When local businesses began reopening last June under state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions, the Southern Pines Town Council passed a resolution waiving certain zoning standards. The intent was to provide relief during a challenging time by allowing the use of temporary signs, and relaxing regulations related to curbside parking and outdoor dining.
With overall pandemic numbers trending in the right direction, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper announced last week that nearly all restrictions affecting businesses and social gatherings could be lifted by summer.
So, during Monday’s work session, town leaders considered both how and when it would be appropriate to return to a more normalized enforcement of zoning standards. The resolution from June 3, 2020, was written to remain in effect until the end of Phase 2 state restrictions.
Planning Director BJ Grieve said exemptions related to temporary signage have become problematic, and what is permitted is frequently misunderstood by businesses. The issue is particularly noticeable on weekends, he added, when code enforcement staff are not working.
“Some areas of town are experiencing a signage arms race,” Grieve said, wherein neighboring businesses are putting out more and more temporary signs “in a race to be the business that can grab the most attention.”
The current Executive Order allows restaurants to operate at 100 percent capacity for outdoor seating and up to 75 percent for indoor seating. The town’s existing ordinances provide outdoor seating restrictions but do not prohibit the practice. Grieve suggested that if a restaurant chooses to provide a more permanent curbside takeout location, it may be the appropriate time for that business to look at design modifications that comply with town standards for safe access and parking.
Councilman Mike Saulnier said the “exit” from last year’s resolution needs to be conducted in an orderly manner. He recommended announcing a specific date, in advance, so businesses and town staff understand when code enforcement will resume normal operations.
“I’d like to see something done with sidewalk seating (for businesses) to really take advantage of that,” Saulnier added.
Town Manager Reagan Parsons said the intent is to provide adequate notice to businesses prior to making any changes to the temporary easing of restrictions. He also noted the state has not yet issued changes to the more recent accommodations for outdoor alcohol service from restaurants.
In other discussion on Monday, the Southern Pines Town Council:
Heard an update from Sarah Odio with the Development Finance Initiative (DFI) on the market analysis study of a 20-acre town-owned tract on Morganton Road. DFI was hired to provide pre-development services including a market analysis report. Odio said the property is suitable for retail development, potentially some office space if there is a pre-leasing requirement, and recommended consideration of multi-family housing to meet the needs of low-income senior residents. DFI also drafted a list of proposed guiding public interests that include a mixed use activity center that will align with West Southern Pines neighborhood revitalization goals, complement existing uses along the Morganton Road corridor, minimize public investment and attract private investment for any future projects. A series of community meetings to gather public input are planned, but have not yet been scheduled.
Heard an update from Parsons on the proposed FY’22 Budget. Police Chief Nick Polidori and Fire Chief Mike Cameron reviewed their current organizational structures and provided a detailed explanation of how their requests for additional personnel would be utilized.
Unanimously approved a three-year lease renewal with the Sandhills Sandsharks to continue to use the town’s pool for year-round operations. The new lease continues the Sandsharks practice of using the pool exclusively in the off-season, sharing space during the summer and splitting costs of necessary pool supplies, including chemicals. The Sandsharks also provide lifeguard training classes and swim class opportunities through a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of the Sandhills.
Unanimously approved a request from Moore County Schools to vacate a section of right-of-way on the former Southern Pines Primary campus, at W. Massachusetts Avenue and S. Glover Street. A virtual public hearing was held on April 13.
Scheduled a public hearing on May 5 to consider an installment financing agreement for the Whitehall Tract. The town made a partial payment on the 157-acre property in Dec 2020.