Senate passes 751 South bill, forcing Durham to provide utilities

jwise@newsobserver.comJuly 26, 2013 

— A bill forcing Durham to provide water and sewer service to the controversial 751 South development passed its final General Assembly vote at 12:30 a.m. Friday.

The vote, a second concurrence in the state Senate, was 34-7, with 26 Republicans and eight Democrats, including Durham Sen. Floyd McKissick, voting in favor.

“I am extremely humbled by the overwhelming bipartisan support that I received,” 751 South developer Alex Mitchell said in a prepared statement.

“During a session when the Republicans and Democrats didn’t seem to agree to much, I feel very fortunate that both parties agreed that North Carolina must stand behind the small business owner.”

Durham’s other state senator, Mike Woodard, was among five Democrats voting “no.” In the House vote July 8, all four Durham County representatives voted “no.”

The bill, SB 315, overrules the Durham City Council’s vote June 3 against a utility extension and annexation for the 167-acre 751 South and the 87-acre adjoining Colvard Farms Tract near Jordan Lake and the Chatham County line.

“The General Assembly believes that Durham can’t be trusted to set its own borders,” 751 South opponent Steve Bocckino said. “Apparently Senator McKissick agrees.”

Durham City Council members voted against the project even though they expected that denial would lead to legislative action. A previous bill to force utility extension failed by a single vote in 2012. That bill was introduced after an earlier council vote against utility extension.

“It was pretty clear that the General Assembly wasn’t going to stop,” Durham Mayor Bill Bell said before the council vote.

Anticipating another legislative attempt to force the city’s hand, Bell, McKissick and other Durham officials negotiated with Southern Durham Development and its legislative allies, particularly state Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, to win some commitments such as road improvements at the developers’ expense.

Those commitments were included in the bill approved Friday. McKissick, who played a lead role in defeating the 2012 bill, said that “in the current environment … the question became, ‘How do you mitigate damages and get as much for the city as we can?’ ”

He explicitly referred to the legislators’ removing Charlotte’s control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Asheville’s control of its water system, and redrawing school districts in Wake County.

As approved, the bill requires any city to provide water and sewer services to any property if the property’s owner submitted a petition for voluntary annexation that a local government denied, as long as an application for those services is made within 60 days of the bill’s becoming law.

It further expands the Durham city limits to include the 751 South and Colvard Farms tracts, effective June 3, 2023. By that time, according to city analysis, tax and fee revenue from the developments may be enough to cover the cost of providing police, fire, and other city services.

As proposed, 751 South will include as much as 600,000 square feet of office and commercial space, and as many as 1,300 residences. Home prices are projected to range from $300,000 to $775,000, and apartment rents from $1.25 to $1.50 per square foot, according to the annexation petition submitted to the city in May.

The adjoining Colvard Farms project is to be solely residential, with as many as 173 lots of one-half acre each and houses with an average sale price of $800,000. That property had not been previously associated with 751 South.

The estimated total value at completion of both projects is $603.4 million.

Since it was announced in early 2008, the project has been a center of contention, involving multiple lawsuits.

Opponents claim the project threatens water quality in already-polluted Jordan Lake, and have objected to tactics the developers’ supporters have used, such as the legislation, to win government approvals for the project.

In a statement late Friday, advocacy group Environment North Carolina linked the 751 South vote to legislators’ decision earlier to delay by three years a pollution-reduction plan for Jordan Lake.

“By forcing a controversial development next to the most polluted part of Jordan Lake and delaying a cleanup plan for the reservoir, lawmakers voted to allow more pollution in the important drinking water source for years to come,” the statement said.

The developers say their stormwater controls will keep 751 South from harming the lake, and that their project will produce hundreds of jobs as well as new tax revenue for the city and county.

Some residents of southern Durham, including Bocckino, have opposed large-scale development in the once-rural area since The Streets at Southpoint mall was proposed in the late 1990s.

“Hopefully,” Mitchell said in an interview Friday, “this will be something like Southpoint mall where we look back and say, ‘After all the controversy, we’re sure re glad it’s here.’ ”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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