SP Council Turns Down Merchants' Study Request
BY TED M. NATT JR.
The Southern Pines Town Council has rejected a request to have an economic and community impact study conducted in conjunction with a major development on 558 acres owned by the Bell family.
"We've never required such a study," council member Mike Fields said Wednesday at the council's monthly agenda meeting. "Unless we're going to require it on every single project that comes to town, we shouldn't do it."
Fields noted that downtown Southern Pines has "survived and thrived" in the past 30 years, despite retail encroachment by Walmart, Lowe's and the Pinecrest Plaza shopping center, among others.
"We have a very unique downtown that has been successful despite the growth," he said.
Council member Jim Simeon agreed, saying, "I do not think it's our role to restrict free enterprise."
Tony Grausso, co-owner of Seagrove Candle Co. and a founder of the Broad Street Merchant Community (BSMC), called the decision "disappointing and perplexing."
"You have to ask yourself, 'Why?' Whose best interests are council members prioritizing?" Grausso said. "I'm really eager to learn from them what their vision is to work with the downtown district to ensure that we remain vital amid all the development."
Grausso, who helped gather signatures, submitted the petition to the council on behalf of merchants last August. It was signed by 52 owners or managers of businesses in downtown Southern Pines.
Council member Chris Smithson said he empathized with downtown merchants.
"I share their concerns," Smithson said, "but I don't think a study will answer all of the questions they may have."
Still, he acknowledged that downtown Southern Pines "is not bulletproof."
"There are some things we can do to protect and enhance downtown Southern Pines, but I don't think this study is the way to do it," Smithson said.
Council member Fred Walden said he felt that a study would not "serve much of a purpose."
"I don't see where it would make a difference," Walden said.
Downtown merchants had hoped a study would help determine how a large retail component might affect their shops.
Simeon predicted that the project would benefit downtown in the long run.
"I think the project will enhance us as a destination," he said. "Ultimately, it will support and enhance downtown because more people will be coming."
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 the center of a major confrontation five years ago when the proposed Pine Needles Village development was defeated.
The Bell family submitted a conceptual master 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 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.
The town Planning Board recommended approval of the rezoning last September.
The Town Council conducted a public hearing last month, but deferred voting on the matter because council members wanted some questions answered.
The council is expected to make a decision at its monthly meeting next Tuesday.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the pilot.com.
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