Builders of the controversial 751 South in Durham County now have their sewer. Water is another story.
As expected, Durham County commissioners on Monday voted 4-1, with Commissioner Ellen Reckhow the lone dissenter, to ink a contract with developer Southern Durham Development (SDD) that would connect the long-stalled project to the county's sewer system.
SDD hopes to build up to 1,300 homes and 600,000 square feet of commercial development on a 167-acre tract off N.C. 751 near Jordan Lake. The mixed-use proposal has been sharply criticized by many southern Durham residents and environmentalists who worry 751 South will further sully already-polluted Jordan Lake and jam traffic on rural N.C. 751.
SDD will build the nearly four-mile sewer line to connect with a southern Durham treatment plant. A proposed route for the sewer line crosses more than a mile of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land, requiring federal approval if the concept is to go forward.
Most commissioners did not speak about the contract, which began Monday's meeting on the consent agenda, a place usually reserved for noncontroversial items. The contract was removed from the consent agenda after residents signed up to speak against the proposal, Commission Chairman Michael Page said.
An opponent of 751 South, area resident Melissa Rooney, asked commissioners to wait until after the November election to vote, arguing that a board with two non-elected appointees—Pam Karriker and Philip Cousin Jr.—should not decide on the contract.
Reckhow, a longtime 751 South opponent, described the contract as an "unfortunate precedent" for county officials to extend sewer into the City of Durham's service area. Durham City Council denied providing sewer and water to the project in February.
SDD attorney Cal Cunningham called for state legislation last month forcing city leaders to extend utilities to 751 South; the bill failed. He said Monday that builders plan to use community wells for a portion of the water needs and will "live with the consequences" of conservation land-use rules that mandate projects of this type to have at least 50 percent open space.
As it is planned now, 751 South has about 30 percent open space.
Reckhow said Monday that an Army Corps biologist warned her of potential environmental troubles, including wetland and wildlife disruption and an increased risk of lake contamination in the event of sewer spills.
South Durham resident Steve Bocckino, a 751 South critic, urged commissioners to deny the sewer contract, which he described as a "bad idea."
"It started out as a ploy to get the city to give water to the development, but I guess the city didn't get the memo," Bocckino said.
City Councilman Steve Schewel is president of Carolina Publications, which owns the Independent Weekly.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Royal flush."