The two candidates running for mayor of Pinehurst are both former council members who feel they are qualified to lead Moore County’s largest municipality as it faces major challenges in the coming four years.
The Nov. 5 election could provide some measure of vindication for either Claire Berggren or John Strickland, who both lost campaigns the last time they ran.
Berggren finished fourth in the race for two seats on the council in 2017, her re-election bid dragged down in part by the backlash over her support of an apartment complex across from the village’s Arboretum. In 2013, she became the first person in the village’s history to win as a write-in candidate.
Strickland lost a heated race for mayor in 2015 against incumbent Nancy Fiorillo. Fiorillo has chosen not to seek re-election after eight years as Pinehurst mayor.
In addition to the mayoral race, Pinehurst will elect two new members to the Village Council. That race will be previewed in Sunday’s edition of The Pilot.
The change in leadership comes at a pivotal time for the village. The next council will take on implementation of a new comprehensive long-range plan after almost 18 months of work. The council also must update the village’s development ordinance to carry out some of that plan’s initiatives.
Apart from land use and zoning matters, the council also faces a critical decision next summer on what to do about the future of Given Memorial Library and village library services. A consultant hired recently by the village to assess the library situation is expected to make recommendations to the council.
The Pilot recently interviewed both mayoral candidates about why they feel they are best qualified to lead the village and what they believe are the top priorities in the coming four years.
Berggren, who moved to Pinehurst from Atlanta in 2000, is a former marketing director of the county’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. Her father was in the military and had been stationed at nearby Fort Bragg.
She earned a bachelor of science degree in business from the University of Maryland. She currently serves on the board of Given Memorial Library and Tufts Archives, and was a member of the joint working group that recommended the village hire a library consultant.
Berggren decided to run for mayor after thinking that voters needed an option between candidates.
“I felt like I had the experience from being on the Village Council for four years and being involved with other things in the village and my involvement in tourism at the county and state levels,” she said. “I am ready. I have the leadership skills.
“I believe in the professionalism of the staff. I have a good working relationship with them, I am a team person.”
Regarding the long-range comprehensive plan, Berggren wants the current council to adopt it, rather than waiting until after the election as some residents have advocated.
“The new council needs to have their playbook,” she said. “We need to hit the ground running. We need to understand form-based zoning and pattern books. We need to get a grip on that and then we need to get the PDO (Pinehurst Development Ordinance) rewrite underway.”
Berggren said the plan itself is “a guideline” not set in stone.
“Some things might never come to fruition,” she said. “These are ideas for us to consider in pursuing ways to keep our village vibrant.”
Berggren said she understands that growth and its impacts — especially traffic — are overriding issues in the campaign and the comprehensive plan development. There are hardened feelings among those who want to see growth and those who don’t.
She sees a middle path, thinking the village can grow without harming its small-town feel.
“It’s called controlled growth,” Berggren said. “With this plan, we have the tools to control how we grow.”
Berggren does not want to see anything done that would harm the ambiance of the village, which is what attracted her and many other people.
“It is a safe place,” Berggren said. “It is a great place for families. We have to preserve that. We also need to work with the resort. That is why we are on the map.”
Berggren said the village must also continue to respond to changing demographics, as more families with children move to Pinehurst.
That growth has also placed more demands on the privately operated Given Memorial Library, which has turned to the village for help in finding a way to sustain its operations.
Berggren said she will keep an open mind when the library consultant reports next summer.
“We need to know what the options are and then, with public input, we can make our decision,” she said.
Whether the current library can be expanded in its present location has been one of the complicating issues, since the National Park Service has said any encroachment on the Village Green would jeopardize Pinehurst’s National Historic Landmark status.
Berggren said the village needs to improve communications with the National Park Service to see what can be done to resolve this impasse between the agency and the village’s future plans.
“We need to sit down and understand what they think it is,” Berggren said. “And they need to know what we think it is, and then decide what to do about it. I want to understand the National Park Service’s perspective on the status. I haven’t heard from the horse’s mouth.
“We have a local historic district. We manage and control that. So we have something in place. … We have to look out for what is best for Pinehurst.”
Berggren said another priority for her is extending the village’s extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction to the west and north.
“We need to make sure we have a plan to control any changes or growth that occurs on our borders that affect us.”
Strickland is a third-generation resident who says Pinehurst is in his "DNA."
An Army veteran, Strickland earned his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his MBA from George Washington University. He had 30 years of management experience during a career in finance and banking.
Prior to serving one term on the Village Council from 2011 to 2015, which included being treasurer, he was on the Historic Preservation Commission and the 2010 Long-Range Planning Commission that helped develop the current comprehensive plan.
He also serves on the board of the Village Heritage Foundation and the Pinehurst Community Foundation.
“I think it’s quite clear I have an extraordinary set of credentials that qualify me to manage Pinehurst,” Strickland said. “One of the things I’ve been talking about is there’s a set of values that I think have applied and continue to apply to Pinehurst, things like the quality and variety of our neighborhoods, how we are going to maintain the quality of each of these neighborhoods.”
Strickland believes preserving the special character and feel of the village is paramount.
“There is a uniqueness in the historic architectural and landscape heritage that we have here that is one of the things that makes the look and feel of Pinehurst unique,” he said. “It also, I think, becomes imbued in people’s minds and expectations with that high level of architectural appreciation, and I don’t just mean the Historic District, the (national) landmark status and all of that.
"But it really applies throughout the village, and it applies in a way of doing things. Village government always tries to operate at a high level, and efficient level that reflects the values of our citizens.”
Another priority issue for Strickland is improving and strengthening the core village.
“There is a wonderful opportunity to market the core village of Pinehurst, the retail shops as well as other business communities, big and small,” he said.
Strickland said there needs to be a closer working relationship between the village, Pinehurst Business Partners and the resort to create a marketing plan for the village.
“I think we can do a lot with what we have,” he said. “A lot of times these things are not followed up on.”
Strickland agrees that the impact of growth is a concern to everyone in southern Moore County, not just Pinehurst. That has been an overriding issue during the process of creating a new comprehensive plan.
“I hope that the impact as I heard it and has been statistically reported from the different individuals who attended the meetings ... is fairly represented in the plan," he said. "I think they (council) may be getting to that point.”
As to whether the current council should adopt the plan or delay it until after the election, Strickland said some current members have indicated they have questions and want to hear from the public (the public hearing is Wednesday afternoon).
"I wouldn’t want to pre-judge what the council is doing," he said. "If the plan reflects the growth concerns of the public, I am OK with it.”
Strickland said another priority for him will be to “enhance” the methodology the village will use to evaluate the long-term financial impacts of capital projects.
“Pinehurst has wonderful financial management, very excellent fiscal responsibility, in looking at short-term and medium-term impacts,” he said. “I don’t know if we forecast out far enough to really access the long-term impact in terms of personnel, infrastructure repairs, maintenance and replacement. At the end of the day, that is what the taxpayer is going to pay for. What will it cost up front, in five years, in 10 years, so the public will have an idea what they are asking for and what it will cost them. That can help them make the decision of whether or not this is the right thing for Pinehurst in the long term.
Strickland agrees that traffic is one of the biggest challenges facing the village. He said he still needs to do more research on what can be done, given the N.C. Department of Transportation’s decision to hold off on some projects until after the U.S. Open in 2024.
Strickland said he is encouraged by the cooperation he has seen from DOT’s office in Moore County
“I think there are things that could be done to relieve the pressure a little bit,” he said.
Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or email@example.com