Since a survey of Jordan Lake commissioned by developer Neal Hunter first surfaced at a commissioners’ meeting last November (nearly three years after it was approved, without review, by former planning director Frank Duke), things have heated up slightly for Southern Durham Development. The company’s proposed “751 Assemblage” mega-development hinges on Hunter’s survey, which effectively places the project’s 164 acres outside a 1-mile protected boundary surrounding Jordan Lake. Last month, the state Division of Water Quality approved the survey, which only examined the northeast corner of Jordan Lake, but urged Durham to “seek a regional and systematic approach to making future revisions.” Now, both Durham City Council and the Board of County Commissioners must decide whether to approve corresponding revisions to Durham’s Unified Development Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan, despite Southern Durham Development’s recent efforts to forgo the required public meetings.

Why is Southern Durham Development afraid to face the music? For starters, the fact that Hunter owned the 164 acres his survey removed from the 1-mile protected area has not played particularly well with the public. (After securing approval from Duke, Hunter sold the property to Southern Durham Development, of which he is a minority shareholder.) But the company’s recent attempts to avoid public hearings may further backfire, as public officials decide whether to approve several revisions in order to permit the development.

Recently, New Hope Creek Advisory Committee chair Robert Healy wrote to commissioners (DOC, 28KB) on his own behalf, urging them to reject the survey when it comes up for a vote: (after the jump)

The possible adoption of a privately done land study as an input to regulation of other important water sources to Jordan Lake strikes me as shockingly inconsistent with the fair and deliberate way in which other lands have been regulated, in Durham and in other parts of the state and the nation. IT IS NOT FOR THE REGULATED ENTITY TO DECIDE WHAT THE PUBLIC INTEREST IS AND HOW IT SHOULD BE PROTECTED. It is the power and duty of government, and government alone.

County commissioners aren’t the only ones standing between Southern Durham Development and its construction of the 751 Assemblage. At a March 5 Joint City-County Planning Committee meeting, Planning Commission chair George Brine announced that he had written the N.C. Environmental Management Commission to appeal DWQ’s ruling directly. (DWQ serves as a watchdog for EMC.) In a letter dated Jan. 23, 2009 (DOC, 40KB), Brine writes:

I believe that any survey used to justify a shift in this boundary needs to be impartial and of unquestionable accuracy. As I have detailed above, I do not believe that the partial survey submitted to DWQ meets these criteria. Therefore, I request that EMC reverse DWQ’s decision to accept this survey. Such an action would then compel Durham County to move forward with the independent and impartial survey put on hold back in November, 2008.

At that meeting, Durham City-County Planning Director Steve Medlin noted that, even if both City Council and the Board of County Commissioners approve pending modifications to the Unified Development Ordinance and the Comprehensive Plan, Southern Durham Development has one more hoop to jump through: a re-zoning approval for mixed-use development.

That process, coincidentally, will require hearings before both governing bodies. And yes, the public is invited.