Commissioners move Jordan Lake protection boundaries

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Durham's Board of County Commissioners voted 3 to 2 Monday night to move a protected area around Jordan Lake on county maps, opening the door for a dense development being drafted for 164 acres in the southwest part of the county. Commissioners Ellen Reckhow and Becky Heron cast the opposing votes.

Though the vote approved just the zoning of Jordan Lake's protective buffer -- not an actual development plan -- the change cleared a major hurdle for the much-contested development, 751 Assemblage, which would contain 1,300 residences and 600,000 square feet of office and retail space. (Read more about the proposed development and its history here.) Monday night's change takes the land to be developed from protected and virtually unable to be developed to a less-protected designation that allows for the mixed-use vision of the developer, Southern Durham Development.

More than 70 people signed up to speak on the proposed shift of the critical and protected buffers around Jordan Lake, which is a drinking water reservoir for Cary and Chatham County, and could soon provide water to Durham's residents, too. Most who spoke opposed the rezoning, saying it would allow development too close to the water source and would further pollute already tainted waters. Opposers included members of the Haw River Assembly, who attempted to petition the change (read more here) and residents of neighboring developments.

Supporters of the zoning change mostly were also supporters of 751 Assemblage who wanted this obstacle, which has loomed for three years, out of the way. They said the new development could bring jobs, possibly a land donation for new schools and a larger tax base for the county. Supporters included members of the developer's cadre of lawyers and architects, city council candidate Donald Hughes and Lavonia Allison of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

The decision is the a milestone in a long and drawn out battle over one query -- where is the true normal pool elevation of Jordan Lake? For those not fluent in fluvial geomorphology and its nuances, the location of this normal pool elevation determines from where to draw a one-mile critical watershed, in which virtually no development is allowed. The problem is, the county has moved the critical watershed back and forth three times now because of various incidents that have gone on behind the scenes. (Here's the backstory.)

This is just an abbreviated version, of course, of what happened Monday night and the potential consequences of the events. We break down the complicated issue in Wednesday's paper.

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