It's an Unneeded Project That Can't Be Justified
In the past two years, there have been several very heated issues on which the mayor, and to some degree the Village Council, of Pinehurst have seemed increasingly out of touch with the views of Pinehurst's residents.
These have included the Midland Green debacle and the effort to build a large above-ground parking garage in the middle of the new business district to be created as part of NewCore. In each case, the effort was laid to rest only after massive public protest and debate.
But none of these issues has been as heated and as unusual as the debate over the effort by the Mayor in concert with the Resort to build a roundabout in George Marshall Park at the entrance to Pinehurst Country Club.
Public concern over this issue has led to the formation of Concerned Citizens of Pinehurst, a civic action group dedicated to ensuring full public debate and participation in critical issues such as the roundabout.
Rather than being an idea whose time has come, the roundabout is a project that may never be justified in terms of traffic volume, safety or public access.
Roundabouts were discussed in a general way in the Village Planning Document of 2003 as potentially useful at a number of intersections in Pinehurst. Then, less than two years ago, the Village Traffic Study identified 12 important highway projects for action, and the list did not include the intersection of N.C. 2 and Carolina Vista, where the roundabout is planned. Not surprisingly, none of DOT's planning documents identified this as a priority, and it is not included in any of DOT planned projects for 2006 and 2007.
Yet to Mayor Steven Smith, it apparently became an urgent priority this past fall. A workshop document from the previous May concerning the roundabout was suddenly brought forward for council decision and approval in December without any public hearings, explanations, or evaluation of alternatives.
Now, this is very unusual in a town like Pinehurst, where even the smallest issues are the subject of public hearings. A good example was the hearing just last week concerning the renaming of a short, uninhabited stretch of North Woods Road to Magnolia Road, since it led to the Village Hall from the north side.
Yet for the million-dollar-scale-roundabout in the middle of Pinehurst's National Historic District, the council has arrogantly refused repeated requests from its citizens for public review and hearings.
Worse, the council staff and village counsel, presumably at the mayor's behest, misrepresented the extent of public hearings and the level of public support at meetings in Raleigh with DOT's Historic Architecture Group, the State Historic Preservation Office and the State Historic Commission -- all of which had expressed objections to the roundabout.
Because of our protests over these misrepresentations, the State Historic Preservation Commission in Raleigh has reopened the issue and invited Concerned Citizens to appear at its May 24 meeting.
The village staff has also interfered with the work of the autonomous, quasi-judicial Pinehurst Historic Preservation Commission by telling DOT it did not need to apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) from the commission. It has also tried to convince the commissioners that they did not have jurisdiction over the project -- this, even though similar DOT highway projects in historic districts across the state, in Asheville, Salisbury, Rocky Mount, Wake Forest and others are currently undergoing COA reviews by the historic commissions in those municipalities.
Damaging Village History
So what in the world is going on? There has been no public explanation of why the roundabout is needed, either for traffic or safety reasons, or some unannounced plan of Pinehurst Resort. This is why 700 citizens of Pinehurst have banded together as Concerned Citizens in an effort to force public explanations on the rationale, need and possible alternatives to the roundabout.
This number is rapidly growing toward 1,000 and represents a major fraction of the resident voters of Pinehurst. It also includes a large number of members of the Country Club, who presumably would be in favor of a good plan if it were necessary.
The privately owned Carolina Vista roadway, which touches the hotel at one end and the club at the other, arguably involves the most important historic structures of the Pinehurst Historic District. The roundabout would irrevocably alter this vista, take much of the parkland in Marshall Park, straighten the curvilinear road design of Frederic Law Olmsted and require the removal of 92 beautiful, old-growth trees.
To damage Pinehurst's history in this way for a need that has not been demonstrated seems short-sighted indeed.
Restore Public Trust
DOT is scrambling to find funds from other scheduled maintenance and improvements, even though it admits that its studies do not show a current need for the roundabout. The DOT position is that they are willing to do it if the village and resort insist. But they advise privately that as traffic increases, the roundabout would have to be removed in coming years in favor of a traffic light.
The position of Concerned Citizens is that the roundabout is at best an ill-conceived idea and a poor use of North Carolina's highway funds. The current design would be too small for trucks, too large for pedestrians to cross safely and too poorly illuminated for safe driving at night.
Nevertheless, if public hearings were held, including an explanation of the urgent need by the resort, it is entirely possible that a roundabout or one-way routing through the club might gain public support. Without public support, even U.S. presidents like Nixon and Johnson learned they could not continue to govern.
So to our mayor, we say, why not hold the hearings and restore public trust and confidence in governance in Pinehurst? What is there to be afraid of?
John Marcum represents Concerned Citizens of Pinehurst.
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