S.P. Drops Appeal Over Animal Center
Southern Pines has withdrawn its appeal of a 2006 Superior Court decision favoring the Moore Humane Society in its longstanding court battle to get a building permit for a facility near the county airport.
Documents were filed in court Monday, the same day Mayor Frank Quis and Town Manager Reagan Parsons issued a press release announcing the decision.
That clears the way for the Humane Society to obtain a conditional-use permit that it needs to proceed with planning and final designs for a "veterinary clinic" on 12.5 acres near N.C. 22 and Airport Road, as its application states.
The battle began seven or eight years ago, when the Humane Society sought the town's permission to build a new facility. It wanted to provide veterinary clinic services, including low-cost spaying and neutering, education classes on responsible pet ownership and some sheltering functions.
The town, in withdrawing the appeal, has made it clear to the nonprofit group that anything other than a veterinary clinic would violate the zoning ordinance. The town, as well as neighboring property owners, has objected to allowing an animal shelter on the site because the barking dogs might pose a nuisance to nearby homes in the Forest Creek Golf Club.
The property was zoned to allow an animal-related facility when the Society purchased it. Since then, it has been removed as a permitted use and is instead a conditional use, meaning a special permit would be needed. Conditional uses are considered on a case-by-case basis, provided certain conditions set by the town are met.
Courts have consistently ruled in favor of the Humane Society.
Quis, Barton Tuck, the CEO and developer of Forest Creek, and Gary Kunce, president of the Humane Society Board of Directors, agree that they want to end the legal battle.
The property also faces Sandhills Community College campus property, and is next to The O'Neal School on Airport Road. The Moore County Airport is across N.C. 22 to the north of the Society's site.
Parsons said in an interview this week that the town will issue a conditional-use permit to the Humane Society as the most recent Superior Court ruling ordered it to do.
Quis and Parsons said the town's position remain the same: that the facility should be built somewhere else.
The town's decision to drop the appeal came after several months of meetings among Quis, Tuck, and Kunce, a former Aberdeen town commissioner who now lives in the West End-Seven Lakes area.
"The town's decision to withdraw its appeal does not change its concern that the facility eventually constructed operates primarily as a veterinary clinic, rather than an animal shelter," the news release says. "The town intends to continue to respect the immediate neighbors' concerns and will respond accordingly should problematic issues regarding the operation of the facility arise in the future.
"Continued dialogue with members of the Humane Society Board of Directors leads us to believe that they understood these concerns and will subsequently pursue the construction and operation of a facility that is in fact a veterinary clinic, which is what was applied for and eventually allowed by the court in the original suit against the town."
Superior Court Judge Ronald Spivey ruled last year that the town must produce a valid conditional-use permit for the Humane Society.
The Society had done architectural and other design work, and received architectural review approval before the original court-ordered permit, dated 2004, expired in February 2005. The town said the permit expired before the Society could apply for an extension. The council denied the belated request for an extension. The Humane Society once again took the town to court and won.
The town appealed Spivey's ruling. But before a decision had come from the Court of Appeals, the two sides reached a truce.
Quis wrote in a letter to Kunce this week that "it is best, for purposes of efficiency and economy, to accept the court's ruling and withdraw the appeal. ... This decision does not relieve the town of its responsibility to require that the facility be operated primarily as a veterinary clinic rather than an animal shelter."
Quis said in the letter that the town reserves the right to "react to complaints from neighboring property owners should the facility once built operate as anything other than a veterinary clinic. .."
The news release concludes by saying that the town "genuinely hopes that this long-running issue has run its course and that no further debate or action will be necessary in the future."
Kunce said Tuesday in an interview that more design work and planning will have to be done before construction can begin, since the planned realignment of N.C. 22 will affect the Humane Society's property.
The road construction won't begin until later this year, so it could be 2008 before the Society is in a position to build.
The original design of the proposed facility shows 40 kennels and outdoor runs all facing the interior courtyard. It also includes buffering and fencing, said Kunce, who said he wants to address any issues the Forest Creek entity may have.
Although Tuck and Quis would both prefer the Humane Society find another site, they said they are ready to move ahead.
Kunce said the Humane Society feels that this is "the best location" for its new facility, which is why it has continued the legal fight. He said the site has easy access. The present facility on N.C. 22 near U.S. 15-501 in Carthage is in poor condition.
Tuck said in a telephone interview that he wants to see everyone's best interest addressed and everyone satisfied. However, he said he is still concerned about the facility being there.
"We have probably about 50 lots close enough to the Humane Society property to be directly affected by this facility should barking become a problem," he said.
Sara Lindau can be reached at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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