TEASER Aerial View of Pinehurst Village

Aerial view of the Village of Pinehurst. (Photograph by Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot)

As work enters the home stretch on the final draft of a comprehensive long-range plan for Pinehurst, consultants and village leaders face a “tricky” balancing act.

It will be hard to discount concerns of those who want to put the brakes on more growth.

“We have heard a lot of feedback very loud and clear,” Assistant Village Manager Natalie Hawkins said in a wide-ranging discussion on the draft plan during the Village Council’s June 25 work session. “There is a very large number of residents who do not want to see Pinehurst grow.”

But Hawkins said other residents say they would also like to see “walkable” communities with certain services and parks so they can drive their kids to soccer practice, shop or eat out and not have to go through the Traffic Circle.

“There are demands for things that we don’t have inside of our limits that are being expressed by residents,” Hawkins said. “So what we have to do is balance the needs of those in our community against what is in the best interest of the community as a whole long term.”

One of the proposals to accommodate those who want to see additional growth that will help protect the character of the village is allowing what are called “conservation neighborhoods” in the rural areas to the west in the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) just outside its corporate limits. Those would include some retail, restaurants, maybe some offices and a variety of residential housing — from high-density multi-family in the center and larger single-family homes in the outer areas. It would require that 50 percent of the space be open, which could include parks and recreational facilities.

The premise is that residents would not have to drive elsewhere for certain things. But some council members remain skeptical about whether that is realistic.

From the start of the process with a community kickoff in June 2018, consultants have made clear that it would not be realistic to completely shut down growth, and that such a policy would have far-reaching financial ramifications on village revenues to continue providing services residents demand.

They have said repeatedly that growth pressures will increase, especially on the fringes of the village and its ETJ — the area beyond its corporate limits it controls through zoning — and that the village needs to be prepared in order to protect its character.

That premise has permeated some of the recommendations contained in the draft plan, which has stirred concerns among residents who do not buy into such a philosophy. They believe a no-growth policy is realistic, and that a pro-development stance should not be driving the planning process.

Resident John Webster, who addressed the council during the public comment period of the regular business meeting prior to the work session, expressed concerns that residents who attended a recent two-day open house on the draft plan were asked to “accept a vision of the consultants, which is basically that you have to develop or your taxes will go up.”

“Frankly, I’d like to see the future of this place be determined by its residents, not by some outside consultants,” Webster said. “This notion you have to have growth or you will be be taxed (more) isn’t true.”

He added that “small lip service is paid to the subject of preserving the longleaf pine ecosystem we have here. It’s all about development.”

Webster also urged the council to hold off adopting the new comprehensive plan until after the election in November so it can be one of the issues in the campaigns. He said that will give residents an opportunity to know where candidates stand.

“This comp plan has been a long time coming,” Webster said. “Yet now it has to be approved with great urgency befe the election. … Let the actual decision on the plan be taken by the council who actually has to implement it.”

Hawkins said during a wide-ranging discussion at the work session following the regular meeting that village changed the process in March to incorporate more public input in developing the draft plan.

“The change has made the development of the plan more transparent for the public and allowed them to participate and their voice be heard, and that it not be management’s plan,” she told the council. “The process has been changed to get broad public input.”

Village officials developed five specific areas of focus that staff and the consultants wanted additional public input on before finalizing recommendations in the plan. That was the main thrust of the comprehensive plan open house last month at the Fair Barn.

The five areas are:

• Existing extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) – Linden Road area;

• N.C. 5 – Pinehurst South/Trotter Hills area;

• Hospital district;

• Village Place/Rattlesnake Trail corridor; and

• N.C. 211 – North of Pinewild and south of N.C. 211.

Having designated areas will help planners formulate maps to show where residents think growth should and should not occur in the future.

The council reviewed the public input and staff recommendations on the those five areas during the June 25 work session. The council was to continue its discussion Tuesday evening on any additional direction for the consultants as they prepare the final draft that is to be submitted Aug. 30.

Council members said they are aware of the sentiment being expressed by residents that development seems to be driving the process.

Council member Jack Farrell questioned how long the village will keep going “back and forth” with the consultants before it “takes ownership and then be free to make any changes.”

Hawkins said once the final draft is delivered to the village on Aug. 30, the village can do what it pleases.

But council member Kevin Drum took exception to the notion that the consultants are driving the process.

“We’ve always had control,” he said. “This whole fallacy that the consultant has control, we just need to end that thought. We are responsible.”

Farrell said a resident who attended the recent comp plan open house said it seems to be pro-development.

“The feeling was we didn’t have control of this,” he said.

Mayor Nancy Fiorillo said it is incumbent on council members to dispel those notions.

“The consultants are not coming here and telling us what to do,” she said. “We are giving them all of this information, and they have laid out a path for us. Anytime we wanted to change that path, we do. We need to dispel that rumor. We need to make that loud and clear.”

Farrell interjected, “We just have to step up to the plate now.”

Drum said the council has not delegated any of its authority to the consultants, but that it should at least listen to what they have to say.

“We’re getting them to help,” he said. “We asked them to come here.”

Village Manager Jeff Sanborn said these various growth scenarios that the consultants were seeking feedback on at the open house have been discussed for some time. Hawkins added that the consultants just wanted to hear more public feedback “to see if it resonates with residents or not” before finalizing their recommendations.

“What they are trying to do is make sure they got public input before being influenced by the council, by the staff,” Drum said, adding that the process was set up to prevent it from being “steered” in any particular way by a steering committee or the council. “The transparency is great.”

Mayor Pro Tem John Bouldry said he is “comfortable” with the various growth scenarios and options.

“We may merge options or remove things,” he said. “I’m comfortable being conservative and cautious.”

Bouldry said once the plan is adopted, it should be reviewed annually, and as things change, another council can revise it.

“In order for this to be successful, there has to be constant review and update,” he said.

Bouldry added he sees no need to delay adopting the plan until after the election, given the work and public input that has gone into it.

“I’m in favor of getting it done,” he said. “What I worry about if we postpone this — it’s a well-taken point (Webster) made — that it is going to take another six months or so for it to get done.”

Council member Judy Davis said the various recommendations and proposals provided by village staff based on the input at the open house last month serve as “though starters” for the council trying to reach consensus and “narrow them down.”

“We’ve got to look at what the population impact will be, the traffic input, the cumulative effect,” Davis said, noting that traffic has been at the top of nearly everyone’s list of concerns about growth.

Davis added that once the final draft of the plan is turned over to the village, more public input will be sought as it goes through hearings and review by the Think Tank, Planning and Zoning Board and the Village Council before it is adopted.

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

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