Downtown Merchants Seek Impact Study
Downtown Southern Pines merchants want the Town Council to seek more information about the impact of a major new development off U.S. 1 before considering it.
The Broad Street Merchant Community on Friday presented the Southern Pines Town Council with a petition asking the town to conduct — or have conducted — an economic and community impact study in conjunction with review of a major development on land owned by the Bell family.
The goal of a study would be to “ensure that we all fully understand the potential ramifications … on our downtown district,” Tony Grausso, a founder of the group, said in a cover letter to the council that accompanied the petition.
The petition was signed by 52 owners or managers of businesses in downtown Southern Pines.
Claudia Miller, owner of Morgan Miller women’s clothing and accessories, said she supports both the proposed development and the study.
“We need growth, but I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to have the study done,” Miller said Friday. “I’m for the project because I know the Bell family and they will do it right. I think it’s exciting and will be a great thing for the community.”
The Bell family is seeking to rezone 558 acres adjacent to their Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club. A public hearing on the rezoning request began last month before the Southern Pines Planning Board and is expected to continue at the board’s Sept. 27 meeting.
The board is also expected to vote on a recommendation to the council, which will have the final say after also conducting a public hearing. That hearing will likely occur at the Oct. 9 council meeting.
Mayor David McNeill said Friday that he had not seen the petition, but added the council would consider it “at the appropriate time.”
“I think it’s fair to say the current and previous councils have been very supportive of downtown Southern Pines,” McNeill said.
For example, McNeill cited the town’s support of moving the repaving of Broad Street from last fall to this summer so the project would not hurt the busy Christmas shopping season that downtown merchants rely upon for the majority of their annual revenue.
Kelly Miller, president and CEO of Pine Needles and Mid Pines, said the merchant group was free to proceed as it saw fit.
“Obviously, we don’t have any control over what they do,” Miller said. “We just look forward to working with the Planning Board and Town Council as the process moves forward. A study is certainly something the town could request, but not at this point.”
The undeveloped Bell family 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 family submitted a conceptual plan on June 25, because the plan was required as part of its application to rezone the land from Planned Development-Conditional District (PD-CD) to Planned Unit Development (PUD).
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.
Downtown merchants would like the study done to determine how a large retail component might affect their shops.
“With the findings of a study in hand and understood, we could then be prepared to identify and implement measures to help ensure the long-term viability of our historic and vibrant downtown district,” Grausso said in the letter.
Claudia Miller said a study could determine how much new retail space the town could absorb.
“I’m not all up in arms about the proposed numbers because the plan is conceptual, but it is a massive amount of retail space. We need to make sure this area can support that amount,” she said. “We should all want steady growth. I’m not against growth, because without growth where would I be?”
Con O’Mahoney, owner of The Bell Tree restaurant, said the petition “has merit” because any development will have an impact.
“It will definitely take away from downtown Southern Pines,” O’Mahoney said. “Kelly Miller needs to do what’s best for his family and Pine Needles. It’s his property. You hate to jump up and down and tell him, ‘No.’ But we have to protect our businesses, especially in this day and age of franchises coming in.”
A study is not required by the town’s Unified Devel-opment Ordinance. And it would not be conducted — if at all — until the Bell family submits a detailed Incremental Master Plan for the project.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the pilot.com.
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