Four property owners who signed a petition this fall to protest the rezoning of the protective boundary around the portion of Jordan Lake in Durham County filed a lawsuit late Friday against Durham County officials.
Attorney Jim Conner of the Ragsdale Liggett firm in Raleigh filed the complaint just after 4 p.m. Friday on behalf of Milagros Napoli and Jeffrey Napoli, the Kendrick Estates Investment Corporation, as well as Kristen Corbell. All own property in the area around Jordan Lake to be rezoned.
The parties filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment and injunction, asking a judge to look at the evidence surrounding the petition and rule that the 3-2 vote Durham County Commissioners took in October meant that the rezoning didn't pass, as the petition was valid, Conner said. A valid petition would have required a "supermajority," or 4-1 vote to pass, instead of the simple majority vote of 3-2.
"We think the protest petition is clearly valid," Conner said. "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."
The county has 30 days to file an answer to the lawsuit, which named Durham County and the Durham County Commissioners as defendants. Although the Southern Environmental Law Center and Haw River Assembly worked to file the initial protest petition, neither is party to the lawsuit.
The protest petition is part of a much larger fight by many property owners near the lake against a development in the works for the site they say would further pollute the already tainted reservoir. (Read more blogs here.) Southern Durham Development is shaping plans for a mixed-use development that would contain 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, SDD would not have been able to build its desired project in the area. But when commissioners moved the protected area—based on hotly debated data on where the lake and its boundaries really should be—the zoning became amenable to a project such as the one SDD has planned.
Conner said it will be a couple of months before the complaint will be assigned a court date in Durham County Superior Court.
The lawsuit is not the first affiliated with this case. Southern Durham Development filed suit against Durham County in June, seeking at least $20,000 in damages, plus attorneys’ fees, for property rights violations and negligence tied to a dispute over several points, including whether the county had the right to change the location of the Jordan Lake watershed in the first place. Read more about the tug-of-war over the protected watershed here.