Raleigh, N.C. — The state House voted 73-31 Thursday in favor of a bill that will force Durham to extend water and sewer lines to the 751 South project, a mixed residential and business development on the Chatham County line.
That vote comes weeks after the Durham City Council voted 4-3 to reject the project, which has been batted about various local governments, courts and legislative bodies for years. The General Assembly narrowly rejected a similar bill last year.
"This bill is simply about property rights," Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said.
The city, he said, was using its power as the only large supplier of water in the area as a weapon in its battle against the development.
The House Finance Committee held a public hearing about the project earlier this week. The project has split the community between those who want to see the jobs that the development would bring and those who worry about strains the project would put on the environment and public resources like roads.
The same committee debated and voted on the bill Thursday afternoon, just before the measure moved to the House floor.
"This is not a zoning hearing," said Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, who represents the area where the project would be built. He objected to lawmakers taking on local land-use decisions.
After the committee meeting, Moore acknowledged that lawmakers were tangling with a local issue, but he said it was for good reason.
"The only time the General Assembly gets involved in a local issue is when a local government behaves in a way that the General Assembly finds to be irrational," Moore said.
On the floor, members noted that Durham's mayor had negotiated a water deal with the developer.
"There was a gun pointed to the mayor's head to start negotiating with the developer," Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said.
But other members said the state should clear the way for the development.
Backers of the project said it would create 3,000 jobs.
"Sometimes common sense has to prevail," said Rep. Mike Stone, R-Lee.
Because the measure includes annexation provisions, the House must vote a second time on a separate day before it moves to the Senate.