S.P. Council Enacts Moratorium
The Southern Pines Town Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to adopt a yearlong development moratorium.
Mayor Pro Tem Chris Smithson and council members Abigail Dowd and David Woodruff voted for it. Mayor Mike Haney and Councilman Fred Walden came out on the short end.
Before voting on the moratorium, the council amended the ordinance to include only areas of planned development and rural residential zoning north of Midland Road and west of U.S. 1. Essentially, the council narrowed the scope of the moratorium so that it applies only to a couple of large tracts of land along U.S. 1 and N.C. 22.
The council adopted the moratorium to give the town time to update its comprehensive land-use plan. The town has already taken some steps toward working on the plan. It has formed a committee that is close to choosing a consultant for the town to hire.
The moratorium does not include land off Morganton Road that is widely considered the town's most important potential development property. The town worked out an agreement with the property owners to ensure that no plans come in under the current overlay district zoning.
In a statement explaining his vote, Smithson criticized some of his fellow council members for failing to update the current land-use plan, which was adopted in 1988. The plan itself calls for updates every three to five years, he pointed out. That failure, he said, is what caused the Pine Needles Village and Leith Automotive controversies and is what is forcing the council to adopt a moratorium.
"At best, we are 15 years behind schedule," he said. "Should this ordinance pass tonight, and you are not in agreement, blame not those who voted in favor of it. Blame those who through their many years of inaction and apathy forced this situation upon us."
Smithson said those comments were not directed just at Haney and Walden, who have served on the council the longest, but at all past council members who had canceled numerous meetings that could have provided opportunities to look at some of these issues.
Smithson said the argument put forth by opponents of a moratorium that it would stop all growth in the town was an "inaccurate doomsday prediction." The town has already approved 3,000 houses that could be built regardless of whether or the council enacted a freeze, he said.
Dowd, who had originally proposed the moratorium, called for the amendment to narrow its scope. Neither she nor Woodruff made any public comment explaining their votes. Woodruff has said in the past that he thinks the moratorium is the only way to force the council to focus on long-range planning.
Walden said he doesn't believe the town needs a moratorium to work on the comprehensive plan. The moratorium would not be good for small businesses and would hurt the town's tax base, he said.
"What the proposal calls for, I think, can be accomplished without a moratorium," he said. "That can occur while we continue to do our business."
Haney said he understands there are concerns about growth, But he said Southern Pines' growth rate historically has been slow. He said the town needs to grow at the right pace to allow it to continue to offer the same services without raising taxes.
"I do not want to subject our community to that," he said.
A moratorium also sends a negative message, Haney said, that could prevent future growth.
"I'm very much against the negativity that would be a statement on our part to the rest of the world that we do not want growth," he said.
Some members of the audience wondered how the council could significantly change the moratorium ordinance without holding another public hearing.
"How can you do that?" former council member Marquita Daniels asked. "How can that be legal?"
Town Attorney Doug Gill said no hearing was required because the new version didn't apply to any property owners who hadn't been included under the old one .
"It didn't bring in any new people," he said.
Daniels said it was still arbitrary for the council to apply the moratorium to a specific part of town.
"How fair is it to pick on just one area?" she said.
In other business, the council unanimously approved architectural plans for a Home Depot store, which will replace the old Kmart building, as well as a new Harris Teeter and several other shops to be located along N.C. 22.
One of the architectural reviews was submitted by the town to build a canopy on a public works building.
"I hate it," Smithson said, "when the ugliest thing we have to approve is from the town."
Contact Matthew Moriarty at 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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