State Sen. Dan Blue says he and other members of the Wake County delegation will urge the Council of State not to approve a lease that would move the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles headquarters from Raleigh to Rocky Mount.
The DMV has agreed to vacate its complex on New Bern Avenue by November 2020 because of concerns about asbestos and the safety of the buildings. Last year, the General Assembly required the DMV to seek proposals to lease space in Wake or a surrounding county, and last fall the agency received a dozen offers — all but one of them in Wake or Research Triangle Park.
But that one proposal, for the former Hardee’s headquarters on the north side of Rocky Mount, was the cheapest, and the DMV says it is obligated under state law to go with the lowest qualifying offer. On Tuesday, the Council of State will consider whether to approve a 15-year lease for the Rocky Mount site, with two options that could extend it 10 more years.
Blue says the lease would remove a big employer from one of the poorest areas of Raleigh and would put a burden on employees by making them drive an hour east of the city to get to work. He says the agency would likely lose many good, experienced workers as a result and should consider the cost of trying to replace them.
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“There are many other factors that ought to be considered other than where you can get the cheapest rent,” Blue said in an interview Wednesday.
The Council of State includes Gov. Roy Cooper and the nine other statewide elected state officials, including the secretaries of agriculture, education and labor. Among its other duties, the council approves sales, purchases and leases of property by the state.
Six of the council’s 10 members are Republicans, while Blue and most of the rest of the Wake delegation are Democrats. Still, Blue thinks the council will understand the argument against uprooting a state agency from the capital.
“These are people who have been elected by people from all over the state,” he said. “They have to have a certain sensitivity and recognition of the tough position this puts a set of state employees in.”
Fifty-eight percent of the more than 500 people who work at the DMV headquarters live in Wake County, while 15 percent live in Johnston, according to a report by the NCDOT Facilities Management Unit in November. Plotting all those homes on the map, the state determined that the most central place for those workers would be near the intersection of Timber Drive and Vandora Springs Road in Garner.
The Rocky Mount site is about 60 miles east of that spot, according to the report.
House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County west of Charlotte, said Wednesday he thinks the commuting will “work out just fine,” because the main highway between Raleigh and Rocky Mount, U.S. 64, is “one of the best roads in the state.”
Speaking to reporters at the General Assembly, Moore called the proposed lease a “win-win” for Rocky Mount and for Raleigh.
“I think it’s good that we’re looking at investing in our rural communities,” he said, noting that the DMV buildings are beyond repair. “There’s probably a higher and better use for that land, given the development that Raleigh is having heading east down New Bern Avenue. So I think it’s really going to provide more opportunity for the city to develop that corridor and develop that area.”
Real estate brokers and developers gave DMV a dozen proposals for headquarters sites on nine different pieces of property, including four in Raleigh, two in Garner and one each in Morrisville and the Durham section of RTP, according to the November report. The rent on the RTP site would be slightly higher than in Rocky Mount, but the proposed rents in Wake ranged from $945,000 to more than $2 million more a year on average, according to the report.