Resident Upset Council Barred His Comments in Chapel Hearing
One of Pinehurst's most recognizable political gadflies says he is still miffed over his treatment during a recent hearing to consider a major special-use permit request by The Village Chapel.
Doug Middaugh says he was "set up" and "discriminated against" during the completion of a quasi-judicial hearing held Tuesday at the Village Assembly all. He said he brought a prepared statement to the hearing but was denied a chance to present facts, before he finished reading it.
"It still bugs me," Middaugh said Friday by phone. "I was not for or against the project. I just wanted some of these issues addressed."
Mayor Ginsey Fallon said she did not single Middaugh out.
"It was a quasi-judicial hearing, and opinions have no basis," she said. "Not that they can't have opinions, but they are not something hat we can take into consideration.
"I cautioned him. I cautioned everybody. It wasn't because he was Doug. It was because it wasn't factual information."
The Village Chapel has asked for a major special-use permit to build a 16,500-square-foot learning center. The center would be used mainly to accommodate the needs of the congregation - which now numbers more than 1,000 adults and children - as well as serving other community organizations.
Opponents argued that the proposed building is too big for the area and will increase traffic and harm property values.
Fallon said the council likely won't consider the matter again until its Aug. 24 meeting in Assembly Hall.
During Tuesday's hearing, Middaugh was the first member of the public called to testify after each side had presented its case. His name was on a list of speakers who were "against" the project.
Middaugh began reading his comments, but when he raised issues about traffic and the traffic study performed by engineers hired by the church, he was interrupted by Clyde Holt, lead attorney for The Village Chapel.
"May I interrupt for just one moment," Holt said. "Unless this individual is a licensed North Carolina professional engineer in current good standing, we would object to any testimony related to engineering matters, including traffic."
Fallon asked Village Attorney Mike Newman for his opinion. Newman said he believed Holt was "absolutely correct" in his basis for objection as to this witness's competency.
Fallon then reminded Middaugh that the council was "looking for facts, not opinions."
That led the opposition's attorney, Nick Herman, to lodge an objection.
"Surely he can't testify as an expert engineer on traffic," Herman said. "But he can testify as a person with common sense on what he has observed about the traffic impact and the potential traffic impacts."
Newman then cautioned the council members that it was their job to base their decision on sworn factual information, not opinions of laypersons who are not competent to testify.
Fallon informed Middaugh that he could continue if he presented facts, not opinions.
Middaugh continued, attempting to discuss the fact that there was a newer version of the International Traffic Engineers (ITE) Trip General Manual that allows for a different conclusion as to possible increased traffic on the site. He pointed out that the eighth edition uses the building's square footage to determine vehicle trips. The seventh edition uses sanctuary seating capacity to determine vehicle trips.
Mike Apke, the engineer who testified for The Village Chapel, said he used the seventh edition of the manual and that based on his calculations, the new building would not significantly increase traffic.
Holt objected again, and Newman reiterated that Middaugh or any other layperson was not competent to speak on such technical matters.
"I submit that I am being declined my right to present factual evidence," Middaugh said.
Herman requested a statement of truth and put Middaugh's written statement into the record, asking Middaugh to mark in brackets the factual portion of the statement he felt he was prevented from presenting.
Middaugh said Thursday that he thinks Holt's objections will be effective.
"There is a cloud hanging over my document," Middaugh said. "Somewhere there is a memory node (in the council members' minds) that will be turned on that will say this has been disqualified, even though it is still part of the record."
The hearing lasted nearly eight hours over two days. Fallon and Newman repeatedly reminded those giving sworn testimony that the council would consider only factual information, not opinions, during their deliberations.
Middaugh was the only speaker who wasn't allowed to complete his comments.
"Some of these people rambled on about God and country," Middaugh said. "Fact was largely missing from their dissertations."
Contact Tom Embrey by e-mail at email@example.com.
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