Dissed by the State House

Jul. 09, 2013 @ 05:38 PM

The N. C. House vote Monday evening to override the Durham City Council’s decision on extending water and sewer to the 751 South project was no surprise.

This page and many others across a wide spectrum of Durham – including many who felt the city should have allowed the 751 South project to go forward – decried the legislature’s urge to get involved in a local decision. But the intent of the legislative majority – a majority that already has moved to wrest Charlotte’s airport from city control and to do the same with Asheville’s water system – has been clear.

Durham’s House delegation pushed back strenuously against the bill. Such opposition by a delegation would once have doomed a bill with such local focus impact – indeed, in sessions past a dissenter or two in a local delegation would lead the larger body to conclude it should sidestep a bill.

But our House delegation is in the overwhelmed minority these days, and their fight, while laudable, was clearly futile from the beginning.

Interestingly, the delegation’s defense against the bill on Monday leaned heavily on skepticism about the project’s claims that it would bring up to 3,000 new jobs to the community.

We’re all for creating jobs. But “job creation” is the magic phrase with this legislative majority, and wrapping it around a proposal lends the aura of invincibility as surely as the epithet of “job killer” parries any objection or proposal by the minority.

Rep, Mickey Michaux of Durham, although regularly backed by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People which has been among those championing the job-creation argument, suggested Monday that creating that many jobs on the project’s 167 acres would require a factory, not a collection of retail stores and offices abutting residential development.

Ironically, the House’s assertion that 73 representatives with no ties to Durham know better than our city council how to shape urban growth here came on the same day developers submitted a new proposal for a 185-townhouse development on 47 acres at N. C. 54 and Barbee Road.

The juxtaposition is notable because the council narrowly rejected a proposal for 300 apartments there in March.

But the project’s sponsors regrouped, took the objections into consideration, negotiated with neighbors on a new proposal, and will try their luck again.

They already had made concessions during the process leading up to the council vote, but not enough to satisfy Mayor Bill Bell and Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden, whose two votes were enough to scuttle the plan because of a formal protest by neighboring residents.

Now, a developer lined up by the sponsors believes it has crafted a plan neighbors will support.

That’s often how we do things here. It’s a shame the legislature is eviscerating that approach with a “Raleigh knows best” contempt.