Here is an an early look at Bob Wilson's column coming Sunday in The Durham News. Tell us what you think below (with your name) or in a letter to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
BY BOB WILSON
I hope you didn’t reflexively toss the mini-billboard that came in the mail a few days ago. You know, the one with the beaming faces of County Commissioners Chairman Michael Page, fellow incumbents Joe Bowser and Brenda Howerton, and incumbent wannabe Rickey Padgett.
The billboard – er, campaign post card – appeared to be from the candidates themselves, all fervent supporters of 751 South, the proposed 167-acre, mixed-use project hard by the Chatham County line.
And hard by the eutrophic upper reaches of Jordan Lake, which needs another patch of urban sprawl about as much as James Harden needs another elbow punch from the Lakers’ Metta World Peace.
The post card actually came from the Durham Partnership for Progress, a political action committee formed by Southern Durham Development Inc., the local outfit behind 751 South. The PAC exists for one purpose: Elect its four anointed candidates to ensure that 751 South has a future.
Don’t be dazzled by Southern Durham President Alex Mitchell’s declaration that the PAC has high-minded ambitions to “foster a political environment … that encourages equal opportunity, job creation, smart growth.”
What’s so smart about planting 1,300 homes and townhouses and 600,000 square feet of office-retail on 167 acres of environmentally sensitive land whose runoff by Southern Durham’s own assessment will put 600 pounds of nitrogen a year into Jordan Lake?
Not mentioned in the post card endorsement is the lack of public transit from the city to 751 South. By one estimate, DATA bus service would cost $400,000 a year. Don’t hold your breath for it.
Southern Durham’s principals, Tyler Morris and the aforementioned Mitchell have been on a roller coaster since the housing bust. Two of their projects, Windsor Manor Apartments in Raleigh and The Landings at Southpoint, have gone under.
How they or anyone else – listen up, candidates – can be so optimistic about 751 South is a mystery. Tyler and Mitchell are promoting what they claim will be a 10-year build-out costing more than $400 million, with creation of 2,900 permanent jobs.
Sounds like Dreamland to me. Something that big ought to forget annexation by the city. Just go straight for incorporation, keep your taxes at home, and be done with it.
Nothing that Southern Durham Development and its principals has done is improper under the laws of North Carolina. The endorsement post card, even though it can be criticized for appearing to come from the candidates themselves (until you read the small print), is protected political speech.
In fact, Tyler and Mitchell have been remarkably open about their difficulties with Windsor Oaks and The Landings at Southpoint. They have been keen to earn green points with energy-efficient projects, and promise the same for 751 South.
But good intentions alone do not earn the mandate of heaven. Money does, from bankrolling the endorsement post card to paying for the expertise and influence of monster law firms such as K&L Gates.
Having survived a crucial zoning challenge, and with the May 8 primary a de facto general election for Durham County’s Democrats, Southern Durham Development is poised to grab the next brass ring: city water and sewer.
Too bad, oh too bad, cried Lee after Pickett’s Charge. Lee had the will, Meade had the grapeshot.
Now, so does Southern Durham Development.