W.P. Council Holds Hearings on Development Plans
The Whispering Pines Village Council held quasi-judicial public hearings Tuesday night to consider two conditional-use permit applications from two developers.
Representatives of the Fortaleza Group, which wants to renovate the old Matthews Market on Vass-Carthage Road into a community market, and JDH Capital, which hopes to build a shopping center on N.C. 22, made their cases for approval and fielded questions from the council and the audience.
Because it was a quasi-judicial hearing, everyone who spoke was sworn in. The proceedings were also documented by a court stenographer, a tape recorder and the village clerk.
In the first hearing, Arthur Donadio, an attorney for the developers of the Matthews Market project, spoke about his group's plans for the old building that has been abandoned for almost two decades.
"It's a shame that it hasn't been returned to the benefit of Whispering Pines," Donadio said. "We want to take a dilapidated building and return it to a refurbished, fully functioning one."
Donadio said the developer wants to convert the market into a community convenience store where residents can pick up fresh produce, coffee, newspapers, ice cream and wine among other items. He also stressed the importance of its being a family friendly establishment that will have pumpkin carvings for kids at Halloween, sell Christmas trees, and be a gathering place for all residents to enjoy.
"We think we're providing a service, a different kind of service," Donadio said. "We want to make this a community-centered operation for Whispering Pines."
The new store would not sell gasoline or prepare food for customers. It would operate 7 days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The council imposed several conditions for approval, including a review of the project's landscaping, lighting and signage plans. Council members seemed pleased with the Fortaleza Group's efforts.
The second hearing was on JDH Capital's proposal to construct a 10-building shopping center on 17.8 acres of land along N.C. 22. Dubbed "The Shops at Whispering Pines," the center would be anchored by a Food Lion "prototype" grocery store and offer space for other tenants.
The Charlotte-based firm specializes in bringing shopping centers to communities like Whispering Pines that do not have convenient access to commercial areas.
Mark Ball, vice president of development and entitlement with the firm, argued that the project meets the council's conditions for approval. An environmental consultant, a landscape design expert, and a representative from Hobbs Upchurch engineering consultants also testified.
The project has been delayed for more than two years. David Clarke, development director for JDH, expressed his concern over the drawn-out negotiations with the village.
"We want a clear sense that we have approval," Clarke said, adding that the delay has made it difficult to deal with the other parties involved, including Food Lion, which initiated the project. Clarke said that Food Lion backing out would be a deal breaker.
Clarke also accused the council of putting JDH in a "weakened position" in its negotiations with the town of Southern Pines for a cost-sharing water and sewer deal. Southern Pines has said it has the capacity and the willingness to serve the development's needs but has not made a written commitment as of yet.
Council member Skip Gebhardt said the council was responsible for only "a portion" of the delay, adding the developer has had a hand in it as well. Gebhardt has been adamant about getting closure on the issue.
"I want to get it done," Gebhardt said.
The conditions that were set forth for the JDH project mirrored those for the Matthews Market renovation.
Mayor Bob Zschoche asked Village Attorney Mike Brough to draft a summary of the conditions so the council could give both applications an up or down vote no later than the regular meeting Aug. 27.
The quasi-judicial hearings lasted nearly three hours. After they were closed, Zschoche announced that the revised village charter, which allows for a switch to a village manager driven government, was approved by the state legislature. The council announced July 8 that it hired Steve DeBolt of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, to be the village's first manager. DeBolt will begin work on August 4.
The council discussed several other items on the agenda and later met in closed session with the village attorney.
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com
More like this story