by Bob Geary
[Update x 2, 4 p.m. Wednesday] The House Judiciary Committee approved a substitute bill for Senate Bill 334 and sent it to the House floor. Does it renege on the state's lease with Raleigh? No and yes. It says the lease is invalid, but takes no action to dissolve it for a year. Does it allow Raleigh to proceed with planning for Dix Park? Yes and no. Raleigh is invited to negotiate with the state through April, 2014 — with all issues on the table. Rep. Justin Burr, who spoke for the bill, repeatedly suggested that rather than lease Dix from the state, Raleigh would be better served by acquiring it via an "installment sale." That's certainly true, depending of course on the price.
[I think the important takeaway from what happened today is that Art Pope was in the committee room and speaking for Gov. McCrory. So save Pope a seat on your park planning committee. Raleigh isn't conceding that its lease with the state is invalid — Mayor Nancy McFarlane and City Attorney Tom McCormick were clear that they consider it to be valid, because it is valid — but face it, if the state wants to dissolve/condemn that lease, it can't be stopped from doing so.
[Given that reality, the House version of SB 334 (assuming it passes the House and then — a minor if — the Senate) will give Raleigh/McFarlane and McCrory/Pope a year to see if they can thrash out a mutually acceptable plan to turn Dix into a destination park over time, perhaps with the eventual addition of the Gov. Morehead School for the Blind property. Adding some or all of the Gov. Morehead land — it's 40 acres, I was told — would allow Dix Park to link to Pullen Park via a pedestrian bridge or a trolley over Western Boulevard.
[I don't know that the two sides will be able to reach a deal in a year, frankly. There are a whole lot of moving parts to this negotiation. On the other hand, if both sides are serious — and Pope had his serious "I'm Art Pope" face on today, and you know McFarlane is serious — there's no insurmountable obstacle in their path, just a great many details that must be fitted together. Also, time is on their side ... in the sense that a great park evolves over many, many years, so what's allowed to be on Dix Hill today (i.e., the Department of Health and Human Services) is not necessarily going to be there 20, 50 or 100 years from today. As long as no one insists that something stupid, like leaving DHHS up there, also be permanent, a deal can certainly be envisioned.
[Update, noon Wednesday] WRAL has a story up in advance of the meeting. Sounds like the House leaders have decided to kick the can down the road a year — not tear up the lease just yet, but also not put a deal together with the city just yet. The city "blessed" this? More likely they've taken a vow of silence with a gun to their heads. The real stinker in this story would seem to be any language in the new bill that would lock both sides — i.e., the park proprietors — into leaving DHHS on Dix Hill indefinitely. Hard to have a great park when a state office complex is occupying the high ground — and you have no power to move them, ever. More later.]
A heads-up: Senate Bill 334, condemning the state's lease with Raleigh for the 325-acre Dorothea Dix tract, passed the Senate seven weeks ago but hasn't seen the light of day in the House — until now. The House Judiciary Committee has slated it for consideration tomorrow after the full House adjourns its session.
When that will be is unknown. Today's House session began at 2 p.m.
There's no start time yet for the session tomorrow, nor any indication of how long it will go. Tomorrow's session is now set to begin at 1:15 p.m. with what looks like a light agenda. The Judiciary Committee will begin 15 minutes after the House adjourns.
Usually, post-session committee meetings are quickies, designed to move a bill speedily and without much chance for a big public turnout. It's possible the committee intends to amend the bill before sending it on, either to the floor or to another committee. We'll see.
The meeting room for tomorrow is set: 544 in the Legislative Office Building, the one behind the Legislative Building.
House Judiciary Comm takes up Senate Bill 334, to renege on lease w/ Raleigh 4 Dix Park acreage, after House session Wed. Time TBD, Rm 544.
— Bob Geary (@rjgeary) May 21, 2013