County Tables Action on Pine Forest
The proposed Pine Forest development's rezoning request was tabled for a second time Tuesday night, but only until next month.
In making a motion to table a decision until a February meeting, Commissioner Tim Lea said he still has questions about the issues and needs to re-examine the voluminous information presented during a public hearing before making a decision.
Chairman Nick Picerno made the second, and the vote to continue the matter until a February meeting was unanimous.
Their action came at the end of a three-hour public hearing in which the Moore County Board of Commissioners heard conflicting reports on the effect the development would have on the water supply, other environmental issues and traffic.
"Until a long-term, dependable fix is in place for a weakness in the county's infrastructure - water - it would be a colossal mistake to approve any nonwelfare project that would increase or accelerate the demand for more water," Earl Ingram said during the public-comment period before the board began work on the agenda.
Ingram was one of six opponents who spoke during the public comment period. Another 11 opponents spoke during the public hearing later in the meeting, as did a few other speakers who presented information but did not openly express objections.
"We want to make it clear that the development is to provide its own source of water," said Fred Hobbs, of the Hobbs Upchurch & Associates engineering firm, which is handling engineering and land planning for the development company, MHK Ventures Inc. "We do not want the opportunity to exist that 30 years from now, a homeowners' association will face a rusting facility."
He was referring to a day when the developer will no longer be in charge of operating Pine Forest and an association of homeowners will assume that responsibility.
The picture painted by the developer is one of tree-shaded residential streets, golf courses, resort amenities and small businesses.
MHK has offered the county $3 million to extend water lines from Montgomery County to Pine Forest with the intent of drawing up to half a million gallons of water daily. The developer also proposes to build a self-contained sewage treatment plant that would serve both Pine Forest and the neighboring Dormie Club, also developed by MHK.
The proposed site of Pine Forest is a tract of almost 1,800 acres fronting on N.C. 211 southeast of West End near the intersections with Hoffman Road and Archie Road. Dormie Club, already under development, is situated on N.C. 73, and Pine Forest would extend to the Dormie boundary.
However, the public hearing was called to consider the company's request for a zoning change for about 1,652 acres to be developed as a planned unit development in the hamlet style allowed in the county zoning ordinance.
MHK's proposal calls for dual communities to be developed on the tract. One would be a private residential development with an 18-hole golf course.
The other would be a resort development with hotel, conference center, an 18-hole golf course and a nine-hole golf course. The resort development would include a small business center to front on N.C. 211.
As described in the application, the proposal would accommodate up to 710 residential units and no more than 300 hotel rooms, the total number of rooms not to exceed 890 units.
Bob Koontz, a planner with Hobbs, Upchurch who designed the Pine Forest development for MHK, made the initial presentation on behalf of the developer.
Koontz described a plan that retains as many trees as possible, protects rare wildlife species and is self-sufficient when it comes to water and wastewater treatment. He said the findings of the Small Area A land-use plan were taken into consideration in designing Pine Forest.
As a result of a biological study conducted by Dr. Jay Carter, an environmental consultant, Koontz said the development has been designed not to build "anywhere near the habitat" of rare species flourishing within the protected easements of power lines.
Mentioned were such species as the Sandhills bog lily, purple pitcher plant, white colicroot, hay sedge, Georgia indigo bush, Chapman's yellow-eyed grass and red-cockaded woodpeckers.
Carter located 19 abandoned red-cockaded woodpecker cavity tree sites. Koontz said the developer will enter the Sandhills Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Safe Harbor Program.
Opponents were unswayed by these assurances.
Ruth Stolting spoke twice, during the public-comment period and later at the public hearing. She and her husband, Bob, raise bees, and she said that in recent years they have observed a 40 percent loss in their bee population, apparently because of the encroachment of development at their rural home, less than a mile from the Dormie Club and the proposed Pine Forest.
She mentioned "the toxic effect on all wildlife" brought on by pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals used on golf courses."
Bob Stolting said the county would be setting "a dangerous precedent" by allowing a privately operated sewage treatment plant.
"This is new territory for Moore County," he said. "There has never been a privately operated sewage treatment plant in Moore County. The developer is proposing to rewrite the planned unit development zoning ordinance."
The Stoltings are leaders of the environmental group Save Our Sandhills (SOS).
Former Commissioner Colin McKenzie, a former board chairman, said his main concern is traffic He said traffic conditions are already unsafe in areas near the proposed development and expressed his opinion that the state is unlikely to carry out highway improvements that would alleviate these problems in the near future.
Opponents also mentioned the present availability of home sites for sale and the large number of golf courses already in existence here.
Joe McDonald, a real estate broker, said more than 1,000 residential properties are named in the most recent multiple-listing in the greater Pinehurst-Southern Pines area, including Seven Lakes.
"How long will it take for the market to absorb these sales?" he asked.
Critics of the proposal called attention to the presence of Nicks Creek, which has its headwaters in the Pine Forest tract, as well as to the presence of a sensitive ecosystem centered on long-leaf pines and numerous endangered or threatened species.
Harry Huberth, a former chairman of the county Planning Board, called attention to the need for watershed protection. He said that North Carolina is one of the few states that allow some development within watersheds. Many states allow none at all.
"Wetlands and watersheds are the kidneys of our water system," Huberth said. "There is no such thing as a wetlands transplant."
Huberth was a founder of Sandhills Area Land Trust and said he was speaking as a member of that nonprofit environmental body.
Hobbs said there would be plenty of water to serve Pine Forest and insisted that it would never be necessary to draw water from Nicks Creek, which is the source of the Carthage town water supply. He said untreated effluent would be used to water the golf courses, a factor that he said would not affect Nicks Creek or the watershed.
Bill Huber, of Pinehurst, cited a Supreme Court ruling that allows a property owner to draw water from sources on his or her property. He said Pine Forest would have the legal right to take water from Nicks Creek when the need exists.
"They (the developers) say they won't draw water from Nicks Creek, but no one can say what a homeowners' association may do years from now," Huber warned.
Won't 'Resemble a Forest'
Allison Weakley, a biologist, cited a series of concerns, including water quality and quantity, and the effect the development would have on rare species.
Lawrence Earley, of Raleigh, speaking on behalf of SOS, reviewed the history of the vanishing pine forest and reminded everyone that when the first Europeans set foot on American soil, the
longleaf ecosystem stretched from Virginia to Texas. By the 1990s, only about 3 percent of the original 90 million acres remained, he said.
Earley is the author of a book on longleaf pines and forestry in North Carolina and is a former editor of the N.C. Wildlife magazine.
Bruce Sorrie, with the N.C. Natural Heritage Program, reported that fewer than 500 of the Sandhills lilies are in existence and many of those are in Moore County. He expressed concern about the effect Pine Forest would have on the endangered woodpecker population. Sorrie, who lives in Moore County, believes that "a development of this type would not preserve anything resembling a forest."
Marsh Smith, of Carthage, said the land-use plan adopted in 1999 calls for preservation of the rural and agricultural heritage of the county. Smith, an environmental activist and attorney, said the concept was to encourage residential and resort development in and near municipalities and to leave the rest of the county for rural and agricultural purposes.
Jeff Marcus, Piedmont wildlife diversity supervisor with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, made a presentation on the biological aspects of the Pine Forest tract.
His PowerPoint presentation showed examples of rare wildlife, such as the fox squirrel, Sandhills lily, bog oatgrass, Harper's yellow-eyed grass, star-nosed mole, and northern pine snake, as well as the red-cockaded woodpecker, and other birds, fish and fresh water mussels.
When all of these factors are pulled together, Marcus said the Sandhills are unique in the nation and the world. He said the entire area creates a large block of habitat that cannot exist in small fragmented areas. Marcus said golf courses and small open areas are not sufficient to encourage continuing growth of these species.
Questioned by Commissioner Lea, Marcus said there is no way to support this habitat with a development of this magnitude. However, he said there are ways to minimize the effect it would have on these species.
"You really can't build it and not have an impact," Marcus said.
Jesse Wimberly, a West End property owner and a member of the Small Area A steering committee, urged the commissioners to protect the county's rural heritage and to take another look at the Small Area A plan. Area A includes the Pine Forest acreage.
Wimberly asked the board to look carefully at the proposal and ask if it would help the community or have a negative impact.
David Brooks, of Chapel Hill, an attorney speaking for opponents, summed up their objections in closing remarks.
In addition to the water and wastewater treatment issues, he mentioned the traffic situation and said the study did not take into consideration the cumulative effect the heavier traffic would have on other areas, such as the Pinehurst Traffic Circle and the N.C. 211 intersections with N.C. 5 and U.S. 15-501.
Water Contracts Tabled
At this point, Commissioner Larry Caddell, a former long-time mayor of Carthage, asked to be recused from further consideration of the issue.
He was mayor during the years that the town of Carthage was engaged in construction of a modernized water system involving Nicks Creek, and Carter, the environmental consultant, was also involved in that planning.
His fellow board members voted unanimously to recuse Caddell, who then stepped down from the commissioners' desk for the remainder of that part of the agenda.
Planning director Joey Raczkowski did not have a complete recommendation for immediate presentation and asked for several minutes to prepare that information.
Lea then proposed that the board wait until a February meeting to make the decision.
Earlier in the meeting, the commissioners tabled a decision on the proposed water contracts between the county and the developer. Lea also made this motion after reporting that he had received information by e-mail shortly before the meeting and had not had time for adequate study. Caddell made the second.
In addition to the $3 million for water line extension, the contracts provide for the sewage treatment facilties and construction of reclaimed water lines. If the contracts are approved, the county is to begin construction of the water line extension within 181 days.
The Pine Forest rezoning request was first heard by the Moore County Planning Board in 2009. The board later recommended approval, but in February last year the commissioners decided to defer action on the request until a water agreement could be worked out between the county and the developer.
The county attorney and the county manager were charged with handling those negotiations.
Before taking the request to the planning department, the developer conducted two public meetings in the community to explain the proposal and to hear the reaction of residents. As a result, the developer made one traffic pattern change in design by dropping a plan to connect Archie Road with N.C. 73.
Archie Road residents complained that such a connector would create dangerous traffic conditions on a rural residential road in the vicinity of public schools.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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