Members of Durham's City Council had been waiting five months to see a financial analysis of the potential cost of annexing land slated for the controversial 751 South development. But after digesting 3-inch binders full of color-coded charts, memos and maps for about two hours Monday, the council decided it needs—well—just a few more charts and maps.
The elected officials said they need to see how much it would cost the city to provide water and sewer services to future residents and businesses at 751 South without annexing the 160 acres where it would be built. The council also wants more details on how engineers would reduce pollutants washed from the land into Jordan Lake.
The officials are also awaiting more detailed legal advice on whether they would be able to annex the community after families and businesses move in. Recent changes to state annexation laws raise questions about whether the city could successfully bring the land into city limits if future property owners aren't all in favor of the change.
"We have three lawyers working on this, and I would say the consensus is that we are very dubious that we'd be able to effectively voluntarily annex the parcel in 15 years, or whatever the number of years is," City Attorney Patrick Baker told the council Monday. "You know the law and statutes on annexation are in significant flux right now, and we can give no guarantees whatsoever that you would be able to force [an annexation]."
Southern Durham Development has been fighting since 2005 for permission to build a small village in southwest Durham County, just north of the Chatham County line. The community would include 1,300 apartments, townhouses and single-family homes, plus a shopping center, offices and potentially even a school. But most county and city officials who have reviewed the plans have raised concerns about the land's proximity to Jordan Lake, an already-polluted drinking water source, and the traffic the project would cause on South Durham's already crammed roads.
Despite those concerns, Durham's Board of County Commissioners voted last August to give Southern Durham Development the zoning classification it needed to build the development in the county. That county vote is currently the target of a pending lawsuit. But the dense neighborhood wouldn't be viable without water and sewer services, which is what the developer is now asking the city to provide.
Southern Durham Development initially asked the city last fall to annex the land. But a city analysis—the same figures discussed Monday by the City Council—doesn't look promising. According to city projections, it could be 2018 before the city would earn enough property tax revenue from the development to offset the costs of city services like police protection and trash pickup.
So Southern Durham Development tweaked its request, asking city officials to provide only water and sewer, and save annexation for a later date.
But by the time residents and other property owners move in, there's no guarantee the city could annex the development. The properties could be owned by hundreds of people, and some many not want their property to be annexed.
Pending state legislation gives property owners new rights to protest annexation. Even if the city requires the developer to include restrictions in deeds it grants to future homebuyers, it's uncertain that those deed restrictions could be enforced if future property owners decide they don't want to be annexed, said Don O'Toole, a senior assistant city attorney.
The City Council is expected to reconvene on the matter in early August, although it isn't required to hold a public hearing before voting to extend water and sewer services to a property. The council would be required, however, to hold a public hearing for annexation.