TEASER Pinehurst, Village Hall

(File Photo/The Pilot)

After more than a year of work, the final draft of a new comprehensive long-range plan for the village of Pinehurst is ready for public scrutiny.

Public hearings later this month and next will bear out whether the top priorities in the plan mirror what the majority of residents want as the village charts its future for the next 20 to 30 years, as village leaders say it does.

Prior to the start of the council’s business meeting Tuesday afternoon, it held a joint session with members of its advisory Planning and Zoning Board for a presentation from its consultants on the final draft.

The plan is intended to help the village in balancing continued growth pressures — consultants believe they will only intensify in the years to come — with maintaining the village’s character and quality of life.

Traffic, the quality of new development, stormwater runoff, preserving trees, and increasing the variety of shops and businesses in the downtown rose to the top of issues residents found most important.

Mayor Nancy Fiorillo made clear at the outset that the presentation was not a public hearing, and that there would likely be few questions and comments from council and planning board members, since they all need to read the final version.

“This is just the first glance,” Fiorillo said. “We need to see it. We need to digest it before we start to ask questions. There will be several public hearings, and there will be plenty of opportunity for the public to comment on this very important document.”

Council members and staff spent more than 13 hours over five work sessions last month going through the plan in great detail, making revisions to the now 115 recommendations and prioritizing them. The initial plan had 143 recommendations. Council members combined some, rewrote others and eliminated some of them.

Assistant Village Manager Natalie Hawkins said a number of revisions have been made since the public got its first look at the initial draft in June “based on the input we received” at the open house and on the “Envision the Village” website. She said all of the input from the public, the council and the village staff was provided to the consultants to complete the final draft.

But the process since the two-day open house when the draft plan was released has drawn criticism from some residents. They have argued during the public comment periods of council meetings that some of the revisions and changes are significant and do not reflect the way many residents feel based on the votes at the open house, and that the document, generally is too “pro-growth.” They sought further input on those revisions before they were put in the final draft.

Some residents have also been calling on the current council to put off adopting the plan until after the election in November and instead let the new council adopt it. Three of the five members — Fiorillo, Mayor Pro Tem John Bouldry and council member Jack Farrell — are stepping down this year.

But the council is sticking to its original schedule, with hopes of adopting the plan by the end of October.

Fiorillo said in an earlier interview that the plan can be altered right up to the point of adoption based on the public input, and that it can be amended at any time by a future council once adopted.

The public will have its first opportunity to comment at a hearing by the Planning and Zoning Board on Sept. 23. It will then make a recommendation to the council whether to approve it as is or propose revisions based on the public hearing.

The Village Council has scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, Oct. 9, at 4:30 p.m. to hold its public hearing. The council could then consider final adoption at its Oct. 22 meeting.

‘A Lot of Conversation’

From the start of the process at a well-attended kickoff meeting last June, one of the overriding questions was deciding how much growth is enough for Pinehurst. In the ensuing months, debate has simmered among those who advocated for well-managed growth to protect the village’s character and those who want to keep things as they are now.

More than 6,800 people have participated in the process either in person at various events or online since that kickoff in June 2018.

Hawkins said the key theme has been how “to maintain the small-town charm and rural feel of the village.” She said the main reason for creating this new plan is “protecting the very essence of Pinehurst that attracted current residents and businesses.”

“We heard a lot of conversation from our community about the impact of growth the character of Pinehurst and the authenticity of the community,” she said.

Growth projections show the village’s population will swell from nearly 17,000 now to 22,784 by 2040.

“With new residents come new demands, come new services,” Hawkins said.

Brian Wright, the founder of Town Planning and Urban Design Collaborative, which the village hired to help craft the plan, said once the plan is adopted it is important to follow through on implementation.

“At the end of the day, we want this document to be used by the community at large and hold everyone accountable,” he said.

Wright said the “most exciting” aspect for him has been the level of public involvement in the process. He said the turnout at the two-day open house in June, estimated at 483 residents, “was shocking.”

He said the results of the input have been “really interesting and very telling.”

“For us, we wanted to be careful and not goof it up because this is such a special place, so unique,” he said.

Top 10 Concerns

As part of the presentation, he included a review of the top 10 recommendations:

* Reinvigorate the Village Center through the arts, culture and entertainment market to create a “Golf by Day, Arts by Night” atmosphere.

* Seek ways to minimize traffic congestion throughout the village, especially at the Traffic Circle and on N.C. 5.

* Become a “digital village and premiere destination to live and work from home,” with expanded high-speed internet and wireless infrastructure.

* Implement character-based zoning and patterns books to promote high-quality development in the future through a comprehensive rewrite of the development ordinance.

* Become a more pedestrian-friendly community with expanded pedestrian, bike and golf cart connectivity.

* Create a thriving business environment to encourage innovation and creativity with “innovation hubs,” co-working spaces and artists studios in the Village Place area near the Village Center and the N.C. 5 area.

* Seek to expand the village’s extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction to the north of N.C. 211 and to the west of U.S. 15-501 to ensure appropriate development along the corridors into the village.

* Create new open spaces and amenities within neighborhoods such as parks, dog parks, gathering places and community gardens.

* Expand and enhance stormwater management efforts to protect property interest.

* Evaluate possible expansion and construction of new village facilities, such as a library, arts and entertainment venues, municipal buildings and community parks to meet the needs of a growing and diverse population.

‘Food for Thought’

Matt Noonkester with City Explained, another consulting firm that helped develop the plan, said one of the most important components is a future land-use map. He said they are calling it a growth and conservation map “because of the importance of conservation and green space and maintaining the character here.”

With the village largely built-out except for the remaining 1,400 undeveloped lots, most of the opportunities for growth will be in the area beyond the village’s border to the south and west, and commercial/offices on N.C. 5 and N.C. 211 to the west. The plan includes various recommendations on future development in those areas.

After the presentation, Fiorillo looked to Wright and Noonkester and said, “You’ve certainly given us a lot of food for thought.” She added that it “attempts to take all of the public input” and incorporate it into the plan.

Village officials have encouraged residents to read the plan. It is available on the village’s website (www.vopnc.org) as well as the Envision the Village website (www. envisionthevillage.com) created for the planning process. In addition, Hawkins said a copy of the plan is available for public review at Village Hall, Given Memorial Library and the Welcome Center.

Bouldry said after the presentation that he was “encouraged” by the amount of public input, and that it came from across the village and from many of its partners, such as Pinehurst Resort.

“I am looking forward to diving in and doing a good due diligence,” he said.

Farrell said there will be even more public input in the next two months before the council adopts it. He said it is important for the village’s future.

“It is the main source document for planning in the village for the long view,” he said.

He also thanked the staff for the “incredible amount of effort” that has been put into this.”

“I am amazed at the time it has taken staff,” Farrell said. “You cannot imagine how much effort they have put into this, the last several months in particular. I am amazed, astounded and ever grateful.”

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or dsinclar@thepiliot.com.

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