Comp Plan Open House

Residents look over proposals at an open house on the draft comprehensive plan June 17-18 at the Fair Barn.

With about 83 percent of the land area inside Pinehurst’s corporate limits developed or preserved as open space, the greatest growth potential lies beyond its borders.

There, 59 percent of the land in what is called the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) is undeveloped. Because of that, pressures to rezone rural land to accommodate new subdivisions is mounting.

This ETJ area is one of five intensive areas of focus for consultants who have been helping Pinehurst formulate its new comprehensive long-range plan. Recently, the village has sought additional public feedback on how that area should grow — or not.

The area being studied is primarily to the west, going out Linden Road. Among the various scenarios offered, residents who offered comments were nearly evenly divided on leaving things as they are now or an option that calls for allowing one or two self-contained “conservation neighborhoods.” On the remaining land, the zoning density would be lowered to minimum 10-acre lots. That would be twice the size of what the current zoning now requires.

While those two scenarios were the most popular, both gave Pinehurst Village Council members some pause, especially raising the size of lots, an action known as “downzoning.”

Assistant Village Manager Natalie Hawkins said downzoning much of the ETJ was the “tradeoff” for allowing a more dense conservation neighborhood somewhere in the middle of a rural area.

Much like a planned unit development, such neighborhoods would have retail and commercial in the center, with higher density residential, such as town-

homes or condominiums. The density would decrease moving outward from the center, with larger lots and homes.

Conservation neighborhood designations would also require that 50 percent of the total land area of the development be open space, which would include parks.

The concept would create a “walkable” community, which residents have indicated they would like to see in the village, Hawkins reminded the council.

Road Impacts

Future growth of that area, however, could also be impacted by a highway bypass known as the Western Connector, which has had its own ongoing debate for a number of years. The Moore County Comprehensive Transportation Plan includes a connector that spans from N.C. 211 west of the village to U.S. 1 south of Aberdeen. Its primary objective would be to alleviate some of the congestion on N.C. 5 and provide more access as those areas grow.

Hawkins said the consultants’ “professional opinion” was that the village plan should include the bypass.

“We shouldn’t ignore it,” council member Judy Davis said.

Council member Kevin Drum added, “We are dealing with reality.”

Council member Jack Farrell agreed, but suggested it would be years before a bypass is ever built.

The transportation plan projects what might be needed to accommodate growth though 2040.

“We will do a thorough update of the plan before it is ever built,” Village Manager Jeff Sanborn said of Pinehurst’s new comprehensive plan. For instance, this new plan will replace one created in 2010.

Farrell said a bypass could also serve future development that occurs out in that area. Without it, Linden Road would be the main connection. He noted that Linden comes out on both ends on N.C. 5, “which is a minor crisis at this point and time.”

Farrell questioned whether it “is realistic” to put additional population in that mostly rural area now, since their only way in and out to go shopping, to work or take their children to school and other activities would be Linden Road and on to N.C. 5.

“It just doesn’t seem reasonable,” Farrell said, adding the road infrastructure needs to be in place before new development is allowed beyond what the zoning now allows.

Farrell said he would rather see the zoning left as it is now with minimum 5-acre lots and consider the idea of a conservation neighborhood when the road network can handle it.

“Urban Sprawl?”

But how much more traffic could there be? The concept of a conservation neighborhood is to provide some services, such as retail and park space, so residents would not have to drive elsewhere. Hawkins added that residents of the nearby Lake Pinehurst area and Pinewild Country Club off Linden could also benefit from the shops, restaurants and parks in a conservation neighborhood.

Farrell countered that right now, Linden Road running off N.C. 5 is the only main way in and out, unless someone is willing to drive to Foxfire and over to N.C. 211, which is unlikely.

“So the alternatives are limited in this area,” he said. “The infrastructure realistically limits their options.”

Farrell said he also had concerns about downzoning property in the ETJ, since those residents cannot vote for council members.

“They moved there obviously for a reason,” he said. “Their expectation of the community was probably formed as to what they thought would be built around them. To suddenly turn that upside down at least for some seems a little unreasonable.”

Sanborn countered that growth would be much greater if the area is left to develop as it is now.

“It is not rural,” he said of the potential for total build out. “It is urban sprawl. It’s a mess. We’d all be better served to concentrate development (in a conservation neighborhood) and try to protect the rest of it.”

Davis noted that residents were almost evenly split on whether to leave the area as-is or downzone it. She said it makes sense to have something that incorporates both sides.

Hawkins said more than 68 percent of residents who have registered opinions have said they want to have walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with large open spaces.

“Keeping the remaining area at a 5-acre minimum, you’ve just exacerbated the very things that we’ve heard residents say they don’t want, which is more traffic, more people,” Hawkins said. “How do you accommodate residents who are saying ‘we want this’ and also keep the rural feel of the ETJ, which is also important to another segment of the population?”

Mayor Nancy Fiorillo said additional density is needed to achieve a walkable community with the things people say they want to walk to — shops, restaurants and parks.

Deep Pockets

Davis questioned whether those who have indicated that they want walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods would be willing to move out to a more rural area.

But Sanborn said this plan has to look at accommodating the “next generation of residents who want to come here.”

“We’re using today’s residents as a proxy of what future residents might want,” he said.

Drum said he thought one of the driving forces was also about reducing traffic where possible by allowing some basic services to be closer to where people live.

Farrell was also skeptical that someone would be interested in developing a conservation neighborhood.

“It is a big jump to assume a developer will build all of that,” he said, adding that future residents would still have to “get in their car and get out on Linden Road and N.C. 5 whether they like it or not. That’s today’s reality.

“I like the concept in the right place, maybe a location in that general area. They are incredibly attractive if we can find a developer with deep pockets.”

Fiorillo said the village doesn’t necessarily have to identify a specific location, just have a policy that it could be allowed in this part of the ETJ.

Road Support Critical

Drum added that the plan is also intended to provide a vision for future growth, and that there is support for conservation neighborhoods.

But Mayor Pro Tem John Bouldry said it all comes back to whether the roads can handle the growth. He noted that many residents said in written comments at the open house “if there is not infrastructure, don’t build the thing.”

“So the infrastructure and the road networks are pretty critical,” he said.

Bouldry said it will be years before a Western Connector is ever built to help alleviate congestion on N.C. 5. In the meantime, new projects like the recently approved Blake Village off N.C. 5 in Aberdeen and a new elementary school also nearby will increase traffic on that highway.

“That is what worries me,” he said. “That is why I say we should be very careful and cautious here. A conservation neighborhood is intriguing. What if they build this before the road infrastructure is there?”

He said this is something the village can take a closer look at in the future.

Farrell agreed, calling Bouldry’s proposal a “pragmatic” approach, and the village can revisit this issue “when things change.”

But Drum said the village needs to take steps now to “conserve” this area since it would be ideal for this type of development rather than just sitting back “and allow stuff to happen.”

“We have to show some vision,” he said. “If we do this, this doesn’t stop someone from putting in a 40-acre horse farm out there.”

Hawkins said this is basically a future land-use map to show what would be ideal in the ETJ.

“You will be pressured by developers in the future to approve a subdivision in this neighborhood,” she said. “If you want places for future residents to live, now is the time to identify where it might be.”

Drum agreed that it is important for the village to have a plan in place when and if development occurs in the ETJ.

“I hope this plan inspires people,” he said. “Our public is demanding us to think long term. I just think putting our heads in the sand and doing nothing is not responsible.”

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

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