A blow to urban planning

Jul. 25, 2013 @ 06:10 PM

The State Senate’s vote Thursday to override the Durham City Council’s rejection of the mixed-use development, 751 South, came as no surprise.

Despite the opposition of most of our local delegation and a host of others, including this space, repeatedly, the Senate majority concluded that it knows far better than our local elected officials how growth should proceed in Durham.

State Sen. Mike Woodard, a former city councilman who now represents part of Durham County in the legislature, said it aptly during the floor debate Thursday.

“If you want to become the planning commission for the state, that’s what we’re heading for, that’s what we do, if we allow developers to come through this door every time they get an unfavorable vote,” Woodard said.

Proponents of the bill to force Durham to provide water and sewer to – and eventually annex – the project proposed off N. C. 751 near the Chatham County line argued that it was narrowly cast to cover this project.

Whether that’s true or not, the bill, as Woodard suggested, sets a terrible precedent.

It is in keeping with the bifurcated approach this legislature has had to where decisions are best made. The overriding philosophy of the current majority has long been that state government should step back and allow governments closest to the people exercise the most control.

But repeatedly this spring and summer, the legislature has wrested local control – from Charlotte over its airport, from Asheville over its water system, from Durham over its land-use planning.

State Rep. Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat, highlighted that point in arguing against another piece of bad legislation in the House Rules committee Wednesday. Opposing a bill that would have exempted Guilford County and its municipalities from publishing public notices in general-circulation newspapers, Hall chided its sponsors.

Noting they argued that the committee – and ultimately the legislature – should respect the right of the Guilford governments to make their own decisions about where to place the legal advertising, he contrasted that with the many moves by the legislature to override local decisions in the other instances.

Those arguments went for naught as the legislature assumed its “we know best” posture.

It seems inevitable that 751 South, after years of wrangling, will become a reality.

Proponents have argued it will create some 3,000 jobs. We’re dubious about that contention, and about whether those jobs truly will be accessible to those who desperately need them given its location far from the urban core with debatable prospects for public transit.

We’ll see if that’s true – it certainly will be a plus if it is.

But we’re far from convinced those jobs could not be created by development more in keeping with the long-range growth plans over which this city has worked hard to achieve consensus, a consensus now upended.

What we do now is that the legislature has dealt a crippling and perhaps fatal blow to the concept that North Carolina’s cities can control their destinies without intervention from the capital.