S.P. OK's Zoning Measure
Southern Pines may have removed a huge roadblock that's been keeping one of the most desirable parcels in town from being developed.
During its monthly meeting Tuesday night, the Town Council made significant changes to the Morganton Road Overlay District. The changes are intended to make the area more desirable to developers and protect the town from unwanted growth at the same time.
Town Manager Reagan Parsons worked in conjunction with the property owners on how to revamp the overlay district so that it works for both sides.
"This dialogue represents a large element of trust between this board and the landowners," said Tom Van Camp, one of the landowners. "You let us work without hanging a moratorium on us to get to this conclusion. It's been a very good working relationship. There were a lot of compromises on both ends. The results are pretty fair, and it gives us some concrete guidelines to take to a developer."
Mayor Pro Tem Chris Smithson made the motion to adopt the changes to the district, and Councilman Fred Walden seconded. It passed unanimously.
"This has needed work for quite some time," Smithson said. "This is a good approach. The public and council are now involved with the process. I'm happy with the text amendments and happy with the new process."
The overlay district encompasses both the north and south sides of Morganton Road to the north of U.S. 1. Adopted in 1995, the intention was to protect the parcels of land between Morganton Road, U.S. 15-501 and the proposed Henley Street extension from haphazard development.
The measure has managed to keep anything from being developed there, though it is one of the most logical places in the county for a couple of large retailers to locate.
That's not to say there haven't been suitors. Over the years, several plans have been proposed, the most recent being submitted by Developers Diversified Realty, which the council seemed to like.
However, in each case, the developer asked for exemptions to some key features of the overlay district that the council wasn't willing to approve.
"They were always coming up just shy of one standard or another," Parsons said.
The council had a scare a few years ago when a land designer drew up a dummy plan that met every requirement of the overlay district and still included two million square feet of retail.
The council also worried that under the overlay district, any plan that met all the requirements would get staff approval. That means that a plan could come in with two million square feet of retail and the council would have no way to stop it.
Developers had problems with several requirements of the overlay district, such as one that stipulates that 75 percent of the parking be to the side or rear of the buildings. They also raised concerns about rules on such things as Dumpsters and loading zones, and the super-block requirement, which didn't seem to work with the topography of the area.
Parsons gave a presentation to the council on the changes to the district. He added a provision to allow for council review and public workshops in the approval process, increased the open space requirement to 20 percent, put a cap on the total square footage of retail at 750,000 and allowed more parking in front of stores but put incentives in to encourage developers to build parking decks.
"It's a different approach to hiding parking," Parsons said. "This should limit seas of asphalt."
Any potential developer would be required to hold eight hours of workshop with the public and then provide a report to the town on why it did or did not make proposed changes.
The council will have the authority to waive any guidelines.
"It gives you the opportunity to do that with a plan you really like," Parsons said. "It doesn't say you have to do it."
Some members of the audience criticized the council for taking this step on such a large and important piece of property before the long-range comprehensive plan is completed.
"It's not all that comprehensive if it doesn't include this large tract," Greg Zywocinski said.
Parsons said the council spoke at length on that exact topic during the moratorium debate and ultimately decided that since everyone agreed that this property would be right for a mixed-use development, there was no need to wait for the plan to be finished.
"The decision was made that this is not a site where the ultimate use would change on," Parsons said. "This is one of the best sites for these types of uses."
Smithson, who voted for the moratorium, argued Tuesday for keeping development business going during the planning process.
"We can't just call off all activities," he said. "We can't just come to a screeching halt. Business has to go on at a certain level. We have to keep the 'Open' sign lit."
Contact Matthew Moriarty at 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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