751 South back in the headlines; annexation debate looms

Do you still remember 751 South? It’s a real estate project that eventually won a hard-fought and kind of convoluted legal battle for the right to develop directly adjacent to Jordan Lake.

I wouldn’t blame you for forgetting about this project, since it’s been in development limbo for the past year. Even though it ultimately won approval at the county level, there’s a hiccup: it needs water and sewer service, and up to now Durham hasn’t been too keen on giving it.

751 South, you see, is generally viewed with a certain degree of… skepticism. This is not only due to the potential environmental impact on Jordan Lake, but also to the fact that it would feed South Durham’s already legendary appetite for sprawl: the project aims to create a new suburb in a formerly rural area near Southpoint.

Things were so hostile between the city and the developers, in fact, that legislation was introduced in 2012 that would have forced Durham to provide services to the project. The legislation failed at the time, and the future of the project was unclear.

Now, dear readers, you may have noticed that the political climate in Raleigh has changed a bit since 2012. The situation with 751 South looks like it ticks all the boxes for GOP intervention:

  • Remove local control? Check.
  • Piss off environmentalists and hippies? Double check.
  • Help out some “job creator” buds? You betcha.

Although (surprisingly?) no legislation has yet been proposed, the threat of the GOP swooping in and kicking dirt in Durham’s face is omnipresent, and so Bell tried to get ahead of the situation by re-opening the discussion with 751 South developers. The developers have now officially filed for annexation, and the Council is set to vote on it June 3.

What assurances are the Council looking for here? Well, not much: funds from the developers to support widening roads, and basically nothing else.

The Council is hoping to get an amendment to the City’s charter attached to a bill (cause of crossover, natch) which would allow it to delay annexation by 10 years. Under the current rules, the City has to make a final determination on annexation three years after agreeing to provide services, but they argue that in this case that doesn’t give them enough time to see how the development will play out.

The bottom line is that the Council is boned here. If they were to try to squeeze any meaningful concessions out of 751 South (or heaven forbid actually oppose it outright), the developers would simply go to their pals in Raleigh, and the GOP would pass laws that force Durham to provide services anyway. Presumably Bell figures that by rolling over and handing 751 South what it wants, the city can at least avoid the ugliness of explicitly having control stripped away from it by legislation (a la Asheville).

It will be interesting to watch the vote on this one, because pragmatism is going to conflict directly with ideology for several Council members.

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