S.P. Council OK's Church's Plan
The Southern Pines Town Council voted Tuesday night to approve plans for a new building to replace the old chapel at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church.
The council also closed the public hearing on a possible moratorium and amended the proposed ordinance to include only Planned Unit Development (PUD) requests and subdivisions of more than 20 acres. But the council delayed a vote on imposing a moratorium until a later meeting.
In addition, the council voted to approve a rezoning for a shopping center to be anchored by a Home Depot. It will replace the old Kmart building. The plan will eventually return to the council for architectural review.
The council has already provided a great deal of input on the building design. The council approved the rezoning only after Home Depot agreed to tone down its trademark orange paint along with some other concessions.
The meeting featured some uncharacteristic agreement by the council members. Several votes were unanimous.
"Wow," Mayor Mike Haney said. "This feels so good."
The Brownson church plan had generated some controversy for several months. Many residents had hoped to prevent the church from tearing down the chapel because they felt it has historic value. Church leaders countered that the existing building is plagued by water and mold problems, and is unusable.
The new building will have mostly offices and classrooms.
The new building seeks to incorporate some of the historic features of the old chapel, including the actual doorway, columns and steeple of the chapel. The church has already obtained a demolition permit to tear down the old chapel.
Council member Abigail Dowd asked that the church not demolish the chapel and leave a "gaping hole" in downtown until it was ready to construct the new building.
Alex Bowness, former mayor of Southern Pines and head of the Brownson building committee, said the church would consider her request but would have to eventually do what's best for the church.
Councilman Fred Walden made a motion to approve the architectural plans. Councilman David Woodruff seconded the motion.
"I've looked at the site plans, and I think it's consistent with the neighborhood," Walden said. "Brownson has been a positive force in this community for some time. It's more important what's going on inside the building rather than what's going on outside."
Dowd reiterated her concerns about churches not fitting in residential neighborhoods and about the scale of the Brownson building. But she said that because it conformed to the town ordinance, she would vote to approve the plan.
The motion passed unanimously.
The council later allowed lengthy public comments on its proposed moratorium ordinance, with speakers on both sides making their cases. However, as Woodruff pointed out, no one who spoke made any suggestions about the actual ordinance.
One of the speakers was James D. Gregory, a professor at N.C. State University and a watershed hydrology consultant, who was hired by moratorium proponents.
He told the council that in his professional opinion the town needed a moratorium to study water availability.
"There was a period of time there (in August) that, had rain not occurred, Southern Pines came very close to running out of water," he said.
Densel Williams, head of the Government Affairs Committee of the Moore County Home Builders Association, spoke against the moratorium, saying it would hurt the local economy.
"Do your planning," he said. "We'll work with you. But for God's sake don't run people off. ... If you've ever laid awake at night wondering how to pay a mortgage on $1 million in loans, come talk to me."
Mayor Pro Tem Chris Smithson said he wanted to change the moratorium ordinance to narrow the scope so some smaller projects could get under way. Dowd was the only council member to vote against his motion.
Haney and Walden both reiterated their opposition to any moratorium, but said they'd vote to narrow the scope proposed by Smithson, should it pass.
"I'd like to vote on it now and vote it down," Haney said, "but I don't think I have the votes."
Smithson said he didn't want to vote on the amended moratorium ordinance until next month. Smithson, Dowd and Woodruff plan to attend an April 17 conference on moratoriums. The council voted to table the issue.
"I'm truly on the fence with this one," Woodruff said. "I'd rather hear more than less."
The council also went through a negotiation process with the developers of the Home Depot shopping center, eventually getting the store to drop some of its trademark orange.
"We have a brand just like Home Depot," Woodruff said. "We're not looking to hit people in the eyes with all this orange like Home Depot is. ... We don't want to look like everyone else. If we did, no one would come here."
The zoning change was required because the town had adopted special zoning in that area to allow for the Kmart building. Essentially, it had to adopt the same zoning to allow the new shopping center.
The proposed Home Depot, after the changes, would have a darker colored brick than most Home Depots and have only two orange stripes on the front of the building.
Steve Lilly, real estate manager for Home Depot, came from Atlanta to attend the meeting. Among the concessions he agreed to were to make the fabric over the garden center a light color other than orange, to take a orange stripe off the side of the building and to add a bike rack to the plan.
"It's great to have folks here that can make the calls," Haney said.
Contact Matthew Moriarty at 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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