NC Senate votes to revoke Raleigh's lease on Dix property

Staff writerMarch 26, 2013 

TREES04.NE.040212.ASR

The Raleigh skyline as seen from Barbour Drive on the Dorothea Dix Campus in Raleigh on April 2, 2012.

SHAWN ROCCO — srocco@newsobserver.com

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RALEIGH -- The state Senate voted to revoke Raleigh’s lease on the Dorothea Dix property Tuesday afternoon by a 29-21 vote, with Wake County’s Republicans voting with Democrats against the measure.

Sponsors of Senate Bill 334 say that Perdue gave the state a bad deal and called her final major act “illegitimate.” The bill calls for locating the Department of Health and Human Services offices on the Dix property and leasing the rest to Raleigh at “fair market value.”

Proceeds would be dedicated to mental health.

Under the lease signed in December by outgoing Gov. Bev Perdue and Raleigh officials, the state retains ownership of the Dorothea Dix property; the city pays $500,000 a year, plus 1.5 percent annual increases, in a deal worth $68 million over 75 years.

Opponents of the lease point to an $84 million appraisal done in 2011 as the land’s true value, and they want Raleigh’s payments to reflect that. They say the legislature is merely exercising its ability to take back the land under the terms of the lease. The bill’s sponsor,

Sen. Louis Pate, called the lease “a double whammy for North Carolina taxpayers.”

Park proponents say the lease is fair and the $84 million figure represents the value of the land for development, not for a park.

Several Senate Democrats from Wake County Democrats told their colleagues that business leaders are worried about the precedent of breaking the lease.

“We have got to start living up to our word,” said Senate minority leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Asheville. “I ask that we please stop this nonsense before we destroy the integrity of this state.”

If the bill passes, the lease could wind up in court. Raleigh leaders are already in talks with attorneys, and an amendment to the bill passed Tuesday anticipates the possibility. Pate added a provision for a three-judge panel appointed by the state Supreme Court to hear any suit from Raleigh. He said the process is similar to redistricting challenges and is necessary because the lease involves a statewide asset.

“This is a very cumbersome, very unwieldy proceeding that I haven’t seen anywhere else,” said Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat. “The only reason we’re really doing it is because we question the underlying action this represents.”

The bill now moves to the state House, where several Republicans have sponsored an identical bill.

Campbell: 919-829-4802

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