Has the Time Really Come for Pine Forest Golf Club?
The Moore County Board of Commissioners meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18, to hear public and expert testimony, which may largely determine the fate of a proposed multi-golf course project called Pine Forest Golf Club.
Pine Forest’s owner asks that 1,623 of its 1,799 acres be rezoned so property currently zoned for various residential, agricultural and highway commercial uses would become Planned Unit Development-Hamlet zoning.
The chosen Pine Forest name is rather oxymoronic because if the project proceeds, the first casualties will be thousands and thousands of venerable, stately longleaf pines within a 2.8-square-mile tract located along N.C. 211 a few miles west of Pinehurst and running to N.C. 73.
Developer MHK Ventures Inc. estimates the planned gated community could ultimately contain 600 to 700 homes, two 18-hole and one nine-hole golf courses, a 300-room resort hotel and a commercial district. With 43 excellent golf courses already situated within the so-called Golf Capital of the World, one might question the project’s financial prospects with the economy in deep recession.
After 9/11, ClubCorp abandoned bold plans for Pinehurst Courses No. 9 and 10. The Dormie Club, Legacy Lakes and Little River haven’t seen strong demand for golf venue homes. Stonehill Pines, ambitiously touted to be a major Foxfire project, lies dormant on the drawing board. So the first question the public and commissioners should ask is, “Are 45 more holes of golf and another resort hotel realistic at this time and place?”
The property lies in a fragile eco-zone on both sides of the meandering Nicks Creek. Its sensitive wetlands are challenging to exploit profitably as presently zoned. However, if it can be rezoned as MHK proposes, the land valuation will automatically increase whether developed by MHK or merely sold to a new owner.
Rezoning is always tricky. Re-cently a Pinehurst zoning modification was allowed because the developer who had purchased land to create high-priced housing found such a market had evaporated. Pinehurst allowed him to reconfigure the project (increasing the housing units allowed), and voilà, he’ll now suffer no economic pain. Does MHK deserve to be similarly treated and generously enriched?
There are very strong public concerns about this project. Traffic flowing south along N.C. 5 (Beulah Hill Road) into Pinehurst from N.C. 211 more than doubled in the last decade. With Pine Forest’s anticipated traffic added to that flow, traffic into Pinehurst and to the Traffic Circle would dramatically increase. Diversion roads (southern/western connectors and western bypass), considered ad nauseam by the Department of Transportation, are decades away. Sixty percent of Pinehurst poll respondents claim “congestion is currently a problem on major Pinehurst roads.”
At Pine Forest, water is the vital concern. For 2.5 golf courses to be sustained, millions of gallons of irrigation water will be required. The county is already under threat of inadequate water during droughts. The developer offers to fund a special new pipeline from Montgomery County, but that water will not be for course watering.
Pine Forest’s golf course water will come in small part from a wastewater treatment plant, but primarily from Little River and Nicks Creek. It is Nicks Creek, which historically runs dry during droughts, that supplies critical water to Carthage’s water treatment plant. Little River has already been seriously impacted by excessive draw-offs by the nearby Dormie Club. (Dormie reported to the state that 149 million gallons of water were drawn in 2008 alone from Little River.)
Pine Forest threatens serious ecological damage. Environmentalists deem the property nationally important. It is located in the largest pine forest in the Sandhills outside of Fort Bragg and Sandhills Gamelands Preserve. It contains rare plant and animal species and is a foraging area for endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.
Environmental organizations that take such properties off the market would like this land preserved. But preservation prospects will diminish greatly if the land is rezoned, thus making it more valuable and therefore more costly to purchase for conservation. One trusts the commissioners will give this project the serious scrutiny it deserves.
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com.
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