NC House approves compromise bill to renegotiate Dix lease

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 29, 2013 

— The state House on Wednesday approved a compromise measure to renegotiate Raleigh’s lease on the Dorothea Dix property – a move that sets up a showdown with Senate Republicans who oppose the deal between Raleigh leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory.

The bill, which passed the House in a 111-5 vote, would allow a year to renegotiate the December agreement that leased the Dix property for a destination park.

“This bill makes clear that the legislature cares deeply about the process for how an asset like Dix is transferred,” said Rep. Justin Burr, the Albemarle Republican who sponsored the House version. “It should be fair to both the state and the city.”

A new agreement could be a lease or sale of the land, and Raleigh would also get a chance to buy the 40-acre Governor Morehead School – creating a link across Western Boulevard to Pullen Park. The state, however, would keep 30 acres for the Department of Health and Human Services, a provision that’s opposed by some park backers.

Raleigh leaders have voiced their support, saying the extra year allows for needed environmental assessments, appraisals and boundary surveys. They’re not sure whether the city will pay more or less under a new arrangement. The original lease was worth $68 million over 75 years, which opponents said was far below appraisals.

The compromise will face opposition in the Senate, where the bill’s original sponsors and Senate leader Phil Berger say it “cedes more ground” to Raleigh rather than immediately revoking a lease they see as invalid. Wednesday’s vote likely forces the two sides into private conference negotiations; another version of the bill could emerge in the coming weeks.

In the House, though, the only opposition came from five Democrats, led by Rep. Darren Jackson of Knightdale. He said that even the compromise version sets a bad precedent because it still tears up Raleigh’s original lease.

“We’re saying to the city, ‘We control you – you have to take this action,’” Jackson said, adding that the bill sends a bad message to the business community: “Don’t do anything with our municipalities without the state’s approval.

“I don’t think that’s a good precedent to set.”

But most Democrats disagreed and joined with Republicans to support the bill. “I think it’s very wise, thoughtful and promotes good relationships between the state and cities,” said Raleigh Rep. Deborah Ross.

Ross, however, worries opponents in the Senate could push the House to vote instead on the original language that Democrats and park backers oppose. She resigns Saturday to take a job with the Triangle Transit Authority.

“This is my parting request: If the Senate does not agree with this, please let the situation stay the way it is between the city and state,” she said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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