Pine Forest Development Clears Hurdle
Conservationists lost a round Thursday night when the Moore County Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend approval of the Pine Forest subdivision as a Planned Unit Development-Hamlet.
The board, short three of its nine members, acted in an advisory capacity, with the recommendation going to the Board of Commissioners for a final decision, probably in January following another public hearing.
"It's beautiful property, beautiful pine trees, a place that we're very proud of," said William Johnson, speaking on behalf of his parents, owners of part of the 1,800-acre tract on N.C. 211 southeast of West End. Johnson, who lives in the Atlanta area, said developer Bob Hansen also appreciates the beauty of the land and will develop a subdivision preserving those qualities.
However, Johnson was among few speakers supporting the project when the board resumed its public hearing on the rezoning request by the developer, MHK Ventures Inc.
The board heard the project at its November meeting but continued the public hearing and a decision until the December meeting.
Time Limits Assailed
Several speakers and other opponents of the project took issue with the speaking time limit imposed by the board at the beginning of the hearing. At times opponents cried out from the audience in angry exchanges with board members and others participating in the presentation.
County Attorney Misty Leland briefly addressed the board and the gathering before the hearing was reopened. She recommended that the board adopt an existing policy which limits speakers to three minutes both at public hearings and in public comment periods.
On a motion by Les Murray, the board voted unanimously to adopt the policy.
Martha Blake, newly tapped to chair the board, presided for the first time Thursday night. One board member, Giles Hopkins, died Wednesday, and two other members, Kim VonCanon and Dave Kinney, did not make the meeting.
Jesse Wimberley, a West End resident and a member of the Small Area A Plan Committee, said that with the proposed Pine Forest development, when added to the Dormie Club and the Stonehill subdivision at Foxfire, 4,000 acres of "critical habitat" will be lost and 4,000 people will be added to the county's population.
He said the cumulative effect of these changes is not in the best interest of the public or the environment.
"We must ask ourselves, 'Will it benefit our community?' or 'Will it harm our community?'" Wim-berley said.
The environmental organization known as SOS (for Save Our Sandhills) made its presence known at the hearing. The speakers included SOS President Joe McDonald and Bob and Ruth Stolting, who are vice president and secretary, respectively.
Earl Ingram, both Stoltings and McDonald came to the hearing with statements prepared in advance, and in each case their remarks were too long for the three-minute limit. Ruth Stolting was halted in the middle of her two-page presentation but was allowed to add a few sentences before stopping.
Disgruntled opponents of the subdivision quickly raised objections to the time limit later in the meeting, and at one point engineer Fred Hobbs asked the board to control the meeting to allow his traffic specialist to speak without interruption.
The Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates firm is working with the developer on the subdivision design and on water and sewer projects.
After the meeting, Hansen said he was grateful for the board's recommendation.
Hanson said his Pine Forest plan will provide adequate protection of the environment and decried misinformation spread about the subdivision.
He cited as an example tales that seven or eight bridges will be built to span Nick's Creek, which spills across the development. Instead, Hansen said that the development plan calls for only two existing crossings of the creek.
As for the endangered Sandhills lily, Hansen said that no development is planned in the vicinity of Nick's Creek, which is to be widely buffered, with no houses or other forms of development planned within that area. He said this is the major habitat of the lily, a plant identified in a nearby area only in recent years.
Hansen said that the Moore County Planning Department has been working with him on the Pine Forest project for the past five years and that he and staff planners are well aware of the lily's presence.
When asked the price offered for the tract, Hansen said he could not reveal the amount. From other sources the development is estimated to represent an investment in excess of $100 million.
Rob Evans, coordinator of the plant conservation program of the N.C. Department of Agriculture, was also among the speakers.
He said the tract qualifies for designation as a nature preserve and reported the presence of at least two endangered plant species on the property.
Evans said he hopes to work with the developer to ensure protection of the plants.
During the board's discussion period, Murray asked Evans if the state could acquire the land any time soon when one considers the present condition of North Carolina's revenues.
Evans said the department buys such land at fair market value but has no intention of "taking" the land, as through the eminent domain process. He acknowledged that the purchase price for this particular tract would be sizable.
The department, through Evans' program, did purchase a large nearby acreage several years ago to stave off a smaller development that endangered the lily and other rare species.
In a brief interview after the hearing, Evans said the Pine Forest property contains "a sizable colony of the Sandhills lily" along with other endangered plants.
But he said that the lily does not carry federal endangered species protection and is not eligible for legal protective action. He said the federal law is geared more for the protection of animals.
Although the tract is larger, the question before the Planning Board was a change in the zoning map that would allow the Planned Unit Development (PUD).
The existing zoning district is made up of various residential and agricultural districts. Under the countywide zoning ordinance, PUDs are allowed to accommodate large scale mixed-use development based on a master plan.
In the case of Pine Forest, MHK wants to develop two residential communities, one of which would be gated and the other a resort community with a small retail center, hotel, convention center and amenities. Two championship golf courses are planned, along with a nine-hole course.
Proposed are up to 710 residential units and up to 300 hotel rooms, but with an overall limit of 890 units, depending on the size of the hotel.
The proposal calls for a wastewater treatment facility to be built on the tract to serve both Pine Forest and the adjacent Dormie Club, which fronts on N.C. 73 and is also being developed by MHK.
The developer plans to hook onto the county water system, with water purchased from Montgomery County and pumped to the subdivision through lines serving Seven Lakes and Pinehurst. The plan also calls for the use of treated effluent to irrigate the golf courses and other open areas.
Speakers raised objections to several aspects of the development, including traffic issues, the availability of water and its effect on other parts of the county, and the presence of threatened species, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and the plants.
Other objections focused on disruption of the large longleaf pine forest where the subdivision is planned and on the discharge of chemicals from the golf courses into Nick's Creek, a major water source for the municipalities of Carthage and Whispering Pines.
"It is time for a reality check," said Earl Ingram, in recommending rejection of the request. "Moore County's infrastructure is not strong. It is especially weak in long-term sources for water."
McDonald urged the county to require an environmental impact statement prior to granting such requests.
"The Small Area A Committee originally meant for open area to be kept in its natural state in order to preserve nature and wildlife," said Ruth Stolting.
Bob Stolting said hundreds of acres of wetlands will be eliminated if the development is allowed to proceed.
Also opposing the request were Bruce Sorrie, director of the state's natural heritage program, Bill Huber, of Pinehurst, Jeff Marcus, speaking from the standpoint of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, and Rebecca Walters.
Gene Maples, a golf course design specialist, spoke in support of the project. He said golf course architects and maintenance people are well aware of environmental stewardship issues.
Maples provided a copy of the Clean Streams Program, which is a response by the golf course industry to such environmental concerns.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at (910) 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story