PAUL DUNN: Pinehurst 'Ponders' Handed a Raw Deal
Our new Pinehurst village leadership needs to take a fresh look at an old issue: the plight of the "Ponders."
It's normally a lucky soul who lives near water. But the owners of 25 properties surrounding Pinehurst's two controversial ponds, No. 1 and No. 2, haven't felt fortunate for a long time. They feel that an uncaring village has treated them unfairly. And here's one nearby observer who thinks they have a point.
The ponds lie within riparian lands surrounded by Pine Vista Drive, Burning Tree Road, Gingham Lane and Lake Shore Court. The two dozen lots form a Municipal Service District (MSD) and have received incredibly burdensome tax assessments.
The ponds were originally acquired from ClubCorp by the village of Pinehurst. Some contend that the acquisition was seriously flawed. The ponds were accepted without intense professional hydraulic and engineering reviews to assure the soundness of the dams. In time, the poorly maintained dams failed, as the affected landowners had predicted at the time the MSD was proposed.
Unlike Walden Pond, whose beauty and history were the subject of a book by Henry David Thoreau, ponds No.1 and No. 2 have little in the way of a storied background to commend them, albeit they do provide great beauty not only for the landowners affected, but for all in the community who choose to walk the dams that separate them. It's a place well-frequented by birders, photographers, hikers, bikers, fishers, and -- most of all -- dog walkers. Perhaps one day the ponds will rise in perceived value to the point where they are given suitable names.
At Walden, the surrounding small ponds are known as Flint's, Sandy, White and Goose. My all-time favorite pond from stage and film was called "Golden," and memories of Hepburn and the Fondas there are warm and lasting.
Pinehurst's ponds 1 and 2 were acquired in much the same manner as the Harness Track and Rassie Wicker Park -- for the common good of the community. The ponds provide natural beauty and serve as valuable catch basins for upstream flows from large drainage areas.
But unlike the track and park areas, only the ponds were put into an MSD. When the track and park were purchased, the entire community of Pinehurst rightly assumed the obligation for the bill. Had those properties not been wisely purchased, there'd possibly be condos at the track site and private homes or businesses in the parkland.
The 25 affected riparian land owners protested the MSD and its uneven treatment when it occurred. They still protest it as blatantly inequitable. From day one, the owners warned Pinehurst that the dams might be weak and unsound and could fail. Village experts disregarded residents' fears and placed the risk of failure not upon the village but upon the prescient residents.
When one dam failed and had to be repaired (at a cost of half a million dollars), the village sought to sock the residents with the whole bill, only belatedly agreeing to charge the owners half that amount.
Properties surrounding the track and park are more valuable today than when those lands were acquired, yet no special tax assessments were placed upon the adjoining landowners. The continuing maintenance of those properties has always been fully paid by the municipality and not by the surrounding property owners.
In the case of the racetrack, costs of the maintenance have been several million dollars above anticipated expenses, yet those significant higher costs weren't charged to adjacent property owners.
The homes around the ponds have always been assessed as "waterfront property." As such, owners have always paid higher taxes than non-waterfront property owners by virtue of their prized locations. Those added taxes paid and to be paid in the future, by virtue of that higher assessed valuation, will more than compensate the village for any added costs of operating or repairing the dams.
The landowners contend that the municipality was negligent and/or reckless when the ponds were accepted, and that they should not have been taken without a guarantee of soundness from ClubCorp. The village could have taken insurance to protect against the risk of dam failure, but it didn't. Even the recently fixed dam had only a one-year service guarantee, which had expired.
The landowners point out that the MSD was arbitrarily mandated by the village and never voluntarily agreed to by the property owners. They can demonstrate that because of the dam failure and special assessments, properties have become unsaleable at true market value. Should a dam fail in the future, the 25 owners would again be handed the bill.
Justice long delayed for the ponders is justice denied. They deserve to be treated no differently than the landowners by the track and park. We have a new mayor and two new council members who seem very open-minded. Perhaps they can bring a more equitable resolution to this festering issue.
Let them be reminded of the words of Thoreau, the sage of Walden Pond, who wrote: "Goodness is the only investment that never fails."
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst and may be reached at: email@example.com
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