Needless Polarizing of Town Council
Chris Smithson may have valid arguments against certain proposed zoning changes. But he has pretty much forfeited them by “going to the mattresses.”
As “Godfather” fans know, that bit of terminology describes someone who has given up on negotiation or coexistence and moves into a barricaded apartment to declare all-out war on a rival family.
Smithson seems to have taken that path with his ill-advised decision to broadcast a harshly worded e-mail criticizing fellow Southern Pines Town Council members and urging residents to put the pressure on them. At the end of his harangue, he even supplied home addresses and phone numbers of the mayor and councilmen, apparently to facilitate harassment.
‘Traditional Mixed Use’
At issue are procedural and administrative matters so complicated as to cause the eyes of most observers to glaze over. At their heart is an application filed by Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates on behalf of the Bell family, owners of the Pine Needles property, which is now zoned for Planned Development.
Any such request coming from the Pine Needles direction is obviously certain to put everyone on Red Alert, given the bitter pitched battle fought over the earlier attempt to gain approval for an ambitious mixed commercial-residential project to be called Pine Needles Village, which ultimately went down in flames amid often exaggerated public outcry.
In this case, the applicants are asking for changes in the PD category that would restore certain uses that were permitted in the original PD classification before they were removed several years ago. This proposed restoration, it is said, would change some language in the town’s unified development ordinance (UDO) to make it jibe better with the wording defining a PD district as an area for “traditional mixed use” in the comprehensive long-range plan, or CLRP.
All those bureaucratic acronyms aside, Smithson and some other residents of Southern Pines are concerned about what might be allowed under that expanded PD classification. As we understand it, they worry that the council’s current conditional-use approval process might not have enough teeth in it to ensure that any given project would meet the recommendations of the long-range plan.
Specifically, Smithson — who has the town’s best interests at heart — would prefer not to tinker with the PD definition. Instead, he would rather simply wait for the landowners to apply for rezoning under some other district already in the code, such as MU (Mixed Use) or PUD (Planned Unit Development).
Again, the concerns felt by Smithson and his allies among town residents might well be justified. But the differences over them within the council could have been worked out with a little patience and good will. Indeed, the council agreed at an earlier meeting to put off a vote on the Pine Needles request. This could have allowed time for a compromise solution. Cooler heads could have prevailed.
But Smithson dashed those hopes with his decision to go to the mattresses and send out his “inflammatory” message rallying the resistance forces. He has refused to apologize or reconsider. So now the situation is thoroughly polarized, thanks to his needless bit of go-it-alone gamesmanship.
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