DURHAM — A developer says City Council members “turned their backs” on Durham in rejecting utilities and eventual annexation for the controversial 751 South subdivision.
The council’s 4-3 vote late Monday night came despite anticipation that it will be overruled by the N.C. General Assembly. State lawmakers came within one vote last year of overturning an earlier, unanimous council vote against annexing the proposed subdivision site near the Chatham County line.
“Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like being intimidated by anyone,” Councilman Eugene Brown said at the meeting. “Tonight, let it be said at least here, at least in Durham, we do not like negotiating with a gun to our heads. Not here.”
Alex Mitchell, president of Southern Durham Development, said council members who voted against the request for water and sewer service and future annexation disregarded the city’s best interests.
“We are disappointed with the City Council’s vote last night, not only for ourselves but for the City of Durham,” Mitchell said in a statement Tuesday morning.
Southern Durham’s request included both the 167-acre 751 South site and an adjoining 87-acre site proposed for a separate, residential development. The sites are on N.C. 751 near the Chatham County line and Jordan Lake.
Brown joined colleagues Diane Catotti, Don Moffitt and Steve Schewel in voting against the water-sewer extension and annexation.
“If the General Assembly wants to force us, let them do it,” Catotti said. She said she had received 125 emails opposing water-sewer and annexation since leaving for work Monday morning.
Mayor Bill Bell, Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden and Councilman Howard Clement voted in favor.
Clement, who has voiced support for the 1,300-home project in the past, made a rare appearance at Monday’s meeting. Clement, 79, has missed most meetings since late 2011 because of ill health.
Six residents spoke against water-sewer extension and annexation, one in favor. No one representing the developers attended the meeting.
“Where is the developer and why won’t he show his face here?” Schewel said. “We need to not be rolling over for these shenanigans. It is extortion.”
Bell has been in negotiation with the project developers, Southern Durham Development, for several months, expecting another attempt to force annexation by the legislature. Southern Durham had agreed to pay for widening N.C. 751 from its site most of the way north to Renaissance Parkway, and to put off annexation until 2023.
A city cost-benefit analysis indicated that new revenue from an annexed 751 South would not cover the cost of city services for seven to 10 years. The 10-year delay was contingent on the legislature’s amending Durham’s charter, which currently allows no more than three years between approval and actual annexation.
City Attorney Patrick Baker said he had expected legislators to act on the charter before the council vote, but had been told earlier Monday that the charter revision would not be considered unless the council voted in 751 South’s favor.
‘Turned their backs’
Those voting against utility extension and eventual annexation “turned their backs on affordable housing, on $9 million worth of traffic improvements, on thousands of jobs, on the Durham Public Schools, on the Durham County Sheriff’s Department, and on the ability to annex 751 South in 10 years when there will be no risk of economic loss,” Mitchell said.
Southern Durham has predicted 751 South would be a major job creator, and it has offered to donate land for a school and public-safety facility.
Opponents have claimed the project would further degrade water quality in Jordan Lake and extend urban sprawl, and they have taken offense at tactics the developers and their lawyers have used, such as the legislative action proposed in 2012, to advance the project.