Southern Pines Council Debate Heats Up
The Southern Pines Town Council continues to consider a Planned Development zoning text amendment, but discussion on the topic has been anything but agreeable.
At the council’s work session Monday, council member David McNeill opened the discussion on the PD text amendment by asking fellow member Chris Smithson to apologize to the council for writing an “inflammatory” letter that criticized other council members and sending it to “select individuals.”
Smithson wrote the letter last week after the council chose to delay a vote on the proposed amendment until its next meeting Nov. 9.
The amendment, submitted by Robert Koontz, director of land planning for Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates, seeks to add language on commercial use that was present in the ordinance before 2004 and also clarify language on residential development in the district.
Koontz has said that the amendment would make language in the town’s unified development ordinance (UDO) congruent with language defining the PD district as an area for “traditional mixed-use” in the comprehensive long-range plan (CLRP).
The amendment was submitted on behalf of the Bell family, which owns the 550-acre Pine Needles property on Camp Easter Road, which is zoned PD.
McNeill said the letter disrupts the council’s ability to discuss topics without criticizing or targeting members of the council.
“I think that letter violated our spirit of decorum,” he said.
When asked to apologize, Smithson quickly responded and defended his actions.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “I felt it was completely merited.”
Smithson said he felt compelled “to let people know what was going on” after some members of the council were willing to vote on the amendment with little to no discussion after a public hearing held at its meeting Oct. 12.
In the letter dated Oct. 22, Smithson wrote: “I believe there may be a majority of your Southern Pines Town Council who, faced with the first significant vote in which we have a chance to use our new plan for guidance, seemingly wish to fast track a major land-use decision with almost no analysis of the implications of the amendment or discussion of how it relates to the comprehensive long-range plan.”
Smithson said he was surprised to see council members ready to vote despite the fact that several residents voiced concerns over the amendment and the process.
He added that he thought the amendment should be considered carefully given that the PD zone and the Pine Needles property have seen so much controversy over the years.
No Immediate Plans
A few years ago, the Bell family submitted plans for a mixed-use development on the Pine Needles property. The Town Council ultimately voted down the proposal, but the nature of the project was the impetus for the development of the town’s new comprehensive long-range plan.
The plan outlines future development in Southern Pines and specifies that the Pine Needles property should be developed as “traditional mixed-use.” The process also created the Planned Urban Development (PUD) zoning district, which addresses the potential for proposed mixed-use developments similar to the Pine Needles project.
Though the amendment seeks to ensure mixed-use development based on acreage in all PD districts, Koontz has told the council repeatedly that the Bell family has no intention of submitting plans for a project on the Pine Needles property anytime soon.
During the council’s public hearing, citizens voiced concerns over how the amendment process seems to be a “dishonest” attempt to allow development on the Pine Needles property by adding uses to a zoning district rather than going through a traditional rezoning process.
At the work session, Smithson reiterated that the council does not owe anything to a property owner and said the council’s main responsibility should be to evaluate proposals based on how they will best serve the town.
Council member Mike Fields said he was disappointed to learn of Smithson’s letter through a neighbor who e-mailed him a copy sent to members of the Moore County Wildlife Club. Fields countered Smithson’s claims that other council members have not carefully considered the impact of the amendment.
Fields said he believes this amendment will address some of the apparent inconsistencies between the UDO and the CLRP. He admitted that he was one of the members ready to vote after the hearing, but he said he respected Smithson’s desire to consider the issue further before making a decision.
Smithson asked repeatedly why mixed-use zoning (MU) wouldn’t be a better fit for the applicant instead of amending the PD zoning ordinance to allow uses already permitted in MU.
Fields countered that MU does not allow everything that the amendment seeks to add to the PD district, including recreational uses, saying that the point of the amendment is to bring all of those uses into one district.
Smithson asked why the council should essentially allow the duplication of the MU district by adding uses to PD.
“We’re modifying the parameters,” he said. “Is that the way to achieve our goal?”
Smithson questioned the reasoning behind putting all uses into one district.
“Is that planning when you can do just about anything?” Smithson asked.
Town Manager Reagan Parsons stressed that this amendment signifies a greater need for the council to evaluate inconsistencies found in the PD ordinance between the UDO and the CLRP.
“Pine Needles aside for a moment, there needs to be some major change to the PD that addresses underlying density, or we need to just get rid of PD and rezone all the properties,” he said.
Parsons described the frustration found among town staff when the UDO does not completely state what is and is not permissible.
“It’s frustrating to have landowner after landowner come in with a conceptual plan and ask if it fits within the ordinance,” Parsons said. “It’s just extremely difficult.”
Parsons said that town staff has worked with Koontz to develop an amendment that will make the PD district usable.
Smithson asked the council to consider holding another public hearing on the amendment before voting on it.
Most members felt that another public hearing would not be necessary, given that there have already been three hearings on the issue, two with the Planning Board and one with the Town Council.
The council is expected to vote on the amendment Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Douglass Community Center.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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