One of the last things that Governor Beverly Perdue approved before leaving office was a long term lease of the grounds of the former Dorothea Dix mental hospital. That deal has now been voided as the NC House voted Wednesday to throw it out and allow the state to renegotiate with the city of Raleigh.
The land, totaling 325 acres, is located just south of the city of Raleigh and is considered a prime location for development. It has been owned by the state of North Carolina for over 150 years and currently houses offices of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The lease was made with the city of Raleigh for $500,000 a year over 99 years plus a 1.5% yearly escalation, with the condition that currently occupied office space is temporarily leased back to the state. The city planned to turn the acreage into a park, similar to Central Park in New York City. At the time, then Governor Purdue stated:
“Discussion and deliberation about the Dix property has taken place for years,” Perdue said in a statement. “The plan is the most appropriate way of preserving this open space as a park, while at the same time providing revenue to the state.”
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane also weighed in on the previous deal:
“I am very happy the City of Raleigh and the state can partner in this way to provide such a great opportunity for our citizens,” Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said. “The Dix property is a wonderful addition to our city and state’s quality of life amenities.”
Almost as soon as it was approved the lease was criticized as undervalued and a bad use of the space. State legislators also criticized the lease because it would end up costing the state money because of the need to find new office space for the Department of Health and Human Services. On March 21, an amended bill passed the Senate Appropriation Committee calling for the deal to be renegotiated at fair market value. On March 26, the bill passed the state senate. On May 22nd, a similar bill was passed by the House Judiciary committee. The House is set to debate the revised bill on May 29. Speaking of the new Bill Governor Pat McCrory said:
“I support the city’s push for a park, while I also support the need of the state to have an integrated plan with a much-needed Health and Human Services facility,” McCrory said during a news conference. “I think we can have both.”
It seems like a decent compromise can be reached on all sides. If the city wants a park, I see no reason that park needs to be 300 acres. Raleigh is not New York City in population or surroundings. A smaller portion of the space can accomplish the same goal, while allowing the state to keep office space and potentially allowing some of the area to be sold for commercial or residential development. Unless this is in reality a move to protect or create green space (sustainable communities, Agenda 21, etc) there is an opportunity for everyone to win by engaging in a bit of give and take.