Pine Forest Hearing Ends, No Decision Yet
The Pine Forest rezoning hearing came to an end Tuesday night, closing a series lasting more than 10 hours in three meetings of the Moore County Board of Commissioners.
But a decision may not be reached until later in the spring.
"It's crucial that we get this right," said Board Chairman Nick Picerno after bringing the hearing to an end at the special called meeting.
Fellow board members agreed that more time is needed to study the findings collected during the quasi-judicial hearing, dating to the first session in January.
County Planning Director Joey Raczkowski told the board that it would take his staff a few weeks to examine the information presented during the hearing and to make recommendations to assist the commissioners in their decision.
He estimated that his staff should be prepared to set a date for a recommendation by the board's April 19 regular meeting.
Picerno said the clerk to the board would be asked to compile all the testimony presented during the protracted hearing into book form for distribution to the commissioners before they vote.
"I know the developer would like a decision tonight, but I agree with the chairman that we need to take as much time as we need," Commissioner Tim Lea said.
"My concern is that we get it done right," added Commissioner Jimmy Melton.
Commissioner Craig Kennedy concurred, and the board voted unanimously to defer action until all had studied the findings and had received the planning staff recommendations.
The fifth commissioner, Larry Caddell, was not present, because he was recused early in the hearing process after announcing his fear that he could no longer be impartial under the quasi-judicial hearing standards. Caddell was mayor of Carthage when the municipality was building a water treatment plant that draws water from Nicks Creek, which has headwaters in the Pine Forest tract.
MHK Ventures Inc., a Florida-based development firm, has requested that about 1,652 acres located along N.C. 211 southeast of West End be rezoned from multiple zoning districts to a Planned Unit Development in the hamlet category. The acreage constitutes most of the overall tract of almost 1,800 acres.
The developer wants to build a gated residential community, a resort community and a small commercial district. The mixed-use development would include two 18-hole golf courses, one nine-hole course, a resort hotel, clubhouse and a small inn.
Under the proposed plan, designed by the Southern Pines engineering firm Hobbs Upchurch & Associates, Pine Forest would provide up to 710 residential units and up to 300 hotel rooms, with the total not to exceed 890 units.
The plan calls for construction of an on-site wastewater treatment plant to serve both Pine Forest and neighboring Dormie Club, also a MHK development. Dormie Club, a golf course development, fronts on N.C. 73 but abuts the Pine Forest land. The developer says effluent from the treatment plant will be used to water the golf courses.
The developer has also offered to pay $3 million to the county to extend a water line from Montgomery County to serve Pine Forest without drawing from the county's existing water system.
Opposition to the development centers on environmental and water issues and traffic congestion.
"This is the wrong project at the wrong time," said Chapel Hill attorney David Rooks, representing opponents of the development.
Rooks said that, en route to Carthage from his home in Carrboro, he drove past three developments that he referred to as "zombie" developments in Chatham County alone. One had a golf course. "Zombies" are developments which have been largely abandoned after initial clear-cutting and construction efforts have begun.
"I don't want to speak ill of these folks," Rooks said. "But they're asking you to trust them with this incredibly precious and rare piece of property. It is a special place and should not be disturbed."
James Van Camp, the attorney representing the developer, took issue with Rooks' charge that MHK Ventures is in financial difficulty. He called it a false accusation and said the foreclosure issue mentioned by Rooks is a technical foreclosure brought about by a third party over which MHK had no control.
"I wish he had known the whole story," Van Camp said.
Van Camp said that he also had driven past a number of developments on the way to the hearing Tuesday. He told of driving by such places as National, Knollwood, Mid Pines and Pine Needles in Moore County, all of which he described as open and functioning.
"If not now, when?" Van Camp asked. "If not us, who?"
Van Camp said the development would mean an increase in the tax base, leading to a lower tax rate, and more jobs for the county.
"For years that property was for sale," he said. "Not one conservation group, not one citizens' group, not one wildlife group, not the state - bought it. Nobody made an offer. It stayed there."
He said the land had been for sale up to 15 years without a purchaser, until now.
"I promise you we will be good stewards of that land," he said.
Water Issue Debated
The Tuesday night hearing picked up at the point where the commissioners decided on a recess at a February meeting.
That hearing took up four and a half hours of a board meeting lasting five and a half hours, and the board decided to continue the matter because of the late hour and the need to address other items on the long agenda for that regular meeting. The continuation was further delayed twice in March when two commissioners were ill.
Michael J. Krones, an engineer from Frederick, Md., was the first witness called on behalf of MHK when the hearing resumed Tuesday. He has designed irrigation systems for a number of years.
Krones presented information about irrigation needs for golf courses in a response to evidence presented at the last meeting by opponent Bill Huber, of Pinehurst. He did not agree with Huber's assessment of golf course water needs.
However, Huber presented a set of water usage statistics to argue that golf courses need more water than can be provided by the use of effluent from a wastewater treatment facility.
"You cannot build a golf course in this area using only reclaimed water," Huber argued.
He said existing courses that use reclaimed water must draw supplementary water from other sources, such as lakes and wells.
Engineer Fred Hobbs, who designed the proposed Pine Forest plant, said Huber had been given water usage figures for the No. 2 pump station at Pinehurst, rather than water usage figures for the famous Pinehurst No. 2 golf course.
Hobbs also took issue with the assertion that a dam would be built in Pine Forest. He said the last dam designed by his firm was in Siler City, that it cost $12 million with another $11 million needed to survive the permitting process and some 10 years needed for completion.
After a series of pointed questions by the commissioners, Hobbs, Van Camp and developer Walter Mackey reiterated the developer's promise not to draw water from Nicks Creek or Little River to irrigate the golf courses or other outdoor areas of Pine Forest.
Carthage Mayor Tom Stewart read a statement on behalf of the Carthage Town Board of Commissioners. The statement said the town would not object to the development as long as two conditions are built into zoning: that no water for irrigation or other purposes be drawn from local sources, and that there would be no discharge within 75 feet of the top of the banks of Nicks Creek.
Speakers from Save Our Sandhills included the president, Joe McDonald; vice-president Bob Stolting; and secretary Ruth Stolting.
In addition to arguments about water issues, opponents called attention to such issues as rare wildlife that would be damaged, the availability of existing property for sale, the decline of golfing, and the expected increase in traffic, especially at the Pinehurst Traffic Circle.
Other speakers opposing the development were Bruce Sorrie, of the N.C. Natural Heritage Program, Richard Hilbert, Mary Jo Morris, Earl Ingram, Peter Levine, Jesse Wimberley, Doug Middaugh and Bob Ganis.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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