Commercial Zoning

Durham County’s Proposed 751 South Development Continues to Find Obstacles

The development of 751 South in Durham County — with, according to proponents, its 167 acres of flaxen straw near the Chatham County line to be spun into the gold that is 1,300 houses, townhomes, apartments and condos plus as much as 600,000 square feet of office and retail space — has hit yet another snag. Last time, we discussed Durham County issues. This time, the City is in on the action. You can view a more detailed history of the project in our earlier blog posting, linked here.

The Durham City Council voted unanimously last week to delay its decision as to the extension of water and sewer services to the 167 acres until a City report is completed on the financial impact of the development. This is a departure from the developer’s expectation that the City would address water and sewer extension at its January 3, 2011 meeting.

Wait. It gets worse for the developers of 751 South, who are already facing opposition at the County level.

In what may be a taste of the mounting public sentiment, members of the City Council took this relatively minor “water and sewer” opportunity to chastise the developers and note that the City should not even begin to sniff extension issues until the pending lawsuit against Durham County is decided. Let’s hear from Councilwoman Diane Catotti: “We all know it’s a very sensitive case and it just feels like bad form. It just looks like if we proceed, that we’re disregarding the public process, and I really feel like citizens deserve their day in court. Let them have their day in court and then we proceed after that.”

It’s been reported that the members’ comments in this regard — not all of whom expressed this sentiment, by the way — echo the perspective of the project opponents.

Once more, the lesson is to tread wisely when developing amidst controversy or even buzzing disdain. Seems the developers could have, and should have, given the Durham City Council the opportunity to effect the politically expedient approach: wait and see. Instead, the court case pends, the opposition has a new (or at least a more public) voice, and the City Council’s first taste is a bad one.

We’ll continue to follow.

Mike Thelen is a lawyer in Womble Carlyle’s Real Estate Litigation practice group. He regularly represents a wide variety of clients in land use and land development issues, from local governments to businesses, in both state and federal venues throughout North Carolina.

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