EDITORIAL: Around and Around The Automotive Lot
Is Southern Pines trying to keep auto dealerships out?
Though that may be an unfair generalization based on votes and comments that don't necessarily add up to a pattern, some observers could easily reach such a conclusion.
There have been three automotive disputes. The original one, involving Leith Automotive, arose when the town pulled the rug out from under the dealership by rezoning its property on U.S. 1 after plans for a new sales center were well along. That one remains tied up in court, making it likely that it will have to end with a winner and a loser.
But both of the confrontations that have gotten attention in more recent weeks -- involving Honda on the one hand and Nissan/Toyota/GM on the other -- can, with a little give-and-take, easily be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties involved.
Win-Win Solutions Possible
There is particular cause for hope that the interaction between the town and Steve Jones Honda can achieve a win-win solution. When the town rezoned the land -- closer in on U.S. 1 -- after Jones had asked to build there, he threatened to sue. It was looking for a while like Son of Leith.
But there are two significant differences: (1) though the timing was lousy, the town had clearly been moving toward rezoning the land for a year or two before it knew anything about the Honda plans, and (2) Jones has softened his position, saying he doesn't want a fight and asking the town to help him find a more agreeable location -- a consummation that may be in the works.
That leaves the complicated game of musical chairs surrounding Pinehurst Nissan, which wants to build a new dealership next to its Toyota/Hyundai agency farther north on U.S. 15-501. The Toyota dealership would then move into the vacated Nissan building, and the company would move its GM facility from U.S. 1 to the former Toyota site.
Town Should Welcome Commerce
Owner Tommy Holderfield took offense when Town Council Member Abigail Dowd appeared to suggest that he move Pinehurst Nissan to its namesake town. Dowd says -- and Mayor Pro Tem Chris Smithson backs her up -- that it was a bit of lighthearted banter that went down wrong.
Holderfield wasn't laughing. He even semi-seriously looked into seceding from Southern Pines and asking to be taken into Aberdeen. It is a pity when a long-respected businessman is treated with such apparent shabbiness. Southern Pines should be welcoming commerce, not making it feel insulted.
On the other hand, a big part of the problem seems to be that the council was presented with an off-the-shelf Nissan corporate design that paid little heed to the town's design ordinance.
"We spent two years coming up with an architectural plan," Smithson says, "and they came to us with a generic design. They hadn't even bothered to look at our basic, objective materials requirements."
Asked Friday whether she was against auto dealerships in Southern Pines as a matter of principle, Dowd replied that she was not. "All we were looking at was the architecture, not the use," she said. "Obviously, if they meet our architectural guidelines, then the project will be passed."
The Nissan folks would do well to come back with a conforming design and hold the council to its word.
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