Local News

Showdown set over proposed Durham County development

Posted July 14, 2010 5:05 p.m. EDT
Updated July 14, 2010 7:20 p.m. EDT

— Opponents of a proposed development in southern Durham County won a major victory Tuesday by making a zoning change for the project tougher to obtain.

The 167-acre 751 South project runs along N.C. Highway 751 near the Durham-Chatham county line. Plans call for it to include 1,300 homes and up to 600,000 square feet of commercial and retail space.

The battle over the project has gone on for more than two years. Developers say it would bring thousands of jobs and a new lifestyle to the Triangle, but opponents contend it would harm nearby Jordan Lake and change the character of the rural area.

"It will bring together a unique community that brings together work, living, shopping, going to school (and) going to church," said Patrick Byker, the attorney for Southern Durham Development Inc.

"The developers want to build basically a mini-city on the shores of Jordan Lake," nearby resident Steve Bocckino said. "If retail is approved that far south in the county, it will change whatever remaining rural character south Durham has."

City/County Planning Director Steve Medlin determined Tuesday that a protest petition signed by area residents was valid, forcing Southern Durham Development to get votes from four of five Durham County commissioners for a required zoning change for the project.

The Board of Commissioners has scheduled a July 26 hearing on the issue.

Commissioner Becky Heron has already decided to vote against the project, saying she is concerned about the potential for polluting Jordan Lake.

"That could possibly be a future, a main future water supply for Durham. We need to keep it clean," Heron said. "We don't need a city up there."

Developers said the project would be built a mile away from the lake, and they are doing all they can to reduce pollution, such as building more parking decks and fewer parking lots to reduce runoff into the watershed.

"It's been designed by leading international experts in the field of environmental design," Byker said.

Commissioner Brenda Howerton said anything that will bring jobs to Durham County deserves a shot.

"People have a right to look to see what will support Durham County, you know, what is going to support our tax base, what is going to support jobs," Howerton said.

Developers said they hope to persuade nearby residents to remove their names from the protest petition before the July 26 hearing.

Officials said it also is legally possible for the developers to ask to be annexed into the city and seek a zoning change through the Durham City Council instead of the Board of Commissioners.