'Impact Statement' Seems Unnecessary
T he Bell family's rezoning request for 558 acres next to Pine Needles seems likely to get a more hospitable response from the Southern Pines Town Council than the hostile one given a different plan for the same tract five years ago.
There seems to be less intense interest in - and far less resistance to - the current plan for a major mixed-use development on the so-called Knollwood Tract. Councilman Chris Smithson says he has so far received no emails about this one, compared to hundreds about what would have been known as Pine Needles Village.
Among those who have voiced the greatest concern about the current PUD proposal are the downtown merchants who fear they stand to feel the greatest effect from the new project. More than 50 of them have signed a petition asking the Town Council to make its approval of the request contingent on a requirement that the developer fund an "economic impact statement."
A Form of Protectionism
The Southern Pines Planning Board recommended approval of the rezoning last month. Besides asking that it be allowed to review the Incremental Master Plan, the board also expressed support for the concept of requiring an impact assessment, though the wording seemed relatively mild.
We understand the motivations behind the opposition of downtown businesses, who can't be blamed for looking after their own interests. The Pilot obviously feels as much concern as any entity about the wellbeing of our wonderful downtown.
But it simply doesn't seem fair to mandate that a free-enterprise venture in one part of town pay for a costly and time-consuming study of how what it does might cut into somebody else's business. Competition is, after all, the name of the game in our economic system. And this demand sounds like an effort to head off competitors - a form of protectionism that sets a bad precedent.
Not the Role of Government
It is by no means certain that the Knollwood Tract venture would necessarily do great harm to the downtown. This has not always been the case elsewhere.
Look no farther than Blowing Rock, a similar market in which a picturesque downtown continues to thrive despite the presence of the massive Shoppes on the Parkway development less than a 10-minute walk away.
In fact, motorists who come off the Blue Ridge Parkway to shop at all those outlet stores often end up finding their way downtown to patronize the businesses there. The same would no doubt be true of drivers who would leave U.S. 1 to visit the Knollwood center. Some of them, too, would surely spill over into the downtown.
We urge that everyone support the locally owned, independent businesses that now grace the central business district of Southern Pines - not to mention those in other Moore County towns. They're among the things that make this such a great place to live. Patronizing downtown stores is especially important now, with the Christmas season approaching.
But in the end, don't those businesses have to stand on their own? Is it really the role of local government to make their potential competitors jump through so many entangling hoops?
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