by Matt Saldaña
In the lead-up to Monday night's 3-2 vote in favor of requiring a public hearing for map changes that would benefit a proposed mega-development near Jordan Lake, we re-capped the Durham commissioners' previous votes on the issue, as well as contributions they received from developers behind the project.
Going through our notes, however, we realize we've left one of the commissioners out: Joe Bowser. As noted in Monday's Triangulator post, Bowser raised less than $3,000 in 2008, and was not required to disclose individual contributors that election cycle. However, in his losing bid for the County Commission in 2004, records show that he received $2,000 from Neal Hunter, the developer who funded the controversial survey behind the proposed map changes, and a minority partner in Southern Durham Development—whose proposed 164-acre project hinges on the maps being approved.
We found this contribution while digging through records for our original story on the Jordan Lake snafu, but left it out because though he had been elected commissioner in 2008, Bowser had yet to vote on Hunter's survey. Yet, on Monday, Bowser--along with Commission Chairman Michael Page--voted against requiring a public hearing process for the map changes, which would have moved Southern Durham Development’s project outside Jordan Lake's one-mile protective boundary. Citing language used by developers, Bowser also introduced an unsuccessful motion that would have required the map changes go forward without public review.
"Neal Hunter was not a principal in this. It was Alex Mitchell and that guy from Raleigh," Bowser said in an interview, referring to Tyler Morris, who is a principal with Mitchell in Southern Durham Development. In 2008, Hunter—a minority partner in Southern Durham Development—sold approximately 164 acres to the company to build the high-density 751 Assemblage project, a complex of 1,300 dwellings and 600,000 square feet of office and retail space.
"I have forgotten all about that contribution from Neal Hunter," Bowser said, adding that contributions "don't matter" to him.
Bowser added: "It was not Neal Hunter that I was concerned about in this process, it was the other principals, who paid all that money for [Hunter’s] land, and are obviously going to lose their investment."
At Monday night's hearing, Hunter, his brother, Jeff; Alex Mitchell; Tyler Morris; and lawyers representing Southern Durham Development, claimed that their property rights would be violated by a public hearing process.
"The commissioners should put an end to this continuously moving target, and acknowledge the property rights that I have," Neal Hunter said. "You have no right to change the rules on taxpayers and citizens. As landowners, how can we rely on anything in the future?"