Pinehurst officials have vowed to strengthen its public disturbance and nuisance ordinances in the wake of a large party that occurred June 20 at a rental home, resulting in numerous complaints from neighbors about loud music, the use of illegal drugs and property damage.
Their investigations in the aftermath of the event indicated that a number of local and state rules — including restrictions on the size of mass gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic — were violated and also exposed some weaknesses in its own noise ordinance.
The Village Council added an item to the agenda for its meeting last Tuesday in response to a large party held at home on Magnolia Road, which is a well-known short-term rental. Several residents who live near the home also attended the meeting to express concerns about the police response.
Village leaders made clear they want to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.
“I want to address very disturbing problems that resulted from a large pay-to-attend party,” Mayor John Strickland, who was visibly emotional, at the outset of the discussion. “It was not known in advance to village officials or residents. It was a pop-up event that was planned in advance and in no way represents what this community is all about, nor was it in keeping with customary social activity in Pinehurst … The event was inappropriate in any location or neighborhood in Pinehurst. The fact that it was in the Village Center in a residential neighborhood and near several restaurants and shops made the event even more disturbing because of the effect on our property owners, business owners and Pinehurst Resort.”
Strickland said more than 75 people attended the party, with a DJ playing loud music. He added that a number of those attending parked in the nearby Carolina Hotel parking lot, causing some property damage and leaving behind litter.
“Our citizens were subjected to very loud music and harassing commentary by a DJ,” he said.
He also thanked police officers “for doing what they could to “mitigate the neighbors’ concerns and control the attendees.”
Strickland said it is “likely” state and local nuisance and noise laws, and COVID-19 gathering requirements, commercial use of residential property regulations, fire and trespassing laws were all violated.” He said Village Manager Jeff Sanborn, Police Chief Earl Phipps and Planning Director Darryn Burich began gathering facts and other information last Monday morning to see what action can be taken.
“We will be evaluating these for whatever action seems appropriate,” he said. “As a residential, resort and professional community, Pinehurst knows how to conduct large social and sporting events whether private or public. The event of June 20 was in stark contrast to our history and reputation. I am sure my council colleagues will join me and village staff, I will do everything possible to prevent such incidents again while maintaining Pinehurst’s reputation as a safe, high-quality of life community that respects our neighborhoods and our businesses.”
Council members all voiced support to take whatever actions are needed.
“I’m sure the entire council stands behind our police and our citizens … and will do everything that we are lawfully able to do.
Council member Kevin Drum, addressing the larger issue of short-term rentals, said this type of activity “needs to be managed, whether you are a long-term or short-term rental.
“It was just bad on all counts,” he said. “We should take care of it on all levels
Council member Lydia Boesch said some of the videos she has seen and reports she has heard about that happened at this party “are so disturbing and they don;’t reflect on the character of our community.” She added that some of the young people who attended the meeting for an earlier presentation told her they were downtown that afternoon and saw it.
“That is alarming to me,” she said. “I want us to bet real careful in how we address this. … We are going to look at everything that was violated. If prosecutions are the way to go, let’s do that. Something like this cannot happen again. There are so many layers of this we have to work through to find a solution.”
Council member Judy Davis said a major concern in all of this the N.C. General Assembly’s “love of property rights,”which makes it difficult for local governments to regulate short-term rentals, which has been an issue in the village for many years.
“We need to figure out how to navigate that,” she said.
Davis said the rights of those who rent their homes, such as this one, should not “trample” the rights of the neighborhood and the rest of the village.
“And that’s really the crux of the issue for me,” she said.
Village Manager Jeff Sanborn said village officials are still piecing together “exactly what happened” Saturday. He said the person who rented the home told the property management firm that manages the property that this was a combination birthday/graduation party, as well as a welcome home and a send off for family members in military service.
“They rented the property with a benign cover story that bears no resemblance to the way it was promoted,” Sanborn said. “Certainly this is not the first rodeo for the folks that organized this thing. They are very savvy.”
It was supposed to take place from 2 to 8 p.m., but ended up going until just after 10 p.m., Sanborn said. The first call to police about the noise and other problems started just at 4 p.m., he told council.
Sanborn said when police arrived, “they did the best they could” to get the music turned down to “an acceptable level.” He said many of the attendees were visibly intoxicated.
“You don’t want to incite violence,” he said. “I think they (police) did the best they could to manage the situation with turning into something potentially ugly.
He said the music was turned down for a period of time, but the noise and other problems “worsened” going into the evening.
He said officers remained in the area looking for “signs of nefarious activities” after several neighbors reported the smell of marijuana and concerns that other illegal drugs were being consumed.
He said the party finally shut down about 10:30 p.m., but a number of people went back to their cars in the Carolina Hotel parking lot and continued partying that resulted in some property damage and littering.
Sanborn said it was “pretty clear there were significant violations” of the village noise ordinance, but it does not define a maximum decibel level, making enforcement difficult. It is based on what a “reasonable” person considers too loud, he added.
“In this case, it was still pretty easy for a reasonable person to walk up and say this is not reasonable,” he said.
Sanborn said village officials also discovered that the noise ordinance does not include a provision to allow police to issue civil citations.
“That needs to be corrected,” he said.
He said this also amounted to a commercial use of a residential property that violates the zoning ordinance. He said there was “criminal trespassing” on other property in the neighborhood.
“This could have happened anywhere in Pinehurst, whether it is a short-term rental or not” Sanborn said..
He said the fact that this home is used as a short-term rental makes it “harder” for the village to regulate it.
“We have begun to brainstorm some things to prevent this,” he said. “We could require a permit for events with outdoor amplified sound,” he said. “That is a tricky one … it helps us get in front of these situations at knowing what is planned.”
Sanborn said village officials are also exploring ways to better monitor social media “to catch these before they become a problem.” He said the police department is also examining a “standard operating procedure” to handle situations such as this with large numbers of people, such as bringing in its K-9 unit when it is suspected that illegal drugs are being used.
“It would have helped break up that party a lot quicker,” he said.
Strickland said before hearing from residents that Sanborn’s comments “demonstrate that staff and council are taking this seriously.”
Four residents who live near the home as well as the owner of the rental company that manages the property addressed the council.
Victoria Adkins said it is “obvious” that council members and staff are sincere about dealing with the problem.
“I feel really bad saying this, because I love Pinehurst, but I feel totally letdown by village services,” she said. “I did not see much police presence.
She said they kept calling police to complain about the noise, smell of marijuana and trespassing,
“I just wonder why did this happen,” she said. “It was very upsetting. … Why the party in the (Carolina Hotel) parking couldn’t be shutdown is beyond me.”
Russell Sugg told the council that this particular home has been a “nuisance” in the past, though many of the renters do not cause problems. He said they tried to be “patient” in calling the police when problems occur and questioned what police would have done if things escalated or a shooting occurred.
Lisa case said the noise “continued unabated.” She said she understands hat police officers did not want to do anything to “escalate” the situation.
She said it was a “widely inappropriate event with loud music outdoors with shouting and cursing being heard. She said the property management firm and the renter need to be held accountable, adding that the rental agency was made aware of what was happening.
Her husband, Bill, urged the village to follow through on requiring that language be included in rental agreements to hold the property management companies and property owners liable for any violations, including fines and criminal charges.
“They will be much more careful about who they let in,” he said. “Something has to be done.”
Marcus Larose, owner of Sandhills Rental, which manages the property, offered an apology and promised to make changes in his rental agreements so this does not happen again.
“I’d like to apologize personally for the inconvenience, stress, hardship, the loud and vulgar music,” he said. “Please know that I do not condone this type of behavior. We had no knowledge what was going to happen. … The tenant said the party would stop at 9:30.”
He said this the first time in the 10 years since he started the company that something like this has happened. He also thanked the police department for how it handled the situation.
“We’re living in controversial times,” he said. “I think the police department handled it appropriately. This could have brought our quaint little village to the forefront of the headlines.”
Larose said his firm has “learned from this” and will institute additional restrictions in its rental agreements including the maximum number of people who can be on the property and the maximum number of cars. He said he plans to urge other property management firms to do the same thing.
“This will give us power to stop impermissible parties and terminate the rental agreement should the policy be violated,” he said.
Larose also apologized to Lisa Case, who accused him of being rude to her when she called him the night of the party. He said he was “caught off guard.” He added that he will pay for any property damage caused by the renters.
After hearing from residents. Davis said the council needs to “come back with a game plan.” She also asked Larose to share what changes he makes to rental contracts that would help prevent this kind of thing from happening.
Boesch thanked him “for being a part of the solution.”
Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or email@example.com