Southern Pines Council Approves PD Amendment
Southern Pines now allows commercial, residential and recreational uses in its Planned Development zoning districts.
The Southern Pines Town Council approved a text amendment allowing these uses in the Planned Development (PD) district in a 4-1 vote Tuesday during its regular meeting at the Douglass Community Center. Councilman Chris Smithson was the lone dissenter.
Robert Koontz, director of land planning at Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates, applied for the text amendment to clarify language in the town's unified development ordinance (UDO) to make it congruent with the goals of traditional mixed-use development in the town's comprehensive long-range plan (CLRP).
The council approved the amendment with additional language that requires developers to submit detailed land development standards to the town during the initial application process for a new project or for rezoning a property.
These required standards include details on existing site conditions and developing conditions, along with buffer and setback standards and other elements of the planning process.
Koontz submitted the new language to the town Monday to clarify some apparent ambiguities and to address concerns raised by the public and Smithson during discussion at the council's agenda meeting last week. The town staff worked with Koontz to make the language clearer for the final version.
The approved amendment adds uses back into the ordinance that were previously removed in 2004.
Residential uses are the same as those allowed in the RM-2 residential district, and multi-family uses are also included. Commercial uses permitted are those similar to uses allowed in the General Business zoning district.
The amendment also seeks to encourage mixed-use development on these properties by implementing minimum acreage requirements.
In September, the Planning Board recommended the amendment with the requirements, saying that properties less than or equal to 10 acres only need one use. For properties greater than 10 acres, but less than or equal to 60 acres, a minimum of two uses is required, along with a stipulation saying that no single use can occupy more than 80 percent of the land.
Properties greater than 60 acres require a minimum of three uses with a stipulation saying that no single use can occupy more than 75 percent of the land. Any use on properties greater than 60 acres must be dedicated to a minimum of 5 acres.
'Not Being Heard'
Before the council considered the item, Smithson asked the council to hold an additional public-comment period so members of the audience could have one more opportunity to voice their opinion. The council typically holds its public comment period at the end of its meetings. The additional comment period was not considered a public hearing.
Several members of the public complained that language publicizing the amendment did not thoroughly explain the potential implications of such changes to the PD zoning, and the town did not adequately notify citizens of the issue.
Marsh Smith, a local attorney, told the council that the amendment would undo 15 years of "careful planning" done by the town council and replace it with a "grab bag of uses." He also added that the Pine Needles property, the only property originally included in the text amendment, was not zoned fully PD.
Koontz submitted the text amendment on behalf of the Peggy Kirk Bell family, who owns the Pine Needles property.
Smith said the amendment, as written, would not affect the Pine Needles property, but he added that it does give a green light for a potential mixed-use project on PD-zoned property on N.C. 22 next to Sandhills Community College.
Jeannie Carpentier, a member of the town's Appearance Commission, said the council should listen to residents' opinions instead of viewing them "merely as obstacles."
"The public participation is a critical component of the long-range plan, and many of them feel like they're not being heard," she said. "To simply set them aside is not doing justice or fulfilling your job's responsibilities."
Suzanne Coleman warned that approval of the amendment could be just cause for a lawsuit against the town based on the way the amendment was publicized. She said that though text amendments do not require as much advertisement as a rezoning application, the nature of this text amendment makes it more like a rezoning issue, rather than a slight change to an ordinance.
She also said the legal ads on the amendment in The Pilot were not changed to address changes that were eventually made to the amendment, including the change to include all PD districts and the minimum acreage requirements.
Coleman said that because the change affects all PD districts, the town should have taken steps to notify all property owners in those districts, which is required for a third-party rezoning application.
"I'm just very concerned that by voting tonight, it would subject the applicant to a legal challenge that could tie this issue up for quite a while," she said.
After the comment period, Smithson asked Doug Gill, the town's attorney, if the council could potentially be liable if it does vote on the amendment.
"I think notice was adequate, in my opinion, not that there couldn't be a nonfrivolous challenge to it," Gill told the council. "That's true of most things. If there is an issue or concern to any subsequent amendments to it, then I think the nature of those amendments is within the realm of what is permitted without additional notice."
Both Smithson and council member David McNeill also read statements explaining their feelings about the text amendment.
Smithson referred to the amendment as a "de facto rezoning" that will allow "everything between horse farms and hamburger joints" in the PD district, lessening the town's oversight over development on major properties.
"It could allow something good, and it could allow something that is quite contrary to what has been said at all the meetings and the comprehensive plan," Smithson said.
Throughout the entire process, Smithson has questioned the applicant's motives for pursuing a text amendment instead of rezoning. He has said several times that rezoning the Pine Needles property to mixed-use zoning would better serve the interests of the applicant and allow the town to work with the applicant to achieve the goals of the CLRP.
McNeill said that the amendment is the proper means to achieve the CLRP's goals of development, and the language clarifies discrepancies in the UDO. He said that rezoning properties to a mixed-use district would still require additional text amendments to allow the kinds of uses that the applicant sought, and he added that the proposed amendment will allow more flexibility in development with the minimum acreage requirements.
McNeill also expressed confidence in the conditional permitting process over rezoning a property so that an applicant can implement uses by right. He said the town would have more oversight over development with conditional use permits.
"I can guarantee that this council will give thorough oversight over any major project," he said.
After the new language to the amendment was introduced, Smithson said that though he did not agree with the amendment, he did feel the new language was sending it in the right direction.
"While I don't think I could still, in good faith, approve the amendment before us with the amended language we have here, I will definitely state that it does improve the proposed amendment a great deal," he said. "It does take it in the right direction toward ensuring that we comply with the land use plan."
The council first voted unanimously to add the suggested language to the text amendment before voting on approval of the entire amendment.
During the public-comment period held at the end of the meeting, members of the audience expressed their views on the council's actions.
Smith said that while he disagrees with the amendment, he admires the council's ability to take different perspectives into consideration and try to make compromises to suit those views.
"I know you all have the town's best interests at heart," he said. "You just sit in different seats when you look at things."
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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