Pinehurst, known far and wide for its tightly controlled appearance standards when it comes to homes, is about to loosen up, and not willingly.
Newly enacted state legislation making it clear that towns and counties cannot regulate such things as the color of new single-family homes means it could be perfectly legal for someone to build a purple house in Pinehurst.
Planning Director Kevin Reed told the Village Council last week that "in a nutshell, not to exaggerate," someone could do just that. He clarified later in the meeting that since he took over as planning director last July, no one has asked for something that outlandish.
The legislation, now awaiting the governor's signature, clarifies existing state law that prohibits towns and counties from regulating the design and other aesthetic controls for new single-family homes, including ordinances already on the books.
Pinehurst and Whispering Pines are among the municipalities in the area that have such standards for single-family homes in general.
The new bill, expected to garner the governor’s signature and become law, makes an exception for historic districts. Towns can continue to regulate the design and appearance of homes in locally established districts as well as those designated on the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks.
That covers a large area of Pinehurst’s village center. But new homes in what are called “infill areas” would not be subject to design regulations.
Reed said private gated communities that have architectural review boards, such as Pinewild Country Club, and existing subdivisions that have their own restrictive covenants are also exempt and can continue to enforce their standards. He said a developer of a new subdivision would also be able to propose his own architectural standards, but the village cannot require them.
The current Pinehurst Development Ordinance (PDO) has a palette of acceptable colors for the exterior of homes, doors and trim. Last year, Reed said, a homeowner who had repainted a home bright yellow agreed to "tone down" the color after being told by the village that the original paint was "slightly too bright."
The PDO also includes regulations on such things as siding, roof type and other materials.
"We would lose the ability to essentially regulate any type of design standard relative to color, placement of windows and doors, that sort of thing," Reed told the council.
The village can still regulate such things as the size of the home, the height and setbacks.
Interim Manager Jeff Batton told the council that it will have to approve amendments to the PDO to remove the regulations and standards that are now prohibited by the state.
Reed said the staff will go through the PDO to find all of the language and regulation that must be deleted in preparing an amendment for the council's approval. In the meantime, the village will no longer be able to enforce those standards once it becomes law, he added.
The state House gave final approval to the legislation Tuesday, the same day of the council meeting. It passed on a 98-17 vote after already winning approval in the Senate. It was sent to Gov. Pat McCrory Thursday. If he does not sign it within 10 days, June 21, it becomes law.
State Rep. Jamie Boles, whose district includes most of the county, voted for the bill. He said the state has a building code that all local governments must follow that include basic standards.
"Towns have taken it a step further regulating the aesthetics and other things," Boles said. "It increases the cost to consumers. At what point does local government overstep the N.C. building code? It is not only here (Moore County), it is statewide."
Local home builder Densel Williams, a board member of the N.C. Home Builders Association, which lobbied for the legislation, agreed with Boles that the state building code should suffice.
"Over the years it has been pushed out and pushed out," Williams said of towns interpreting what they think it allows them to regulate. "Some push way beyond what the the state building code says, what common sense says."
He said attorneys for some towns have advised them to continue with these regulations until they get sued, arguing that it is a "gray area" in the law.
"That led to this legislation," Williams said. "It is costly to citizens. You don't have this legal authority to do this. You take away the citizens' right, the architects' right to design what they think is appealing, what will sell. This gives the citizens the power back to build what they want to build as long as it meets the state building code. I think common sense will prevail. I don't think municipalities will find that this legislation will hurt them."
Williams said it may actually be a good thing so that all new development will not look the same.
Four of the five council members seem resigned to the fact that the battle was lost and that it would be pointless to fight it.
"That ship has sailed," Mayor Nancy Fiorillo said.
But that did not sit well with John Strickland, who was adamant that the village should have gone on record much earlier by letting state Rep. Jamie Boles, who voted in favor of the legislation, and leaders at the N.C. General Assembly know that the village wants "to be able to retain our standards as much as possible." He said other towns had expressed opposition and that the village should still make its feelings known to the General Assembly.
"The village of Pinehurst has had a wonderful architectural heritage for a hundred-some years," he said. "I think we need to go on record trying to defend that even in the face of losing the current battle in the legislature. But it seems to me that we owe ourselves, our history, we owe our current residents who have moved here with a certain expectation of what the architectural standards and the color standard of the village would be, to at least go on record as trying to support what we have."
Council member Clark Campbell responded, "It's interesting you mention our history because the first 100 years of that history, we didn't have any standards. We celebrate our Old Town and that is because the free market did it the way they did it."
"There weren't a lot of purple paints in those days either," Strickland replied.
Campbell pointed out that neighboring Southern Pines does not impose design standards on new single-family homes.
"How many purple houses are in Southern Pines?" he asked.
Strickland said the village needs to do everything possible to maintain its standards.
"I think we have a standard that our residents expect us as a council to try to defend," he said. "We should at least go on record, even in defeat in trying to defend that history."
Fiorillo said the village and individual members did share their concerns with the N.C. League of Municipalities, which lobbies on their behalf.
"I like to rely on the league and the league made, I think, a very good attempt at compromise, and it failed," she said.
"I don't know what good it would do to go on record now."
Claire Phillips agreed, saying, "It's done."
The proposed compromise called for allowing towns to continue imposing design regulations on existing undeveloped lots in infill areas. It was rejected by a House committee.
Fiorillo also agreed with Campbell that the legislation is just a clarification of what is allowed by the state.
"Being creatures of the state, we're only allowed to do what the state allows us to do," she said. "We will still have the controls in our historic district. We certainly hope any infill development would be sensitive to what development is already there. And if the new subdivisions, if they want to have covenants, they can certainly do that."
But Strickland said state legislators "need to understand there are at least some of us out here who do believe in certain standards and want to protect residential areas."
In response to a question from Fiorillo, Village Attorney Mike Newman concurred that the legislation simply clarifies existing law.
"It couldn't be any clearer," Campbell said. "It clarified a law that has been in place a long time. So this isn't something new. Again, you wouldn't have what we have in our historic district, the real historic center of our town with today's PDO. You wouldn't be able to build what is there."
Whispering Pines Mayor Bob Zschoche said this week that should the legislation be signed into law, he would ask the village attorney to prepare an analysis for the council to discuss. He said the council has not taken a position on it.
"As a general statement, I am not generally pleased the General Assembly would take away any local authority and autonomy," he said. "I understand why they are doing it. I don't like it. Some (towns) have abused their local privilege."
Zschoche said the latest version of the bill is an improvement over the initial proposal last year in that it allows subdivisions with private restrictive covenants to retain them through their homeowners' associations.
"We've got a bunch of new subdivisions with homeowners' association covenants ," he said, noting that this will apply to new homes on infill lots.
"Will it be the end of life as we know it?" he asked. "Probably not. I would prefer to retain that authority."