Retail Vs. Offices: Village Board Delays Vote on Ordinance Change
The Pinehurst Planning and Zoning Board Thursday tabled a zoning ordinance amendment that would prohibit even more types of offices on the ground floors of downtown buildings.
The board held a public hearing before voting 4-2 to put off action until its next meeting at 4 p.m. Oct. 2. Business owners and other speakers appeared to be evenly divided over the issue.
The board is advisory and can only make recommendations to the Village Council, which will have the final say on whether to approve the change. The council will also hold a public hearing before voting.
Planning Board Chairman Art Chalker said the point of the meeting was not to take sides, but to listen to all sides of the issue before making a decision.
"Our objective is to be fair," Chalker said. "There's no right or wrong in anything we do. We're trying to come to grips with what we're hearing from business owners."
The text changes are designed to encourage more retail shops in the village's downtown area. If approved, it would add banks and financial institutions to the list of offices that are prohibited on the ground floor "of the principal building" in any circumstance.
The current ordinance says offices can be located on the ground floor as long as the ground floor "is occupied by at least 50 percent retail uses in frontage and area." That clause would be removed under the proposed change.
Banks and financial institutions currently located on the ground floor would be grandfathered and would not be affected.
The proposed amendment would also eliminate a 120-day period in which a nonconforming use can be discontinued and re-established. If approved, it will be changed to read "any cessation in use shall result in the discontinuation of that use and the space may only be reoccupied by a conforming use."
During the hearing, some business owners contended that the downtown is being dominated by banks and offices and that there is a desperate need for more retail. They pointed out that Pinehurst Resort is busing guests to downtown Southern Pines.
Building and property owners, on the other hand, argued that their property rights are being infringed upon by the village "legislating" which tenants can and cannot rent space in their buildings.
Deborah Myatt, who owns Le Faux Chateau in the village, supported the changes and said more retail is needed.
"People are craving retail," Myatt said.
She argued that people are willing to go anywhere for financial, insurance, and real estate services but are drawn to Pinehurst because of its charm and enjoy peeking into retail shops as they walk around the village. She also said that the offices are contributing to the parking problem in the village and are hurting business.
Sherry Mortenson, who favors the changes, said that retail has decreased dramatically in the village since the Tufts era, and now only 40 percent of ground-floor space is occupied by retail stores.
Bruce Bishop, who owns Cool Sweats with his wife Barbara, said the sluggish economy and the closing of Razooks took away a lot of high-end female customers who liked to shop while their husbands play golf at the resort. He said business has been greatly impacted and merchants are hurting. He favors the change.
Bishop, originally from Carmel, Calif., pointed to that town as an example of one that benefits from having healthy retail. He stressed the importance of returning the downtown area to vibrancy.
"The village looks great," Bishop said, crediting the work of the beautification committee. "We've got to get this village vibrant."
Tom Stewart, who owns the Harvard Building and Old Sport and Gallery, staunchly opposes the change. He said the village is thriving.
Tim Gold, who owns Burchfield's Golf Gallery, said in response to Stewart's comments: "Anyone saying the village is thriving, they must be smoking something that I wish they'd pass along to me." That drew laughter from some audience members.
Gold said healthy mixed-use planning is needed and the village should be able to decide what it wants.
Other building owners questioned whether the village could legally regulate what businesses they can lease to. Village officials responded that all changes are reviewed by its attorney.
Rick Phillips, who owns Village Properties, argued that his building and others are designed for offices and that it would be difficult to use them for retail space. He and others pointed to the high costs that would be associated with renovating the spaces for retail use.
Myatt rejected those notions, saying it was the business owner's responsibility to bear the cost of renovations.
Barbara Bishop suggested that property owners open up more space, saying the types of stores the village wants to attract won't move into a 600-square-foot location. She said that if a bank became available, she would gladly move her business there to have more room.
Gold's wife, Sally, said the property owners are damaging the retail businesses.
"The owners of buildings are going to drive us out," she said. "I have a feeling like maybe we aren't welcome here."
Planning Board member Jane Deaton said a market analysis of the existing village core indicated that communities have to meet a minimum retail threshold to survive. While she favored the proposed changes, other board members said they wanted more time to study the issue in light of the public comments.
Contact John Krahnert at 693-2473 or by e-mail at jkrahnert@ thepilot.com.
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