TEASER Pinehurst, Village Hall

(File Photo/The Pilot)

The Pinehurst Planning and Zoning Board voted unanimously Thursday evening to recommend rejecting a commercial development off Midland Road just east of Carolina Eye Associates.

The proposed Midland Business Park would have six buildings with 13,200 square feet of space for commercial and office uses on 1.86 acres. Access would be on Williams Road.

In an unusual scheduling twist, the board had to pause its meeting during the middle of the public hearing on the rezoning to convene as the Board of Adjustment for an advertised hearing on a variance request for the new Pinehurst Elementary School regarding an increase in its impervious surface coverage, which the board granted.

The seven members sitting as the Planning and Zoning Board agreed that the site off Midland Road was not appropriate for such an intense commercial use.

“It is completely out of character for the area,” board member Charles Russell said.

Board member David Kelley said the uncertainty about what specific businesses would be in there was a big concern for him. He said he would have felt more comfortable had the developer been more specific about what would be in the six buildings or had done a market study to show a need for the project.

“This is the ‘Field of Dreams’ project,” Kelley said in reference to the iconic baseball movie. “Build it and they will come.”

He and other board members, as well as several speakers during the hearing, noted the amount of vacant commercial and office space elsewhere in the village and surrounding area.

“There are empty places sitting all over the place now,” Kelley said, adding it might seem unreasonable to keep the zoning as it is now — single-family residential requiring a minimum 30,000-square-foot lot — since it has been on the market for more than two years and has not sold. But he countered that it would be unreasonable to think anyone who buys a home in that area would want such a commercial development next to them.

“It is reasonable to expect two houses to be built there,” Kelley said of what the current zoning would allow on the property.

Board member Cyndie Burnett also expressed concerns about the appearance of such a commercial development on Midland, which she said is the “gateway” to the village and its golf courses.

Resident Jane Hogeman noted during the public hearing that the proposed buildings have a “fortress-like appearance” and would look more like something in the heavy commercial area on U.S. 15-501.

“This would be a strip mall on Pinehurst’s historic corridor,” she said.

Board member Joel Shriberg agreed with other members that this is not the ideal location for a commercial development.

“This would not enhance the overall character of the area,” Shriberg said.

He added that it would also not protect those who live nearby, which is one of the factors the village has to consider in whether to approve a rezoning.

“It is our responsibility to listen to those people,” he said of the neighboring property owners. “I try to put myself in those homes. I have real sympathy for them.”

Board members and several residents who spoke also raised concerns about the clear-cutting of trees on the site.

Four people who live nearby were among those who spoke during the public hearing. Three opposed it, saying it would be detrimental to the surrounding area. Only one was in favor, saying it would enhance the area.

Mark Harris, who lives right next to the site, said he and his wife bought a house there for their family because it is a quiet area.

“It will affect our lives drastically,” Harris said. “The buildings will be right on top of me. The value of our homes will decrease.”

Marcel Goneau, who owns a construction business and lives farther down Williams Road, said he felt this project would be good for the area.

“It would be nice to have some businesses we could walk to,” he said. “I think it is a great location for my business. I think there is a need for professional offices.”

He also downplayed arguments about trees being cut down.

“We are all sensitive about trees,” he said. “Even in residential construction, trees can be removed.”

Chris Kibler, who lives on the corner of Midland and Williams roads, noted that Goneau wanted to do a similar project on this site, which generated opposition.

“There is no benefit to anybody else in our neighborhood,” he said.

John O’Connor, who owns O’Connor Consulting, is the applicant. He said he believes there is a demand for the business park and that he would likely construct three buildings initially.

“We think we have enough interest to go with that many at first,” he told the board.

O’Connor, who has an option to buy the property, said he would be the construction manager, and that he has developed a good reputation having been the construction business for 50 years. He said his most recent one was an $8 million project for Carolina Eye.

Tim Carpenter with LKC Engineering, who is representing O’Connor, said the six buildings would range in size from 1,400 square feet to 4,000 square feet. He said they have agreed to limit the uses to 17 of the 56 that are permitted in the Neighborhood Commercial zoning district. Those include banks and other financial institutions, medical and professional offices, retail businesses, restaurants and an art studio.

Carpenter also pointed out that other property nearby is zoned Neighborhood Commercial in that area.

The recommendation by the advisory planning board now goes to the Village Council, which has the final decision on whether to approve the rezoning. The council will also hold its own public hearing.

The Planning and Zoning Board meeting had to be paused at 5:30 p.m. so five members who served in dual roles on the quasi-judicial Board of Adjustment could hear the request by the Moore County Schools.

After a brief hearing, the board voted unanimously to grant a variance to allow up to 45 percent impervious surface coverage on the site, which includes buildings, parking lots, bus loops, driveways and sidewalks. The current zoning allows a maximum 40 percent coverage.

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or dsinclair@thepilot.com.

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