Published: Jul 07, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Jul 06, 2012 05:14 PM
As legislative duplicities go, last week’s attempt by Southern Durham Development Corp., those wonderful folks who want to bring you 751 South, to make an end run around the Durham City Council was every bit as slick as the notorious state lottery vote in 2005.
The attempt finally fizzled Tuesday in the Senate, but not before going through enough incarnations there and in the House to make the Dalai Lama blush.
The City Council rightly opposes 751 South, a 167-acre, 1,300-dwelling subdivision hard by the Chatham County line. Perhaps the council was embarrassed by its decision last year to extend the city’s designated urban growth area, though wisely not the city limits, all the way down N.C. 751 to the county line.
Southern Durham Development desperately needs city water and sewer; the 751 project won’t perk without those services. When nothing worked to change the City Council’s stand on the issue, Southern Durham sought help from willing hands in the General Assembly.
They would be Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, and Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Hendersonville.
The plan: amend the state’s water quality supply and water quality laws to require municipalities – read Durham – to extend water and sewer service to anyone within their planning jurisdiction who requests it.
In other words, impose a broad state mandate on a precise local planning issue, regardless of municipal boundaries or other consequences.
The consequences in the 751 South dispute would have been an unnecessary and unreasonable impact on water quality in the upper reaches of Jordan Lake. The lake, which provides drinking water for more than 400,000 people, is already burdened by too much nitrogen and phosphorus, much of which comes from Durham via New Hope Creek.
Former House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Chatham, denounced this ploy as “sneaky and underhanded,” which was being charitable about it. At stake was nothing less than the very authority of local government in North Carolina.
If ever there was a hall of mirrors for legislation, what Southern Durham sought was it. The League of Municipalities in effect put a radio collar on the measure, tracking it as it crept forward as a proposed committee substitute inserted into a bill that had already passed the Senate. That meant it had only to pass the House and return to the Senate for concurrence.
Nice try, but no cigar. The League was all over the bill like white on rice, warning legislators that the amendment could never encompass all the planning, water and sewer capacity, budget and other variables of the state’s towns, cities and counties.
In fact, North Carolina law contains no definition of designated urban growth area, and this was no time to write one. Arriving at a definition that balances the common weal as well as the legitimate interests of developers will require a lot of work, legal and otherwise.
Still, let’s give Southern Durham president Alex Mitchell a hand for trying to make the best of bad circumstances. Unfortunately for his cause, he brought forth a howler.
This thing got dragged to Raleigh by our opponents, declared a highly miffed Mitchell. Maybe so, but I suspect that when the thing got exposed to the cleansing power of sunlight, it was destined to die by its own hand.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.