Raleigh Report

Raleigh council supporter sues the council

A construction crew works on the Boylan-Pearce building in downtown Raleigh in 2014. Owner Dean Debnam is renovating the building that once housed the fashionable department store and restoring the store's early 20th-century facade.
A construction crew works on the Boylan-Pearce building in downtown Raleigh in 2014. Owner Dean Debnam is renovating the building that once housed the fashionable department store and restoring the store's early 20th-century facade. sshaw@newsobserver.com

A political ally of some Raleigh council members is now suing the city because the council restricted the height of future development at the site of his downtown building.

Boylan Pearce Building LLC, owned by businessman and liberal activist Dean Debnam, is suing the city for placing a 5-story height cap on his property at 216 Fayetteville St. last fall. Until last year, the city had no height limit on the Boylan Pearce property, according to the lawsuit.

Debnam is suing on grounds that the Raleigh City Council didn’t properly notify him before it approved the cap, which he claims hurts the property’s resale value. He bought the land for $1.4 million in 2012 and once told The News & Observer he planned to spend $10 million on renovations. But he has no immediate plans to expand the building, according to Bill Brian of Morningstar Law Group, Debnam’s attorney.

The city in June advertised plans to cap development on Debnam’s property at 40 stories, a proposal the lawsuit says he preferred. But City Council members changed their minds at a Nov. 9 work session and approved the 5-story limit on Nov. 16, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says the city should have notified Debnam that the council was going to reconsider the height limit at the Nov. 9 work session.

“He didn’t know what was going on,” Brian said.

Debnam was heavily involved in city politics last year. He donated a combined $10,000 to the campaigns of Mayor Nancy McFarlane and councilman Russ Stephenson. He also chaired a political action committee that targeted Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin and two other candidates with attack ads.

The City Council decided to cap building heights on Debnam’s entire block on Nov. 9 to protect several historic buildings, video of the work session shows. The Boylan Pearce Building is on a block bordered by Hargett Street to the north, Fayetteville Street to the east, Martin Street to the south and Salisbury Street to the west.

“We can take that and preserve and protect that entire area by virtue of the entitlement we place on those pieces of property, which will allow the council the opportunity to revisit this issue if somebody were to come forward later on to rezone those in order to redevelop them,” then-councilman Wayne Maiorano said during the Nov. 9 meeting.

Debnam hopes to resolve the issue outside of the courtroom, Brian said.

“We would have preferred to go about it a different way,” Brian said. “Our goal is to work with the city to try and resolve this in an amicable way.”

Council members and city staff offered few comments for this story, so the potential for resolution is unclear.

“The city believes the zoning is appropriate, and the complaint is being reviewed in the city attorney’s office,” McFarlane said.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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