Raleigh, N.C. — The five-year battle over a proposed development in southern Durham County shifted from local government to the General Assembly on Monday, in a standing-room-only committee hearing.
About two dozen supporters and opponents of the 751 South project sounded off to the House Finance Committee, which is considering legislation that would force Durham to annex the property and extend utilities to it.
The 167-acre development along the Durham-Chatham county line would include about 1,300 homes and 600,000 square feet of office and retail space. Developers say it would also bring about 3,000 jobs.
Opponents say 751 South poses environmental and traffic concerns in a rural area near the northern edge of Jordan Lake. Backers say the community needs the jobs.
The Durham City Council voted earlier this month against providing water and sewer service to the site, so a bill was introduced in the General Assembly that would force the issue.
The Senate, which last year rejected a bill that would have required Durham to annex the 751 South property, has already passed similar legislation this year. When it moved to the House, it got caught up in a fight between Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, a co-chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, and Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, chairman of the House Rules Committee.
House members last week sided with Howard in the dispute, allowing the Finance Committee to hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 315 on Monday.
"This would be a huge mistake. It would raise our taxes and divert resources from Durham's reinvigorated downtown and areas still in need of redevelopment," said Kate Fellman, a 751 South opponent.
"I'm a lifelong Republican," Durham resident Kim Pressler told the committee."This a big-government solution if there ever was one–a big government payoff for two land speculators."
"This is meddling, and you know it's wrong. It's un-Republican, it's undemocratic, and it's possibly unconstitutional," said Pressler.
Durham City Councilman Don Moffitt called 751 South "a bad deal for Durham taxpayers."
"The cost of services that will be provided will substantially exceed the revenue from the property for years to come," he said. "I hope you agree this is a local matter. The legislature is not the place to settle local disputes."
Other speakers against the project said developers are trying to use their political connections and money to overturn the will of Durham residents.
But supporters of the project said there is "broad and diverse" support in Durham to see the project built.
"We need jobs in North Carolina and in Durham," project supporter Thelma White said to applause. "This project's going to bring over 1,500 jobs."
"This should not be a political issue," said Jackie Wagstaff. "We have one of the highest unemployment rates in Durham, and it's even higher in the black community."
Backer Victoria Peterson dismissed claims that the developers are outsiders. "These are not some jack-leg developers just fell out of the sky," she said. "They have been faithful to our community."
Durham's delegation is divided over the issue.
The Finance Committee didn't vote on the bill, and it was unclear whether lawmakers would take it up before the end of the legislative session in a few weeks. The state Senate turned down a similar bill in 2012.