SP Hopes to Develop Plan for Downtown
BY TED M. NATT JR.
The need for a downtown plan as part of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) revision process can essentially be illustrated by last month's vote on a rezoning request for a house on North Bennett Street.
Despite recommendations against it by town staff and the Southern Pines Planning Board, as well as a protest petition filed by the other residents on that block, the Town Council voted 4-1 to approve attorney Paul Trevarrow's request to rezone the property from residential multifamily (RM-2) to office services-conditional district (OS-CD). The house at 360 N. Bennett is near the downtown.
"We unanimously adopted the Comprehensive Long-Range Plan (CLRP) just last year," council member Chris Smithson, the lone dissenter, said before the vote. "This seems to be a significant effort to go around that plan."
Moore County tax records list the property owner as Cummings Investments LLC. The permissible uses under Trevarrow's amended request are professional office, small medical office or artist studio.
Smithson said Tuesday that the main issue - the need to establish transition areas between residential and commercial in downtown Southern Pines - still exists.
"A downtown plan may not answer the border questions, but it will give us the guidelines we need to move forward," Smithson said. "Our downtown is a treasure that we have to take care of for the benefit of everyone in the community."
Town Manager Reagan Parsons said the UDO, which will be overhauled for the first time since its inception in 1989, does not currently address transitional areas.
"The answer could be an overlay district or some sort of new transitional zoning classification," Parsons said. "I don't know how it all pans out in the end. The big thing is that tools come out of the process, especially those that enable the council to deal with specific requests - zoning or otherwise - from landowners.
"It's really all about defining the downtown area moving forward."
The UDO controls all design and land-use regulations for the town. The upcoming revision will streamline and update the existing code in addition to ensuring its compliance with, and ability to implement the goals of, the CLRP.
The town has created a stakeholder steering committee and hired Planning Works, a Kansas-based consulting company, to facilitate the yearlong process. Planning Works was awarded the $149,180 contract in October after a five-member committee that included Parsons reviewed proposals from five firms.
Bruce Peshoff, a partner at Planning Works, said his firm will incorporate a regulating plan for downtown Southern Pines into the revised UDO.
"A regulating plan is somewhat of a hybrid in that it's a cross between a plan and zoning regulations," Peshoff said. "It provides direction and standards."
Planning Works will hold 10 sets of meetings and conduct four three-day forums because town officials want the UDO revision process to be inclusive and transparent as well as challenging and rewarding. The first forum was originally set to begin earlier this month but was rescheduled for Jan. 17-19.
The agenda for the first forum calls for "downtown area" meetings at 3 p.m. on Jan. 17 and Jan. 18 in the community room at the Southern Pines Police Department.
"I hope we're able to get good input from downtown merchants and residents as we look ahead to the future," Mayor David McNeill said. "There's a definite need for a new transition zone between the commercial and residential that will blend the two."
Council member Mike Fields said a balance of residential and commercial is critical to the long-term viability of downtown Southern Pines.
"The key thing is to keep the downtown vibrant," Fields said. "We want to encourage people to live near downtown. Transitional zoning should allow some flexibility so building owners can decide the best use for their property. It would allow them to have a nonintensive commercial use like a professional office or convert back to residential.
"These are the types of issues that hopefully a downtown plan would clarify."
Peshoff has said the forums "will be a very intensive three days," with concurrent sessions in the morning and afternoon.
"We're going to take a hard look at everything," he said. "Southern Pines striking at this point is the best time to do it. We're looking forward to informing the public about the process, gathering their input and then helping the town implement its new UDO. We may be writing the code, but it's your UDO."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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