begin to pay for itself for at least seven years.
County support wanes
If the development ends up before the county commissioners again, it may have lost some support.
New Commissioners Fred Foster and Wendy Jacobs, who took office Dec. 3, have expressed concerns about 751 South’s environmental impact. Along with 11-term Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, the three could doom the project with the five-member board.
And if a partnership with Aqua N.C. doesn’t work out and Southern Durham were to seek to build the project using community wells as a water source, the developer would have to go before the commissioners again, in a special-use hearing.