Berger: Dix lease should be terminated now - WRBL

Berger: Dix lease should be terminated now

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

One day after a North Carolina House panel recommended a bill that buys time for the city of Raleigh to renegotiate a lease for the 325-acre Dorothea Dix property, Gov. Pat McCrory and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane held a press conference to discuss the issue.

The press conference was held Thursday morning at the State Capitol. There, McCrory said no one wins if the issue winds up becoming a lawsuit. So McCrory and McFarlane said the two parties are working together to solve the issue.

"Both Nancy and I are supporting House legislation concerning the Dorothea Dix property that gives us more time, approximately one year, until April of next year to reach an agreement on a new lease" for the Dix property.

McCrory added, "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.

"I think we can have both."

But Sen. Phil Berger told WNCN he doesn't believe the issue should linger another year.

"I don't think it's necessary to take a full year to terminate a lease where there's already broad discussion and much consensus is illegal," Berger said.

Berger said the lease should be terminated now.

McFarlane also sounded confident that an agreement could be reached. She said, "We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a Central Park for our capital city. I believe we will be able to come to an agreement that will be in the best interest of the citizens of Raleigh and the state of North Carolina."

The N.C. House bill would tear up a lease struck in the waning days of former Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue's administration. Unlike the Senate version, it wouldn't take effect until April 2014, giving officials time to hammer out a compromise that allows the city to realize its plans for a major park in the style of New York or Atlanta, said Rep. Justin P. Burr, R-Stanly and the bill's sponsor.
    
"This is not saying we absolutely oppose the city of Raleigh having a park," he said. "It's saying we want to hit a reset button, and we want to make sure at the end of the day that both sides are satisfied with the deal at hand."
    
The original 75-year agreement approved in December by an executive-branch council and finalized by Perdue just before she left office has drawn criticism from Republican legislative leaders, who say the $68 million the deal generates doesn't represent fair market value. They also say the original transaction should have directed funds specifically to mental health treatment because the property where the former mental hospital stands was deeded for that purpose more than 150 years ago.
    
The site is named for Dix, an early mental health advocate who was instrumental in launching a string of institutions in the 19th century.
    
Legislative attorneys have argued the original deed language requires the state to receive fair market value and devote those resources to mental health to avoid any potential lawsuits from people claiming the state hasn't provided adequate mental health care.
    
Republican lawmakers argue the lease undervalues the land, pointing to past appraisals that city officials have disputed.
    
Like the Senate version, the House bill directs proceeds specifically to mental health and requires the city to carve out a piece of the property for a consolidated Department of Health and Human Services facility.
    
But now Gov. Pat McCrory's administration is saying Raleigh's cooperation on the department's future home could open talks for other nearby parcels. Budget director Art Pope said McCrory's administration is open to negotiations for land used by the Governor Morehead school if the city preserves 30 acres for a central campus. The city wants that land to link a future Dix park to Pullen Park.
    
City Attorney Thomas McCormick said he thinks the original lease is valid, but supports the bill.
    
Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, sought assurances that the governor's administration would still continue looking at proposals from developers for other sites for a health and human services campus.
    
Pope said the administration continues to review those proposals and will consider them, but he still believes the Dix site best suites the state's purposes.
    
"The indication would be that using the existing 30 acres on the Dorothea Dix campus would be the best solution, but that will be considered before a final decision is made in light of the other proposals that are out there," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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