S.P. Council Weighs Scope of Freeze
The Southern Pines Town Council on Monday debated whether to include land along Morganton Road in a possible moratorium.
While not all council members have publicly staked themselves out on the moratorium issue, another 3-2 vote in favor of adoption may be shaping up. Only Mayor Mike Haney and Council-man Fred Walden have said publicly they oppose a moratorium.
Supporters say a moratorium would give the town time to undertake a comprehensive master plan.
The council spent much of a five-hour work session discussing the moratorium and whether the large tract off Morganton Road would be included.
It is one of the few remaining large tracts left in Southern Pines that is primed for development. Almost everyone agrees that the 250-odd acres, centrally located be-tween Southern Pines, Aberdeen and Pinehurst,would be ideal for a large mixed-use, retail-heavy development.
It has been under the Morganton Road Overlay District since 1998. The zoning is so stringent that even though several developers have been interested in the property -- including most recently Developers Diversified Realty -- none have been able to make it work.
"The system has not permitted anything bad on this property," said Tom Van Camp, whose family owns much of the land in question. "No one has found a loophole."
But the town isn't happy with the zoning, either. It allows as much as two million square feet of retail, has no minimum residential requirement and has a low open space requirement by modern standards. On top of that, if a plan were to come in that fit the current zoning, the council would have no power to stop it. It would receive staff approval.
The owners of the property sat down with the council and promised to work with it to make the zoning something both sides could be happy with. One of the "top developers in the country" is looking at the property and would be scared away if it were put under a moratorium, according to commercial Realtor Susan Clift Brown, who is handling the property.
"Are you sure the moratorium would even apply to your property?" Mayor Pro Tem Chris Smithson asked.
Brown replied, "Maybe you can help us with that part."
'Process Can Go on'
Van Camp said that his family has no interest in seeing the property develop in a way that is not good for the town. He said he would view a moratorium as evidence that the council doesn't trust their intentions.
"I'm not going to say it's a slap in the face," he said. "It would kind of feel like a signal that you don't trust us."
Brown said that the property owners are paying $200,000 a year on commercial property that is undevelopable under the current standards.
Council member Abigail Dowd, who first proposed the moratorium, said that her worry is that the council will work with the developer, then find out from the comprehensive master plan process that something different should go out there.
Van Camp argued that even so, the town didn't need a moratorium on that land, because the current zoning prevents development. He told the council that if both sides negotiate council oversight for the proposed development, then it could simply vote down proposals it doesn't like.
"The process can still go on without some stamp that says, like Monty Python, 'None shall pass,'" he said.
Van Camp said he still had not heard a good reason why the moratorium is necessary.
Haney, playing devil's advocate, asked why a real moratorium would be so bad if the property has been under a de facto one for 10 years anyway.
Van Camp said that it sends a message to the development community that Southern Pines wants them to look elsewhere.
Haney said that if he thought the comprehensive plan was going to result in substantive change, he would support the moratorium.
"The property is going to be developed commercially," he said. "I'm really confident that the property will be developed in a way incredibly positive for our community."
Councilman David Woodruff said that he wouldn't have a problem working with the owners and possibly leaving that property out of the moratorium if the council would commit to doing the necessary work.
Lost in all the talk over whether or not to include the Morganton Road property was the fact that the council has yet to decide if it will impose a moratorium, and if it does, what the exact scope of the moratorium will be.
Council members disagree on what the negative or positive impacts of a moratorium will be. But Haney said he thinks it sends a negative signal.
"If you send the message, we don't even want to have a conversation period," he said, "the community pays the price for it over time. ... I think we've got some really, really high-quality folks coming in here. I think we have the intelligence to examine or reject projects."
Smithson said that Haney's concerns are only about the signal the moratorium sends to developers and that he should be concerned about the signal it sends to residents.
"We continue to say, 'Trust us,'" he said. "More and more people are not trusting us."
Haney wanted to know if some fellow members were afraid the council would approve something before adopting the comprehensive plan that residents would wind up not liking.
"Yes," Dowd said. "I think you think we have more power than we actually have."
Things got a little testy when Dowd criticized past councils for not updating the land-use plan -- ones that Haney and Walden may have served on.
"When you don't do your job for 20 years," Dowd said, "and update the land-use plan. I didn't mean..."
"How did you mean it?" Haney asked.
"You didn't do all your job," she said.
The council talked about amending the moratorium ordinance to include only planned development zoning as a way to possibly exclude the Morganton Road property. But it's still not convinced that would be a good idea. The council will talk more about it during its agenda meeting May 7.
"If it's important enough to have a moratorium," Smithson said, "is it a good idea to exclude what would almost unanimously be considered the most important development piece of property in the town?"
Contact Matthew Moriarty at 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
More like this story