Neighbors fight proposed Durham County development
Posted July 21, 2011 5:11 p.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2011 1:44 p.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — The fight over a proposed Durham County development went to court Thursday.
The 751 South project would bring about 1,300 homes and up to 600,000 square feet of commercial and retail space to 167 acres along N.C. Highway 751 near the Durham-Chatham county line.
The battle over the project has gone on for more than three years. Developers and supporters say it would bring jobs to the area, expand the county's tax base and allow for two new schools to be built, while opponents fear it would harm nearby Jordan Lake and the rural landscape.
The Durham County Board of Commissioners approved the project last August, but some neighbors said that vote shouldn't count. They filed suit, claiming a petition they filed should have required four of five commissioners to vote in favor of the development for it to proceed.
Although local planning officials said the protest petition was valid, the county ruled it invalid, saying the neighbors didn't live close enough to the development to protest it.
In a court hearing Thursday, lawyers for the neighbors argued that the only reason the group was deemed to live outside the boundary for a protest petition was because of a gift of land to the state Department of Transportation.
The DOT later declined the gift after learning the property was in the middle of the dispute over 751 South.
Lawyers for the neighborhood group said in court that the DOT never actually accepted the deed and that Southern Durham Development never gave up possession of the land. They also asserted that the DOT staffer who signed the agreement with the developer didn't have the authority to do so.
Attorneys for the developer and the county contended that, even if the DOT didn't have the deed at the time the Board of Commissioners voted, the land would have been considered abandoned because Southern Development didn't accept it. For that reason, they said, the protest petition should be ruled as invalid and the board's vote should stand.
Superior Court Judge G. Wayne Abernathy is expected to issue a ruling next week.