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Despite initial plans to wait until a civil lawsuit was over, Durham’s City Council has now decided it will consider at a meeting Feb. 20 whether to grant utilities to Southern Durham Development. The company wants to build 751 South, a large mixed-use project in southwest Durham controversial in part because of its proximity to Jordan Lake.

The council met during a closed session Thursday with City Attorney Patrick Baker to consider a request from SDD to grant water lines and the use of storm drainage and sewer systems for the project. Baker said the session was not public because he was providing legal advice to the council covered by attorney-client privilege.

SDD made the original request in April 2010, but city council members decided in August 2011 that they wanted to wait until a civil lawsuit related to the development had been resolved. A judge recently dismissed the lawsuit the plaintiffs, Chancellor’s Ridge Homeowners Association, brought against Durham County. The plaintiffs announced they would appeal.

In the meeting, council members indicated that they wanted to delay their decision until after the appeals process had concluded. The council isn’t bound by its August decision and is free to change course, Baker said Thursday.

The council also isn’t required to hold a public hearing on the utility extension agreement, Baker said. The council could opt to allow public comment at the meeting, and could vote on that date, or defer the matter.

But the application has already been deferred by 21 months, Cal Cunningham, an attorney for SDD, pointed out in a recent letter to Baker (PDF). The company paid the appropriate fees to the city when it filed the application in April 2010, Cunningham wrote, and the application materials indicated a decision would be made within five months.

SDD had originally asked the council to consider annexing the 167 acres on which 751 South would be built. Becoming part of the city limits would entitle the property to services such as water, wastewater treatment, police and fire services. But a city analysis determined that the city could potentially spend as much as $1 million by providing services to the property before the tax revenue from the project would help the city break even.

When it became evident the numbers wouldn’t add up in the city’s favor, SDD changed its request. Instead of asking for annexation, it just asked the city to consider providing provide water, stormwater and sewer services without annexation. That’s the request discussion that was tabled in August, and is now coming before council again Feb. 20.