GOP lawmakers push for Dix deal in line with 2007 Master Plan - WNCN: News, Weather

GOP lawmakers push for Dix deal in line with 2007 Master Plan

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As a bill to revoke a deal between the City of Raleigh and the state moves into the House Judiciary Committee, it is still unclear whether the state will uphold its lease with the city for the use of the Dorothea Dix Campus as a public park. 

But the end result could be that Raleigh has to settle for a deal originally laid out in a 2007 master plan.

After passing a Senate vote earlier this week, the bill is now in the hands of a Republican-controlled House who supports a redrawing of that contract. With the passage of that bill, the city may have to settle for a smaller piece of the property, as outlined in a 2007 state plan, and perhaps at a higher cost.

In December, the Council of State, under Gov. Bev Perdue, signed a contract to lease the Dorothea Dix property to Raleigh for $500,000 per year for 75 years with a 24-year renewal. However, from the beginning, Republican lawmakers raised questions about the deal and argued the state did not get fair market value for the property.

As a result, on Tuesday, the state Senate voted 29-21 to revoke the lease and pursue a new lease that would allow the city to develop around 200 acres of the Dix property's 325 acres of land "at a fair market value" for use as a destination park.

Following the Senate's vote, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger issued a statement saying lawmakers "are keeping the state's commitment to using the Dorothea Dix property to benefit the mentally ill."

Berger added, "And we are keeping our agreement to allow Raleigh to have a large destination park, so long as city leaders pay their fair share and comply with the law."

The "commitment" and "agreement" Berger mentioned in his statement refers to Section 4 of the S.B. 334 (H.B. 319), in which lawmakers say the Department of Administration will "lease at fair market value a portion of the property identified in the 2007 State Government Facilities Master Plan as suitable for a public park."

Section 4(c) of the bill continues, "The Department of Administration and Department of Health and Human Services shall evaluate the recommended uses of the Dorothea Dix Property identified in the 2007 State Government Facilities Master Plan and report their findings to the General Assembly by March 15, 2014, along with any request for authority or appropriation to implement all or any portion of Section 8 of the 2007 State Government Facilities Master Plan."

Although only intended as a guide for lawmakers, the 2007 State Government Facilities Master Plan -- prepared by O'Brien/Atkins Associates for the state Department of Administration -- calls for the establishment of five districts on land holdings within Wake County.

The districts identified are:

  • Academic Agricultural Research District
  • Academic Core and Business Development District
  • Administrative District
  • Research and Development District
  • Health Care and Wellness Center District

The heart of the Health Care and Wellness Center District is the Dorothea Dix Campus, which the plan cites as "the state's historic home for mental health services."

"There is sufficient land to accommodate the space needs while allowing for land to be reserved beyond this report's planning horizon. By commissioning this study, the State has created a tool that guides the planning of its physical resources over the next 15 years," the 2007 plan reads.

In accordance with Section 8 of the plan, the Health Care and Wellness Center District would "provide the facilities necessary to support the State's commitment to the mental health and well-being of its citizens" as well as "preserve open space, preserve historic structures and create new public recreation areas."

"The State of North Carolina should remain the owner of the property and continue its stewardship of the land. However, the State should evaluate partnership opportunities for re-development and preservation of campus assets," the plan says.

"Large areas of public park lands should be established within the Dorothea Dix Campus. Both passive and active recreation areas should be planned for the park areas."

The plan calls for one of two land-use concepts that designate approximately 200 or more acres for use as park land and open space. The Umstead Complex plan places the DHHS complex along Umstead Drive, while the Lake Wheeler Road Complex places the DHHS complex along Biggs Drive.

"The mission of the Health and Wellness Center District should continue to honor [the Dorothea Dix Hospital] legacy by providing facilities for mental, physical and social wellness, while providing a public destination that enhances the surrounding context through the creation of parkland and open space," the plan reads.

"Commonly referred to as 'Dix Hill,' the property has a beautiful pastoral quality composed of hardwood groves, rolling open spaces and dramatic views of Downtown Raleigh," the plan says. "The historical character of the central core of the Campus should be preserved through adaptive reuse and serve as a guideline for the character of new development."

The public area of the Umstead Complex would "flank the southeast of the campus, creating a contiguous buffer of public space adjacent to the residential areas along Western Blvd. and Lake Wheeler Road. This public area could continue to provide park and open space while also providing the opportunity for the re-vitalization of the historic core into a mixed use village."

The public area of the Lake Wheeler Road Complex would run around the north of the complex and connect up to the Farmers Market, "separating DHHS and NCSU Spring Hill Precinct."

Both concepts call for a way-finding system "that helps direct, identifies and describes the buildings and areas of the campus;" safe pedestrian crossings between the Campus at Western Boulevard and Lake Wheeler Road; and integration into a regional bus system. The concepts also call for streetscape improvements, including lighting and improved road cross sections.

If signed, under the new agreement "all revenues from leases of the Dorothea Dix Property [will] be held in a special fund for appropriation by the General Assembly for mental health purposes."

But until the terms of that new agreement are revealed, the price tag of the lease remains in question, as does whether the city will even agree to the new terms.

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