by Matt Saldaña
Southern Durham Development, the company seeking to develop 164 acres of land near Jordan Lake into a massive, mixed-use project, has sued Durham County for "wrongful intentional and grossly negligent actions relating to plaintiff and its real property." The lawsuit seeks compensation for damages, and for county decisions to be "declared invalid," in regards to Southern Durham Development's property. Tax records show the company's property in Durham consists only of the so-called 751 Assemblage project site, which it bought from Neal Hunter, a minority shareholder, in 2008.
The company filed the lawsuit in District 14 Superior Court (PDF, 3.5 MB) on June 12, and has until July 2 to explain the full details of its complaint.
Although 751 Assemblage is not mentioned by name, the filing refers implicitly to former Durham Planning Director Frank Duke's decision, in 2006, to approve a survey, funded by Hunter, that removed the site from a one-mile protected area surrounding Jordan Lake. State regulators have since found Duke's decision to have violated state code, because it did not go before a local governing body or state regulators--requirements of watershed map changes.
The lawsuit seeks to "uphold an official interpretation of defendant's planning department"--presumably, Duke's interpretation in 2006--while invalidating Durham County's "attempts to disavow that interpretation." Last year, Durham County submitted the survey to state regulators for the first time; in April 2009, commissioners voted to subject the resulting map change to a public hearing process.
Southern Durham Development and its attorneys have long defended Duke's original approval, in correspondence with government officials, presentations at public hearings, and interviews with the Indy. During a Durham County Commission meeting in April, Neal Hunter and his brother, Jeff; Southern Durham Development principals Alex Mitchell and Tyler Morris; and lawyers representing the company 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 then. “You have no right to change the rules on taxpayers and citizens. As landowners, how can we rely on anything in the future?”
Patrick Byker, an attorney representing Southern Durham Development, refused to comment or elaborate on the suit. Chuck Kitchen, the attorney for Durham County, was not immediately available for comment.
More details to follow.