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Durham City Council rejects 751 South request

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Cal Cunningham had given Durham City Council a deadline: Vote on whether to extend water and sewer service to 751 South, the controversial development near Jordan Lake, within 30 days.

On Day 27, Cunningham, an attorney for Southern Durham Development (SDD), got a vote, but not the one he was hoping for.

Six city council members voted unanimously to reject the developer's request that the city provide the proposed mixed-use development with water and sewer service. Councilman Howard Clement was absent due to illness.

Anticipating that the council would deny their request, representatives for Southern Durham Development were no-shows at the meeting. The developer will now have to find another source of water for the project, which lies outside the city limits. SDD has considered using community wells, but with a planned 1,300 homes, plus offices and retail space on less than 160 acres, wells might be insufficient for such a dense development.

The city wasn't required to hold a public hearing on the matter, and the conversation at the council meeting was brief. After just three minutes of discussion and background information from the city attorney, Councilwoman Diane Catotti made a motion to "move the item with the intention of voting no."

County and city officials have been debating since 2005 whether to allow 751 South to be built. The public has raised concerns about the project's possible impact on water quality in Jordan Lake, a regional source of drinking water and the traffic it would generate on N.C. 751, currently a two-lane rural highway. Supporters cited possible jobs—although no definitive employment figures have ever been released— and tax revenue the project could generate.

"I've always had great concerns about this project being too dense, being too close to [Jordan Lake] and concerns about the runoff in that watershed," Councilman Mike Woodard said. "I wasn't willing to extend utilities to the project as it's currently proposed."

As proposed, the development would be built near the intersection of N.C. 751 and Fayetteville Road in southwest Durham County. In addition to homes, apartments and condos, it would include 600,000 square feet for offices and shopping. SDD says it would provide a site for an elementary school, a sheriff substation, transportation improvements, land for a fire station and affordable housing.

After SDD requested—and received—zoning approvals from the county, the developer asked the city to annex the land or to allow the company to hook up to city water and sewer lines.

Last year, the city council decided not to immediately annex the property, because a study showed it would cost $1 million to provide services before tax revenue would recoup those expenses. The council also decided to delay any decision on providing utilities until the conclusion of a related civil lawsuit. Property owners near the 751 South project site sued the county after county commissioners rezoned the property.

Superior Court Judge Henry Hight Jr. dismissed that lawsuit last month, but the plaintiffs, Chancellor's Ridge Homeowners Association, plan to appeal.

When the case was thrown out, Cunningham sent a letter to Baker pushing for a final decision on the company's April 20, 2010, request for utilities within 30 days.

Mayor Bill Bell said he wanted to wait until the conclusion of the appeals process to discuss the development further, but given SDD's 30-day timeline, the council proceeded with its decision.

"The council had made it clear that [it] didn't want to entertain any more discussions on that until the legal process had been completed. We had directed the manager and his staff not to do anything else on it," Bell said. "So it's like it was a demand that, in spite of what you said, we want an answer, so they got an answer."

Within moments of the vote, SDD President Alex Mitchell released a statement via Cunningham that he was "disappointed, but not surprised" by the decision.

"Various members of council have championed the need for affordable housing and job creation," the statement read. "Unfortunately for Durham, tonight, their actions spoke louder than their words."

City Councilman Steve Schewel is president of Carolina Publications, which owns the Independent Weekly.

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