Landmark Impact Complicates Village Chapel Plans
By Tom Embrey
Winning approval for a new 16,000-square-foot learning center at The Village Chapel is becoming a battle of historic proportions.
On Thursday, the Pinehurst Historic Preservation Commission continued a hearing on whether or not to issue a certificate of appropriateness to The Village Chapel for the proposed construction when questions arose about how the construction would impact the village's National Historic Landmark status.
The village is currently on a watch list and could lose its landmark status if it does harm to the historic nature of the district.
"What's the impact on Pinehurst's historic landmark status?" commission member John Strickland asked.
The unanswered question, coupled with a lengthy discussion, led to the suspension of the meeting until 4 p.m. Thursday.
After more than an hour of discussion, commission member Patrick Duffy made a motion to table the discussion until the Village Council could seek clarification and authentication of a letter sent by Dan Scheidt, chief of the Cultural Resources Division, Southeast Region of the National Park Service.
The letter was dated Sept. 16 and addressed to Mayor Ginsey Fallon. It stated that the National Park Service had received some materials from an unnamed Pinehurst resident regarding The Village Chapel's application for a special-use permit. The letter was not signed under oath.
Attorneys for The Village Chapel objected to entering the memo into the record, calling it "incompetent hearsay evidence."
Commission Vice Chair-man Frank Thigpen upheld the objection, and the memo was not read into the record, sparking outcry from some of the residents in the audience who wanted to know what the memo stated.
Sheidt's letter states a willingness on behalf of the National Park Service to work with the village on the preservation of its national historic landmark status, as well as its concern over how the project could adversely affect that status.
"It is our responsibility to monitor the condition of landmarks and to recommend to the secretary f the interior designation of landmarks, which have suffered a significant loss of integrity due to direct, indirect or cumulative effects," Sheidt wrote. "From documents that we have received, we believe that the changes proposed to The Village Chapel project threaten to destroy the integrity of the Village Green and thus pose serious threats to the integrity of the entire landmark district."
The letter requests that construction plans for the proposed learning center be submitted to the National Park Service for review.
"The village's timely communication with us will not only ensure the preservation of Pinehurst Historic District NHL (National Historic Landmark), our paramount concern, but also will make unnecessary a formal consideration of withdrawal of the Pinehurst Historic District NHL designation."
In a Sept. 21 memo to the Pinehurst Historic Preservation Commission, Village Manager Andy Wilkison addressed Scheidt's letter.
"The village attorney advises that the letter should not be considered by the Historic Commission unless Mr. Scheidt appears and testifies at Thursday's hearing," Wilkison wrote.
Duffy's motion to table the matter failed on a 3-3 vote. Chairman Howard Warren, the possible tie-breaking vote, had recused himself from the discussions because he is a member of The Village Chapel and said he "didn't want to have even the slightest perception of a conflict of interest."
Commission member Nancy Smith, also a member of The Village Chapel, did not recuse herself from considering the matter, saying that she "intentionally put a lot of space between me as a member of The Village Chapel and this project."
She said she didn't talk about it, read about it or discuss it prior to the commission's meeting and felt she could be objective.
Molly Goodman, a senior village planner, responded to Strickland's question by telling commission members that the action by another -historic preservation agency at either the state or national level was not in their purview.
The local commission can consult with other agencies, but, by law, is not required to do so, she said.
John Root, a resident who spoke during the hearing, said he believed it was in the village's best interest to determine the possible impact the project would have on the status before moving forward.
"I'd hate to lose our landmark status," Root said.
The Village Chapel is in the Village Green, which is part of the Pinehurst Historic District. The district was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996. The National Park Service, which oversees the landmarks, placed the village on a "watch list" after learning of the construction of the disputed Carolina Vista roundabout and the proposed changes to the Village Green, which have been dropped.
Larry Ellis, The Village Chapel pastor, was dismayed with the continued opposition to the project.
"I'm getting a little bit frustrated," he told the commission Thursday. "We are trying to do the right thing, and what we are continuing to get is resistance to our effort to do good."
Contact Tom Embrey at email@example.com.
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