Council candidates split on 751 South

Aug. 12, 2013 @ 05:50 PM

The 751 South issue continues to divide City Council candidates, even as a state law to force the city to provide water and sewer service to the development awaits Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature.
Three of the seven people running for the council this fall say it should have approved the utility deal Mayor Bill Bell engineered in talks with 751’s developers, rather than allowing the N.C. General Assembly to step in.
Ward 2 candidates Omar Beasley and Del Mattioli joined Ward 3 candidate Pam Karriker in telling the People’s Alliance a council-directed utilities extension would have been for the best.
Karriker, a former County Commissioner, said the original plans for the controversial development “were beautiful” and posed little risk to nearby Jordan Lake. “I felt it was a safe plan for the environment,” she said.
Beasley said the council could have avoided legislative intervention with “a little compromise and better communication.”
Mattioli said council members should have focused on the project’s job-creation potential and on the need to accommodate projected population growth. “While the environmental ramifications of such a project should be taken into consideration, the economic benefits should also be weighed in,” she said, adding that the council had focused only on short-term concerns.
Opposition to the utility deal came from Ward 2 candidate Eddie Davis and Ward 3 incumbent Don Moffitt.
Davis said he is “not convinced” 751 South will adequately protect Jordan Lake or generate the number of jobs proponents claim. He also said he opposed the developers’ move to seek legislative intervention “to override the majority vote of the council.”
Moffitt, who cast his vote with that majority, deemed the case for opposing the Bell-engineered deal “less clear cut” than that for opposing the project. But while the 2012 election yielded “a more reactionary legislature [that] demonstrated great enmity toward local government,” assisting 751 South “was not the right decision,” he said.
Unopposed Ward 1 incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden defended her decision to support the Bell’s utilities deal. But as on the night of the council’s 4-3 vote to reject it, she voiced qualms.
Ultimately, the council “voted wisely,” she said, admitting to having “ambivalent feelings” because of the state’s intervention. She said she backed the mayor to be sure of “something for Durham out of deal,” including developer-funded road improvements.
The remaining council contender, Ward 2 candidate Franklin Hanes, apparently didn’t answer the People’s Alliance questionnaire.
Bell and one of his two challengers, Michael Valentine, joined the council candidates in submitting answers.
The mayor’s included a lengthy defense of his attempt to broker a compromise between the city and the developers. He said it was clear going into 2013 that the General Assembly would force the city’s hand and that the council, through silence, risked having utilities extended entirely on the developers’ terms.
But its stance did serve “to highlight how ruthless the General Assembly could be with respect to local-government issues that should have been decided by local government,” Bell said.
Valentine said the annexation that will go along with a utilities extension to 751 South is “a good idea,” but said he would need “to know the facts and weigh the pros and cons” before weighing in on the extension proper.
The remaining mayoral challenger, Sylvester Williams, didn’t submit an answer to the alliance questionnaire. He boycotted the group’s endorsement process in 2011, during a previous run against Bell.
The four Ward 2 candidates are facing off in an Oct. 8 primary, as are the three mayoral candidates. The primary will reduce the field in each race to two finalists.
The survivors of the primary will join the Ward 3 candidates and Cole-McFadden on the ballot for the Nov. 5 general election.