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Property owners sue Durham over Jordan Lake

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More than 50 property owners near Jordan Lake have been tied up in a three-month dispute with Durham County over a petition they filed this fall, in hopes of keeping a protective area around Jordan Lake intact. Their crusade to protect the land—just north of the Durham County line, west of N.C. 751, near Chancellor's Ridge—from development is going to court.

Attorney Jim Conner of the Ragsdale Liggett firm in Raleigh filed a lawsuit against Durham County late Friday on behalf of four property owners who had signed a petition: Kristen Corbell, Jeffrey and Milagros Napoli and the Kendrick Estates Investment Corporation.

The lawsuit argues that although City-County Planning Director Steve Medlin initially questioned the validity of the petition, he eventually ruled it was valid. A valid petition would have required a 4-to-1 vote from the County Commissioners for the rezoning to pass. And since the commissioners voted only 3-to-2 in favor of the rezoning, Conner asserts, the motion failed and the county cannot rezone the land.

"The courts have already said in other cases that if there's a valid petition and there's a vote that's not a three-quarters vote, then the rezoning doesn't pass," Conner said.

The county has 30 days to file an answer to the lawsuit. A Durham County attorney did not respond on the issue by press time.

The protest petition is part of a much larger fight by many property owners near the lake against a proposed development they say would further pollute the already tainted reservoir. Southern Durham Development is shaping plans to develop a mixed-use community that would include 1,300 residences and 600,000 square feet of combined office and retail space.

Before the protected boundary around Jordan Lake was rezoned in October, Southern Durham Development would not have been able to build its project because much of the land it has acquired is protected from dense development. But when commissioners moved the protected area—based on controversial data on where the lake and its boundaries exist—this shifted protections off the land Southern Durham Development owns. Now it's up to a Durham superior court judge to rule whether that rezoning vote stands, which further delays the developer's plans.

Conner said it could be February before the complaint will be assigned a court date.

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