Smithson Critical of Council on Knollwood Rezoning
Southern Pines Town Council member Chris Smithson has called the rest of the council to task for "pushing" the notion that any concerns about a proposed major development will be worked out later.
"I believe this to be incorrect and irresponsible," Smithson said in a document posted to his website last Friday. "The danger here is in ignoring any concerns or reservations one has at the beginning in belief that 'everything will be taken care of' after the fact at the incremental plan stage.
"It is just not how the process was designed."
Council member Mike Fields took issue with Smithson's tactics.
"It's very frustrating trying to work with Chris," Fields said earlier this week. "He's just not very good at compromise. When he doesn't get his way, he resorts to personal attacks and name-calling, and tries to embarrass his fellow council members."
Smithson said he is simply seeking a rezoning application from the Bell family "that we can have a 5-0 vote on, and that application would largely reflect what they say their intent is. But there's a big gap between what they say they want to do and what they're asking for.
"They say they want to exceed the town's minimum standards, but the (current) application asks that they only be held to the minimums or be excused from the minimums."
The Bell family submitted a conceptual master plan last June as part of its application to rezone 558 acres adjacent to Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club from Planned Development-Conditional District (PD-CD) to Planned Unit Development (PUD).
The Southern Pines Planning Board recommended approval of the rezoning last September.
The undeveloped land, known as the Knollwood Tract, is located near the intersection of U.S. 1 and N.C. 22.
It is the same tract that was at the center of a major confrontation five years ago when the proposed Pine Needles Village development failed to win approval.
Mayor David McNeill said he is pleased with the conceptual master plan.
"I think the proposal that has been submitted is less intensive than the project that was turned down several years ago," McNeill said. "At this point, I think the owners need additional flexibility to make sure the product they bring back at the incremental stage is not only an asset to the town, but to the entire region."
The Knollwood 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.
Fields said "people have known" for more than two decades that the property eventually would be developed.
"The 1989 Land-Use Plan and the 2010 Comprehensive Long-Range Plan both clearly state that the property will be developed at more of an urban level, not a rural level," he said. "It's not going to remain in its pristine state."
Fields added that he is confident the council will carefully scrutinize the incremental plan, if the project gets to that stage.
"If they come in with major changes from the conceptual master plan, we can reject it," he said. "We're trying to give them some tradeoffs here. I think for a parcel this big, you have to give them some flexibility because we don't know what the market will bear in the future.
"We want this project to be successful. We don't want it to fail."
Smithson said he remains "very concerned" about the responses to his questions, both from the Bell family and the council.
"In a way, I feel like the lone wolf in that I'm the only one asking any questions whatsoever," he said. "My fellow council members have questioned my questions more than they've questioned the application.
"Their attitude is, 'Don't worry about it. We'll fix it down the road.' It doesn't work that way."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the pilot.com.
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