Top 10 stories of 2012: No. 6
Well into it fourth year, the 751 South controversy continued to rage in 2012, reaching the floors of the N.C. General Assembly as state legislators considered forcing a resolution in the developers’ favor.
A bill that would have required the City of Durham to supply water and sewer service to the 1,300-home project cleared the N.C. House and in July came within a single vote’s margin of also passing the state Senate.
Local legislators assembled a rare, bipartisan coalition in the Senate to defeat it. “It was crazy,” state Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said of the early-morning bargaining and vote switches ahead of the final ballot.
The intervention attempt had few precedents, the most obvious being a 2001 Senate threat – led by then-Sen. Walter Dalton, a Democrat who this year ran unsuccessfully for governor – to force Chapel Hill officials to approve a much-disputed expansion of UNC’s main campus.
The Senate never followed through on its threat against Chapel Hill, but nontheless succeeded in the long run by convincing town officials they had little room to maneuver in their dealings with UNC. Chapel Hill’s council wound up approving the expansion.
In Durham, there are signs that legislators similarly have made their point.
Cautioning that the General Assembly is monitoring the situation, Mayor Bill Bell in December advised fellow city officials to avoid interfering with the 751 developers’ attempts to procure water.
With the city sticking to its early-year refusal of utilities, developers Alex Mitchell and Tyler Morris are apparently looking to Chatham County and a private-sector water service, Aqua America.
Chatham officials could vote on a supply contract with Aqua early in 2013.
In Durham, meanwhile, the 751 issue dominated the year’s County Commissioners election.
Anti-751 candidates Ellen Reckhow, Fred Foster and Wendy Jacobs swept the top three spots in May’s Democratic Party primary. Pro-751 incumbents Brenda Howerton and Michael Page survived by running fourth and fifth, respectively. But Foster and Jacobs’ showing helped relegate another pro-751 incumbent, Joe Bowser, to seventh.
A pro-751 challenger, Rickey Padgett, finished 10th but received a Durham Planning Commission appointment from county officials as consolation.
The fall campaign saw the fight continue, with unaffiliated petition candidate Omar Beasley professing neutrality and supporters arguing that the 751 issue was unfairly monopolizing the discussion. But Beasley ran sixth, finishing behind all the Democrats, after a campaign that saw the contenders voice few if any disagreements on other issues.
As the election unfolded, local officials pondered two other south Durham projects that administrators warned could further undo longstanding policy that calls for a tapering-off of residential density south of The Streets at Southpoint to the county line.
The City Council is deadlocked on one of the projects. The other is set to reach the council early in 2013.
10. Duke digs for dollars
9. DPS: No low-performing schools
8. City makes another attempt at Rolling Hills
7. Liberty Warehouse sees more ups, downs
6. Battle over 751 South development continues