School for the blind property won't be part of Dorothea Dix park, Raleigh mayor says

ccampbell@newsobserver.comNovember 19, 2013 

— The city’s new deal for a park on the Dorothea Dix property won’t include any land from the nearby Governor Morehead School for the Blind, Mayor Nancy McFarlane said Tuesday.

The 40-acre campus across Western Boulevard from Dix came into play this summer as part of a compromise deal on the Dix lease, which Republican legislators sought to revoke. Because Republicans want to keep about 30 acres at Dix for state offices, Raleigh was offered an option to buy land across the street.

The move prompted concern from advocates for the blind and visually impaired, who feared the school could be forced to move. They argued that the state was “playing Monopoly” with a crucial resource that’s been at the same site since 1923.

McFarlane said both sides have now agreed to take the Governor Morehead property off the table. She said the city had only been interested in a vacant field near Western Boulevard – not the entire school campus.

Work toward a new deal between the city and Gov. Pat McCrory involves only the Dix property, a change that supporters of the school find reassuring.

Gary Ray, president of the National Federation of the Blind of North Carolina, said the shift shows that McCrory values the school.

“We believe that the announcement is a good thing for the blind of North Carolina because we believe there is an acknowledgement of the need for a residential school for the blind on the Ashe Avenue property,” Ray said.

But while Ray opposed the sale of the school itself, he said he had been willing to support a deal that offered the little-used field and running track to Raleigh.

“In my opinion, it would not affect the ability of the residential school to be located on Ashe Avenue,” he said.

Giving up the option on Governor Morehead means the new park will fall short of the 325-acre tract Raleigh got under the lease signed by outgoing Gov. Bev Perdue.

The latest maps show the state wants to keep 40.3 acres – up from the 30 acres announced this summer – to house offices for the Department of Health and Human Services. The boundaries haven’t been finalized.

The boundary study, along with appraisals and environmental assessments, have been slowed by delays within state agencies, McFarlane said last week. She wrote to McCrory asking him to take a “more direct role” in moving toward a new round of negotiations.

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

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