Mayor McFarlane says Dorothea Dix negotiations should move faster

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJuly 14, 2014 

— Mayor Nancy McFarlane voiced concern Monday about slow negotiations over the Dorothea Dix property, two months after the city’s latest offer to buy the former psychiatric hospital campus for a park.

Since Raleigh’s April 28 offer to pay $51.26 million for 244 acres, state officials haven’t publicly responded to the city. Meeting with News & Observer editors Monday, the mayor said she’d hoped to make a deal by now.

“We should have been done,” she said. “It should have gone faster.”

The deadline for an agreement has been extended twice and now expires July 31. But despite the delays, McFarlane said city leaders have spoken with state officials within the week.

“They’ve got a lot of stuff going on right now,” she noted, in reference to ongoing state budget negotiations.

A spokesman for Secretary of Administration Bill Daughtridge declined a request to speak with state negotiators Monday, saying only that the talks remain “ongoing.”

The mayor says one of the main sticking points is how much of the Dix property the state would keep to house the Department of Health and Human Services. Both the city and the state’s latest public offers leave about 64 acres to house the agency’s headquarters, with city park land surrounding the complex. The city has also proposed to buy a vacant field at the Governor Morehead School for the Blind – a potential connection between Dix and Pullen Park.

But Dix park boosters say at least 300 acres are needed to create a statewide draw, and McFarlane said housing state offices there isn’t ideal.

“If they’re going to stay in those buildings, they’re going to be spending a lot of money,” she said. “It would be my preference to be able to have all of the land.”

State and city negotiators also disagree on who should clean up contamination on the site, which is estimated to cost between $10.99 million and $22.68 million. “My concern is that there is something buried there that we don’t know about,” McFarlane said.

If the two sides reach a deal on Dix, the mayor expects the sale price will go before city voters in a 2015 bond referendum. And while the City Council is already asking voters to borrow $91.78 million for parks this fall, she’s optimistic a Dix vote will pass.

“We’ve had very good responses on bonds,” McFarlane said.

The mayor also addressed other issues facing Raleigh in Monday’s meeting:

On transit: McFarlane said she’s hopeful that Wake County Commissioners will take action toward a half-cent sales tax referendum when they discuss transit plans later this month. “It’s unfortunate that it’s become politicized and become a partisan issue,” she said. “That is the thing that will put us farther behind. Charlotte is already 15 years ahead of us.”

On the Raleigh Housing Authority: McFarlane said she’ll soon be appointing two new board members for the embattled public housing agency, which voted to increase its board in the wake of controversy surrounding director Steve Beam’s salary and time off. She said she agrees with calls to add a representative from Southeast Raleigh. “I definitely see both sides” of the criticism, she said. “That’s why I’m taking my time trying to find the right eyes to put in the spots.”

On road races: “We have to change the rules. I do really feel for the people that live in those areas that are hammered all the time (by road closures).”

On rumors that she plans to seek higher office: McFarlane said she doesn’t want to leave the mayor’s chair until the Dorothea Dix park and Wake transit plans move forward. “I’m staying until those get done,” she said.

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

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