Lawmakers may step out of Dorothea Dix debate for now

Lawmakers say they'll wait for Gov. Pat McCrory and the City of Raleigh to work out a deal over plans to turn the property attached to a former mental hospital into a park.

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Dorothea Dix Hospital
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — Lawmakers say they will most likely allow Gov. Pat McCrory and Raleigh officials work out lingering disagreements over plans to turn the Dorothea Dix campus into a park.
Republicans, who control the House and Senate, were upset when former Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, inked a 100-year lease deal for the 325-acre property in the heart of Raleigh last December. Lawmakers complained the terms were far too generous to the local government and precluded using the property for the headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services.
In February, the Senate filed a bill to stop that deal. The Senate bill would have condemned the city's interest in the lease. A House version of the bill would have put the deal between the state and the city on hold while McCrory renegotiated the measure. It also laid out some specific terms the legislature wanted to see in a final deal. 

However, the bill has sat for nearly two months in a House-Senate conference committee appointed to work out differences between the two chambers. Now it appears that bill may not emerge before the expected end of session next week.

"The governor has reached out to the city," said Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, one of the conference committee negotiators. "Rather than get in the middle, we're going to let them work things out."

Pate said that the governor's office was working on a "status agreement" that would keep either the city or the state from going to court or moving to act on the old lease.

That agreement would give state and city leaders time to work out a new lease deal, possibly along the lines of what was in the House version of the Dorothea Dix bill. That measure suggested that, in exchange for the state retaining some part of the Dix campus for offices, the state might allow the city to acquire some or all of the nearby Governor Morehead School for the Blind property, which would allow the city to connect the new Dix Park to the existing Pullen Park. 

Those comments echoed thoughts offered last week by Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, who said that lawmakers wanted to see what the Governor's Office and the city worked out before moving ahead with the bill. 

Asked whether it was likely the Dix bill would emerge from the conference committee this summer, Pate said, "probably not." 

He said legislative action was still possible if lawmakers didn't like what came out of the negotiations.

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