Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane on Thursday asked the General Assembly to give the city and state about 10 months to rework an agreement for the Dorothea Dix property, but leading lawmakers balked at that idea.
The statement by McCrory and McFarlane comes less than 24 hours after a House committee voted to rewrite Senate-passed legislation and allow Raleigh one year to renegotiate with the state its lease of the 325-acre Dix campus for a "destination park."
McFarlane signed the lease in December with former Gov. Beverly Perdue, but House and Senate lawmakers filed bills in March to undo the deal, saying it didn't protect the interest of taxpayers.
The renegotiated deal, which would need to be done by April 1, 2014, would carve out about 30 acres for use by the state Department of Health and Human Services. The city and state will also consider the lease, sale or grant of the Governor Morehead School for the Blind property, which would link the Dix campus to Pullen Park.
"I support the city's push for a park, while I also support the need of the state to have an integrated plan with a much-needed Health and Human Services facility," McCrory said during a news conference. "I think we can have both."
The purchase price for the Dix property would reflect the fair market value of the site, based on a new independent appraisal and environmental studies, McCrory and McFarlane said.
"Money is part of the situation, but it's not the only part of the equation in our decision-making process," McCrory said, adding that a new agreement could produce some "wonderful connectivity" between the Dix site, Pullen Park and even the North Carolina State University campus.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger criticized the year delay in voiding the lease, as well as the idea of throwing the Governor Morehead School property into the mix, which he said "ceded more ground" to Raleigh instead of putting the state and city on "equal negotiating footing."
"We appreciate that the governor and Raleigh mayor are attempting to make things right for the taxpayers of North Carolina and the state’s mentally ill, but it is difficult to understand why they are extending an unlawful lease," Berger said in a statement. "This proposed agreement delays doing the right thing until 2014. Why not do the right thing today?”
Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, echoed Berger's comments.
"Postponing it, we don't understand that, you know, for another year. We don't see what that accomplishes," Apodaca said, adding that "ultimately, what comes back to the taxpayers of North Carolina" should be the overriding concern.
McCrory said his talks with McFarlane show he is trying to create "a culture of working out our differences through discussion, through dialog and through consensus" in state government, and he hopes the General Assembly will follow suit.
The House Judiciary Committee did its part Wednesday, voting unanimously to rewrite the Senate-passed legislation that would have immediately torn up the lease. The House plan offers some concessions to the city that aligned with McCrory's and McFarlane's agreement.
"Everyone can agree that having a solution is better than not having one," said Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis. "We hope this bill will make it possible to find a solution."
McFarlane and other Raleigh leaders have said they believe the existing lease is legal and don't agree with lawmakers that the deal is rife with potential legal defects. Dix Visionaries, a private group helping to raise money to build the park, also backs the current lease.
Still, the mayor said she is grateful for McCrory backing the effort to give Raleigh until next April to produce a better agreement.
"We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a central park for our capital city," she said.