Raleigh mayor wants Gov. McCrory to address delays in Dorothea Dix Park work

ccampbell@newsobserver.comNovember 15, 2013 

— Mayor Nancy McFarlane is asking Gov. Pat McCrory to take a “more direct role” in efforts to craft a new agreement for Raleigh’s planned park on the Dorothea Dix property.

In a letter to the governor that she released Friday, McFarlane said she’s concerned that state agencies involved have created a “pattern of delay” that has “disrupted and will continue to disrupt our abilities to meet our goals.”

After Republican state legislators tried to void Raleigh’s lease on the 325-acre property earlier this year, McCrory signed what’s known as a “standstill agreement” with the city. The agreement gives the city and state a year to come up with a new arrangement to replace the lease signed by former Gov. Bev Perdue. Some Republicans have said the lease terms – worth $68 million over 75 years – were a bad deal for the state.

The standstill agreement calls for a series of environment assessments and appraisals before both sides return to the negotiating table. According to a progress report attached to McFarlane’s letter, state officials haven’t granted the city permission to access the Dix property or to look at environmental records.

The delay means that the environmental assessment won’t get done by the Dec. 1 deadline set out in the agreement.

“We’re not going to make that deadline, and that’s why I got in touch with the governor,” McFarlane said in an interview Friday, adding that she’s worried the delays could lead to a “time crunch.”

The standstill agreement is set to expire in June, and it’s unclear what happens if the new contract isn’t ready. While the agreement is in effect, no lease payments are due, and neither party can sue.

Aiming for December

At a news conference Wednesday – shortly after McFarlane sent the letter – McCrory told reporters that he’s aiming to reach a new agreement with the city by early December. The city’s progress report, however, indicates the environmental studies needed for the negotiations won’t be done until at least March.

“I am trying to find out exactly where any holdups might be,” McCrory said Wednesday. “I want this Dix park to work, but I also have to protect the interest of the state.”

McCrory spokeswoman Kim Genardo said Friday that the governor recently spoke with the mayor by phone about the issue.

McFarlane said she’s eager to see progress toward Raleigh’s destination park on the property, and she wants to schedule regular meetings with McCrory and his staff to keep tabs on the effort.

“This is something that everybody is asking about,” she said Friday.

Environmental studies are needed to determine cleanup costs for a former gas plant on the site, as well as asbestos and lead in the former psychiatric hospital buildings. The state also plans to keep about 30 acres to house the Department of Health and Human Services while giving Raleigh an option to acquire the Governor Morehead School property across the street.

A new appraisal will show how much the land under consideration is worth; earlier appraisals conducted by the city and state reached varying property values.

Appraisal delay

According to the city progress report, state officials said this month that they might want to tweak the boundaries of the 30-acre tract. Any changes would further delay the appraisals, the report says.

City officials are working with the state Department of Administration on the environmental and appraisal work. Department spokesman Chris Mears said the efforts are “complex and multifaceted.”

“Delays, if any, have not materially affected the negotiations related to the future of the Dix campus,” he said.

The fate of the Dix property was a hot topic at the General Assembly earlier this year. In February, Senate Republicans introduced a bill to revoke the lease signed two months earlier by Perdue, a Democrat. They called it a “lame-duck deal” that didn’t represent the property’s “fair market value.”

The measure passed the Senate, but McCrory teamed with House Republicans on a compromise bill with terms similar to the standstill agreement. Neither bill made it out of the legislature, but in July, Senate Republicans agreed to step aside and let McCrory oversee a new agreement. But they noted that legislators could still take action if they don’t like the governor’s new contract.

McFarlane says she doesn’t want efforts toward a new agreement to be contentious.

“I know that the Dorothea Dix Park is important to you, and I am hopeful that you will join me in playing a more direct role to ensure that the standstill agreement is carried out as intended, and in a timely fashion,” McFarlane wrote in the letter. “Let’s get together soon to talk about the Dorothea Dix Park and how we can continue to work together.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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