Interests Run Strong on Proposed Bell Project Public Hearing Will Continue Next Month
BY TED M. NATT JR.
A public hearing on the Bell family's request to rezone 558 acres adjacent to Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club will spill into next month after the Southern Pines Planning Board imposed a time limit on its monthly meeting last Thursday.
Chairwoman Joan Strawson proposed a 10 p.m. cap at the start of the 7 p.m. meeting and the Planning Board adhered to it three hours later.
"We'll keep the public meeting open," Strawson said. "Next month, we'll be able to ask our questions first, then we'll see if there is additional public comment."
The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 27, when the board is expected to vote on its recommendation to the Southern Pines Town Council. The council will have the final say on the rezoning request after also conducting a public hearing.
The undeveloped land, known as the Knollwood Tract, is located near the intersection of U.S. 1 and N.C. 2. It is the same tract that was the center of a major confrontation five years ago when the proposed Pine Needles Village development was defeated.
The Bell family submitted a conceptual plan on June 25. The plan was required as part of the family's application to rezone the land from Planned Development-Conditional District (PD-CD) to Planned Unit Development (PUD).
"The PUD is what we need to accomplish what we want to do," Kelly Miller, president and CEO of Pine Needles and Mid Pines, said at the public hearing.
The tract is currently envisioned to include a 300- to 400-room hotel, an 18-hole golf course, up to 350,000 square feet of retail space, up to 100,000 square feet of office and commercial space, as many as 300 assisted living units, and up to 300 homes.
In addition to the golf course, recreation areas would include walking trails, horse riding trails and golf practice areas.
"We think that's a great mix," Miller said.
Bob Koontz, director of land planning for Hobbs Upchurch & Associates, spent about 30 minutes outlining the conceptual plan, paying particular attention to the advantages of PUD zoning over PD-CD.
For example, Koontz said there would be a 60,000-square-foot limit on any retail building.
"That prohibits any big-box retailer from building in that location," he said.
Still, some downtown Southern Pines merchants would like an economic impact study done to determine how a large retail component might affect their shops.
Marianne Lewis, co-owner of Chef Warren's restaurant on Broad Street, said she supports the rezoning.
"But I think an impact study would be crucial," Lewis said.
Lewis was among about a dozen people who testified during the public hearing, which attracted both proponents and opponents of the rezoning request.
Oliver Hines, of west Southern Pines, touted the jobs that the project would bring.
"We need these jobs to keep our young people here and to move our community forward," Hines said.
John Snipes, on the other hand, said the process felt like "deja vu."
"We went through this a few years ago," Snipes said. "I'm just hoping you put this on hold until we can prove we can sustain this (proposed) growth."
He was immediately countered by Anderson Lee, who shagged golf balls for Julius Boros at Mid Pines when he was a boy.
"The Bell family has been good to this community, very good, not only to whites but also to blacks," Lee said. "Let's quit playing with this. Let's go ahead and do it. I just can't see squabbling over this when it's going to do so much for our community.
"Let's look to the future, and quit looking back."
Pat Corso, executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress, said development is inevitable.
"We have a unique opportunity in Southern Pines, I believe, to be the authors of and support good development," Corso said. "The Bell family, in particular, have been great stewards in this community. They've done nothing over the years but enhance our quality of life.
"They're here. They're not outsiders. At the end of the day, development is going to happen. Why not here where the folks in this room control it?"
Contact Ted Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the pilot.com.
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