A superior court judge on Monday denied a request from a Durham County attorney to dismiss a civil lawsuit against the county and its commissioners. Several South Durham homeowners filed the suit late last summer, challenging the way the county handled approvals for the proposed 751 South mega-development.
The project, which could include 1,300 residences, plus offices and retail space, is controversial for its size and density, its proximity to Jordan Lake and for some measures the developers and their attorneys have taken to advance the project. (See "How many ways has K&L Gates touched you today?," Jan. 19, 2011)
With the lawsuit still pending, attorneys for Durham County now have another 21 days to respond to the lawsuit's contents. The plaintiffs in the case, which include residents of the Chancellor's Ridge neighborhood and its homeowners association, want the case handled as quickly as possible. As the civil suit meanders through the court process, the project is moving forward. Members of the Durham City Council could soon be asked to annex the land slated for 751 South, and take other measures that would allow the controversial project to move forward. If the city makes those decisions before the civil lawsuit comes to a resolution, the residents' case against Durham County would be moot.
Early this year, Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield said he anticipated having a financial analysis from the city's budget office in February. The report would estimate the costs associated with providing city services to the planned community if it were fully built—costs such as any maintenance of new roads and traffic patterns, police and fire protection, schools for an influx of new families, wastewater treatment, garbage collection, etc.
There does not appear to be a date for when that annexation analysis will become public. Thus it's unclear how soon members of City Council will be voting on the matter.
The legal complaint against the county was filed in September, and moved to civil court in October. After two month-long extensions, Durham County Attorney Lowell Siler filed a motion to dismiss the case. (PDF) He contended that county officials weren't properly served with the lawsuit within the time period prescribed by law.
But attorneys for the homeowners, including Dhamian Blue of Raleigh firm Blue, Stephens & Fellers, argued successfully Monday that Durham County was properly served with the lawsuit in a timely fashion when Siler received it in October and read the entire contents of the documents to County Commissioner Michael Page over the phone.
Judge Robert H. Hobgood, a Senior Resident Superior Court Judge from Louisburg, agreed with Blue's assessment and denied the dismissal.
The next step: Durham County's attorneys have until April 4 to file a response to the original contents of the lawsuit. That original argument says Durham county and its officials voted to rezone 160-some acres in the 751 development without following the proper procedures, which would have included enforcing a valid protest petition.