The City of Durham’s footprint grew by 111 acres on Feb. 6 when the City Council voted to annex 24 parcels of land in Southeast Durham, allowing for the construction of up to 545 townhouse units.
First, in a 5-2 decision, with Mayor Elaine O’Neal and council member DeDreana Freeman voting no, the council chose to annex Mockingbird Lane and Sherron Road. Then, in a 4-3 decision, adding council member Monique Holsey-Hyman to the no votes, the council added Mica Ridge to the fold.
These approvals come despite opposition from Preserve Rural Durham, an organization dedicated to protecting Durham’s natural landscapes from overdevelopment. At the meeting, members of the local organization made a return visit, passionately advocating against the annexation in its proposed form.
“Give us the opportunity to do our best,” said Tina Pearson. “Durham has the opportunity to be a leader in how developments are built in which we honor the people, the trees, and the land.”
Opponents who spoke at the meeting said the community is already underserved with too few ambulances and EMS personnel. Local resident Rebecca Freeman referenced a January statement by Durham County EMS describing staff and mechanic shortages.
Criticism of the annexation projects did not only come from within the walls of City Hall. Citizens also weighed in about concerns about traffic, maintaining natural boundaries, and the need for infrastructure improvements via the interactive digital tool, Social PinPoint.
Among the seven oppositional speakers at the meeting, one central question kept recurring: What will be the environmental impact of the construction? For instance, one speaker said that soils in the Falls Lake watershed are highly erosive and could potentially lead to increased contamination of Raleigh’s water supply.
“The geology and the topography are difficult and tough to develop… You really can’t just, like, mass grade everything and dynamite without having major complications,” Pearson stated. “If you stop mass grading, the tree roots will actually hold the soil in place like it’s supposed to. The land will filter out nitrogen and phosphorus like it does in nature.”
Council member Caballero, who voted in favor of the annexation, said many of the residents’ water quality concerns were being managed by the Upper Neuse River Basin Association. The UNRBA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting water quality in the Upper Neuse River Basin. “I have a lot of trust and faith in our water quality specialists,” Caballero said.
The Feb. 6 meeting was simply one of many recent public debates surrounding annexation. As residents of Durham County face the recurring question of city expansion, they can keep up with the issue on Wednesday, March 1 in a special meeting of the Durham City Council, the Durham County Commissioners and the City-County Planning Commission. In this meeting, which will be open to the public, the bodies will address how to manage future annexation cases.
Above: Bulldozers clear the way for a new development in Durham County. Photo by Maddie Wray — The 9th Street Journal