EDITORIAL: Debate Over PUD Must Be Broader
Southern Pines is right to seek outside help in reviewing the proposed Planned Unit Development ordinance -- as long as it's not just stalling.
PUD is being sought by the developers of the Pine Needles Village. So ambitious is the project -- as many as 1,100 residential units, along with a commercial component -- that it will take at least a decade to complete. The developers are nervous about laying out the whole complex in detail now for town approval, since its composition may evolve over the years in response to changes in demand.
On the other hand, they're understandably reluctant to seek piecemeal approval as they go along for fear of hitting an unexpected snag later. PUD, really a new zoning category, is a comprehensive effort to accommodate such large, mixed-use, master-planned projects developed in stages.
Separating Two Issues
Originally, Pine Needles and its developer, the Houston-based Hines company, had asked the town to give simultaneous consideration to both its 1,000-acre rezoning request and the PUD draft prepared for them by the local firm LandDesign. But as opposition arose, the decision was made to separate the issues and look at them one at a time.
That needed to happen. LandDesign, after all, was working on Pine Needles' nickel and not the town's, raising questions of conflict of interest. If the town needs the PUD arrow in its quiver of zoning options -- and we think it does -- then the language needs to be written with the town's interests in mind and not those of a particular applicant. PUD will presumably be around long after the Pine Needles Village issue has been resolved, and it should be universally applicable.
When the Southern Pines Planning Board held a three-hour public hearing on the proposed PUD ordinance on Nov. 15, many of those who spoke in opposition to it were really there on the assumption that if they stopped PUD, they would stop Pine Needles Village. That's not exactly true.
Opposition Could Backfire
The Pine Needles developers have a lot of time and money invested in their land and their project. They won't roll over and die if PUD fails. Pine Needles CEO Kelly Miller made it clear in an interview with The Pilot that the developers will go ahead with some kind of project on that land.
Under current zoning, which allows industrial uses among others, that project could well end up being more objectionable to opponents than the Village plan. If they wanted to, the developers could put up metal buildings and try to attract manufacturers to an industrial park, something for which part of the land is now zoned.
The Planned Unit Development zoning classification is a progressive local-government initiative that needs to happen. Before it's adopted, it should be written in such general form as to apply to other major future developments like the Henley Road Extension project now on the drawing boards. Its provisions must take into account the interests of the whole town and its residents, not those of one group of entrepreneurs -- or, for that matter, their agitated neighbors.
The town's decision to table PUD for now and "move forward with a third-party professional review of the proposed language" seems a prudent one -- as long as they work quickly and we all realize that Pine Needles Village, in one form or another, isn't going away.
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