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Durham City Council supports urban growth area move by 5-2 vote in preview of 751 South debates to come

751 South urban growth area boundary up for review at City Council meeting tonight

The newness of 2011's arrival has barely worn off, yet it's already time for the 751 South project to be back in the public eye.

And after two years in which the County Commissioners were the focal points of lobbying, debate and scrutiny, the issue now moves squarely into the City Council's realm.

The Council won't be asked to vote on extending utility service to the site; that vote's on ice while City staff come forward with further analysis, and with a political cross-section of the Council raising questions about whether that issue should be addressed before a Superior Court lawsuit is settled.

But Council will be voting on the possible extension of the urban growth area (UGA) boundary, a move that's a necessary precursor to providing services into the currently non-annexed site.

The site's been a controversial one, largely for the administrative decision by former planning director Frank Duke to swap in a private survey for a USGS one, taking more than 200 acres outside of protective watershed boundaries for Jordan Lake and opening the door to much denser (and more controversial) development.

The site's developers won a court case upholding that determination, setting the stage for a controversial vote in August 2010 over the site's zoning, and with a slender 3-2 majority of County Commissioners supporting a rezoning -- and with a protest petition that would have required a four-vote supermajority thrown out in an administrative decision that's currently before the courts.

That lawsuit over the critical boundary area doesn't bind the City to the action in the way that it impacted the County, though the City Council could choose tonight to go along with matching the UGA boundary to the critical watershed area line.

As City/County Planning director Steve Medlin notes in his memo on the case, City Council previously voted once before (in 2007) to approve utility extension to the site, albeit for a much less dense development -- 156 homes on 251 acres, something that's been replaced by a mixed-use development proposal with more than eight times the number of residential units plus significant retail and commercial office space.

In recommending that Council vote to extend the UGA to encompass the 751 South site, Medlin notes, "the prior allowance by the Council of an extension agreement" for the previous site proposal. seemed to have been made "under the assumption that the property was within the UGA."

Still, that's by no means assured -- Medlin notes that the City Council could choose to defer the matter until the Superior Court lawsuit over a protest petition wraps up. Alternatively, Council could choose to address the matter after it annexes the site and when it's reviewing the zoning.

Expect a big turnout at tonight's meeting, as project opponents have taken to listservs and Council members' inboxes alike to argue against a UGA extension. The meeting's set for 7pm at City Hall, and is available for viewing and reviewing on DTV8.


no thank you

Here's to hoping the council has a backbone.

We can have intelligent land zoning and start to reign in urban sprawl and the many costly problems associated with that . . . or we can continue to replicate misguided footsteps that have ruined most of America's urban areas.

it is that simple.

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