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Welcome to Raleigh 

What's all this brouhaha in Raleigh about development? That's just the inside-the-Beltline crowd, right? But if so, why are folks in Harrington Grove--which is as North Raleigh as you can get--so up in arms that some are even campaigning for mayoral challenger Charles Meeker and against the incumbent, Paul Coble? It all came out at the meeting of the Harrington Grove Homeowners Association last week.

Life was good in HG until July 1, when Raleigh finished annexing it. Oh, yes, there was the occasional to-do over mailbox colors. All 1,400 houses in the development, you see, must comply with covenants on things like the color of your house and--since it's important they not clash--your mailbox. No Snoopy boxes, please.

In August, though, HG got a rude awakening. A developer's crew showed up unexpectedly and cut down every tree in a swath to the north. The purpose, it turned out, was to extend North Exeter Road, which runs through HG, so that it connects to a forthcoming subdivision called Harrington Pines.

In between the two developments is Sycamore Creek, which not only serves as the boundary for Harrington Grove but is also the boundary between Wake County and Durham County. HP, a 28-acre parcel, is in Durham County, but it's also in Raleigh. The reason: Durham County rejected a suburban-style housing development on its side of the line. But then Raleigh, in 1999, jumped over HG to annex the HP site.

Alas, "Sycamore Creek is a sad and ugly sight!" HG resident Dawn Ronco told association members. The developer's crew jammed four enormous pipes side-by-side across the creek bed, each six feet in diameter by 100 feet long.

The pipes are supposed to carry the water under the road when it's built. Trouble is, the pipes are sitting up too high, so instead of letting the water flow through, they block it. The creek is dying below the pipes and flooding above them, Ronco said.

Residents called on the developer, who told them he didn't want to extend the road, the city made him do it. So off they went together to city hall, where at a hastily convened meeting several weeks ago, Mayor Coble and his ally, City Councilor John Odom, "created a situation that was somewhat intimidating to us," as Ronco's friend Sharon Brawley put it, while telling them they had no say in the matter.

"Well, they were just trying to help," said HG resident Stewart Joslin, a friend of Coble's.

The HG folks weren't very knowledgeable about city politics, it's true. They didn't know, for example, that the lawyer someone recommended to them, Lacy Reaves, is one of Coble's top fund-raisers. (They'd "heard he had an in at city hall.")

But they're learning. Here's the key thing they've learned: the developer doesn't own the creek, the homeowners association does, via an easement from HG's developer. When that came out, however, city officials pushed them to have the association give up the easement. Odom told them the city could take it by condemnation if necessary.

Instead, the association's board voted 6-1 to keep the easement, hire a lawyer and demand that the city order the developer to get his pipes out of their creek.

The residents also learned that using pipes was the cheap alternative to building a bridge. But the pipes can't be put in deep enough to carry the water, because there's already a sewer main in place down below.

You can keep up with all of this at the rebel website: www.geocities.com/savecreek. But here's the bottom line: These folks want the city to talk to them about whether a road is even needed, and if it is, whether other routes should be considered: They also want the creek restored. And they want to be treated with respect.

"We want to save the creek," Ronco said. "Our other concern is the way the city has treated us. They just seem not to want us to have any voice."

There's your brouhaha right there.

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