Southern Pines Council's Approval Moves Project Forward
The Bell family will reach out to potential developers now that the Southern Pines Town Council has approved the rezoning for a major new development on 558 acres adjacent to Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club.
The council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to rezone the land allowing the project, which could add a large hotel, more golf and significantly more shopping to the area.
Kelly Miller, president and CEO of Pine Needles and Mid Pines, said the family was “grateful” for the support of the council, Southern Pines Planning Board and “the citizens who are behind the project.”
“We’re excited to be moving forward and look forward to working with the town and the community,” Miller said. “We had discussions with some groups before submitting the application, but basically quit talking to everybody thereafter. We’re going to revisit some of those conversations.
“This is not an easy thing. We’re hopeful we can come up with a great project for our community.”
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, represented by Miller, 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.
Future development of the site will be reviewed as new projects are proposed within it.
But that provided little comfort to council member Chris Smithson, who cast the lone dissenting vote Tuesday night. Smithson had voiced concerns virtually since the application was submitted that the council was not taking its time to examine the overall proposal more closely.
“The law is clear that an approval tonight ends the council’s zoning authority on this property for years, if not forever,” Smithson said. “Assuming that the council, after approval, can make zoning decisions on this matter without the consent of the property owner is contrary to local and state law, and any attempt to act on that assumption will likely end up losing in the courts.”
Smithson said the question before the council was not whether the Knollwood Tract should be developed to a fairly high intensity.
“The question tonight is whether this property will develop in a way that is consistent with our adopted plans and in a way that benefits the property owner and the community overall,” he said. “We don’t have the information we need in order to make an informed decision in confirmation of that.
“I believe we should deny this application because there are too many unanswered questions and little as far as standards go to ensure that things turn out as intended.”
Smithson’s chief concerns included his belief that:
n The required traffic study is deficient, mainly recycled from a five-year-old report, and does not address the actual traffic numbers or impacts an approval would permit.
n The development standards in the application mainly either barely meet the town minimums or fail to meet them at all.
n Approving the application means ignoring the will of the people of Southern Pines as expressed in the town’s Comprehensive Long-Range Plan (CLRP).
n Approving the application ignores that the town is more than halfway through an overhaul of its Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and requires the town to keep the current UDO alive through build-out of the project.
“This is a bad application. Bad applications are future bad laws,” Smithson said. “Tonight is the night that stuff has to be worked out.”
But council member Mike Fields said, “I just don’t know that you can get a perfect plan at this stage, especially when there’s no developer. I think it might become economically unfeasible if we put in too many regulations on it now. We need flexibility.”
A group of downtown merchants had asked the council last month to conduct — or have the developer conduct -- a study exploring the potential economic impact a new development would have on downtown. Council members last week rejected the request, saying such a study had never been required previously.
That merchant group, led by Tony Grausso, co-owner of Seagrove Candle Co., called the council's decision not to require the study “disappointing and perplexing.”
Miller said the family was “perfectly aware” of merchant concerns.
“We intend to work with them,” he said.
Council member Jim Simeon said that, in the long run, the project “will be a positive addition to the town of Southern Pines. This will only enhance our reputation as a destination.”
Mayor David McNeill said, “I’m pleased with what I’ve seen so far. I believe this project can be a catalyst to attract more visitors, which should lead to more business downtown for our merchants and restaurants.”
Council member Fred Walden said he was simply voting in favor of the rezoning request, not the “project per se.”
“These are just ideas right now,” Walden said. “There’s no commitment to build any of this.”
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or email@example.com.
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