Southern Durham Development, the Raleigh-based developers behind the 751 South project, may have found a way to invalidate the protest petition filed against their property's rezoning. The petition, ruled valid earlier this month, would require a super-majority for rezoning of their parcel to allow higher residential density.
A July 13 deed of easement, a copy of which recently posted to the register of deeds website, shows that Southern Durham Development requested and received a 41 foot extension to the state’s road easement that surrounds some of the property. The easement previously stood at 60 feet, yielding a new easement of 101 feet.
For those familiar with the county’s protest petition process, 101 feet is a unique number. For a signature on the protest petition to be valid, the signatory must own property within 100 feet of the parcel considered for rezoning. SDD's easement strategy may invalidate the signatures of all property owners in the Chancellor’s Ridge development, which sits across NC-751 from SDD’s site.
Quite interesting is the date of Southern Durham Development’s deed of easement. The deed carries a July 13 filing date, the same day in which Planning Director Steve Medlin ruled the protest petition valid.
Even if all Chancellor's Ridge signatories are removed from the petition, it may still remain valid. A valid petition would necessitate that four of the five county commissioners approve the proposed rezoning at Monday’s meeting. A new law, passed in this year’s session of the NC General Assembly, expanded criteria for approving a protest petition.
Under the new law, protest petitions are valid if property owners controlling 5 percent of the land that directly borders the site in question are signatories. Previous Durham County rules stipulated that 20% of property owners, either inside the rezoned area or within 100 feet, must sign the protest petition.
If signatures from Chancellor's Ridge are declared invalid, only two names, representing a single parcel, will remain. As noted by Ray Gronberg at the Herald-Sun 10 days ago, this property sums to 5.52 percent of the land directly bordering Southern Durham Development’s parcel. These two property owners may still remove their name before Monday's meeting, and one can assume that they are being intensely lobbied by lawyers from K&L Gates, SDD’s law firm.
Also, to be clear, the City/County Planning Department has not yet altered the status of the protest petition. Although the deed of easement is definitive, its effect on the protest petition is not entirely clear.
Update #1: Ray Gronberg at the HS did some follow-up on both the status of the protest petition and the campaign contributions made to Gov. Bev Perdue by the developers. In the article, City/County Planning Director Steve Medlin states that the new easement will, in fact, nullify the protest petition.