UPDATE, 12/19 6 p.m.: Opponents to the project have put together a video encouraging the public to ask the city council for a delay in deciding the water and sewer agreement.
The agenda hasn’t been posted, but word has gotten around town that on Jan. 3, the Durham City Council will be considering a water and sewer agreement for 751 South, the controversial mixed-use community of homes, shops and offices proposed for southwest Durham.
Councilwoman Diane Catotti confirmed that the item is now slated for the Council’s Jan. 3 meeting, and that the matter will be discussed Tuesday at the council’s work session.
Southern Durham Development has applied to the city for water and sewer service to a portion of the 167-acre swath of land that is now largely vacant. The developer has also requested that the city annex the acreage and maintain the zoning it recently won from Durham county commissioners to build the large community. The annexation and zoning public hearing will be scheduled for a later date.
It appeared that an appeal opponents had filed with Durham’s Board of Adjustment challenging the legality of the commissioners’ rezoning decision had delayed the development from moving forward with the city development process. But late last month, the citizens suing the county and its board of commissioners withdrew their appeal from the Durham Board of Adjustment and agreed to submit the case to Durham Superior Court.
The Superior Court case has faced several recent delays. County Attorney Lowell Siler filed a motion for an extension until Dec. 13, saying his office was under staffed and needed more time to respond. Siler has also since been out of the office dealing with the grave illness of his mother.
It was unclear how the city is able to move forward with water and sewer extension while the Superior Court case is still pending—a question better saved for a weekday when city officials are in their offices. But as with many of the processes surrounding this controversial land use case, several opponents of the project are questioning the sudden rush to bring the item before Council during the holidays.
Melissa Rooney, a south Durham environmentalist who has spoken out against 751 South since its initial proposal several years ago, wrote a letter to Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield regarding the placement of the matter on the Council’s upcoming agenda. Here’s the meat:
Dear Mr. Bonfield,
I am appalled to learn that the development team is again trying to push through the 751 South development while thwarting the fair, legal and democratic rights of Durham citizens to protect their interests in the planning process (as outlined in Durham’s UDO). I implore you to advise the city council to withhold any and all further action regarding the 751 South development (including water and sewer and annexation) until the case regarding the county’s rezoning has reached a conclusion in Superior Court.
In addition to the years of delays resulting from secretive back-door maneuvers to get the 751 South rezoning through the county, the current county attorney has additionally and, by all appearances, intentionally delayed this case further in recent months — first delaying until the last minute his decision ultimately to disallow it being heard by Durham’s Board of Adjustment, and now by delaying the filing of documents necessary for it to be heard in Superior Court. Of course, there are logical suspicions that the county attorney’s actions (or lack thereof) are not independent of the development team’s pressure on the city to grant water and sewer for this project. In addition, they have decided to press forward with the city just as the Christmas holidays are well and truly upon us, no doubt in the hopes that Durham citizens will be too busy to notice.
The best course here is inaction. Let the case involving the county’s rezoning be completely concluded before the city becomes involved in this increasingly controversial development.
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