Pinehurst village officials are considering the possibility of creating a special zoning district along N.C. 5 for new businesses and offices that could provide some flexibility on landscaping and buffering requirements.
An area known as a “highway corridor overlay district” is tailored to a specific area with provisions beyond what are delineated in the Neighborhood Commercial and Office and Professional zoning districts. The village had such an overlay district in the previous development ordinance, but it is not part of the current one.
Village Council members agreed during their Sept. 11 meeting to go that route rather than give themselves the authority to waive some or all of the landscaping requirements in those two zoning categories, as a business owner on N.C. 5 requested.
“To accept this, we’re opening things more broadly than they need to be opened up,” council member Judy Davis said of giving council that kind of authority. “It becomes a little like my golf game. The only thing consistent about my golf game is that it is inconsistent. And I don’t think we want ordinances like that.”
Village Planner Alex Cameron echoed a comment made by council member Kevin Drum following a public hearing last month that the proposed change could put the council on “a slippery slope” by waiving requirements for some but not others.
“Typically, these type of standards are handled administratively,” he said.
Davis responded, “And I think we want it handled administratively.”
Drum said members of the council are not “experts” on landscaping requirements.
“I always like the idea of being consistent, with leeway for approving a variance to the degree the ordinance says,” council member John Bouldry added.
An applicant can request a variance — a legal term for being exempt from a zoning requirement — if some type of hardship can be proved, which is considered by the quasi-judicial Board of Adjustment.
Cameron explained earlier in the discussion that the current zoning ordinance does allow the planning staff to waive up to 30 percent of some landscaping requirements.
“I do feel more comfortable knowing staff can waive like 30 percent as long as it is in keeping wth the spirit of the ordinance,” Mayor Nancy Fiorillo said.
Vincent Wade, owner of Pinehurst Coins, asked that the development ordinance be changed to give the council the authority to waive requirements in areas zoned Neighborhood Commercial and Office and Professional. The council already has that authority for other non-residential zoning districts.
Pinehurst Coins plans to build a new store in Trotter Hills Office Park. Wade and his representatives say that every site is different and may not need all of the landscaping and buffer the ordinance requires. They say the site where he wants to build a new store in Trotter Hills on N.C. 5 is a prime example.
A number of mature longleaf pines between the site and the highway already provide screening, which could eliminate the need for some of the landscaping the village requires as part of a 30-foot buffer. Wade says the full buffer would effectively block the view of the business from the road.
They also pointed out during the public hearing last month and the follow-up discussion at the Sept. 11 meeting that other businesses and offices that have been built along that area of N.C. 5 were not subjected to the buffer requirement and are in full view from the highway.
Perry Harrison with LKC Engineering, who represents Wade, said their proposal would allow the council to grant waivers in some cases. Harrison said there are some 35 to 38 properties fronting N.C. 5 coming into the village. He said only four would be subjected to the buffer requirement, which “is essentially a screen to block your view.”
He pointed out that the village’s previous development ordinance had a Highway Corridor Overlay District (HCOD) and that some of the landscaping requirement were incorporated in the current ordinance, but that they are “applied equally” to all properties on N.C. 211, U.S. 15-501, Midland Road and N.C. 5.
“There may be a landscaping requirement that is just not applicable to the given context or situation,” Harrison said. “It is in the code that the council should take context of the different parts of Pinehurst into account in making decisions on what is appropriate for Pinehurst, and we just want the opportunity to be able to present that case.”
In response to a question from Fiorillo about whether a 30 percent reduction granted by the staff would help, Harrison said they are trying to “pursue different avenues that may be available to see if there is a compromise position.”
“But I think there is a larger contextual issue with this ordinance where some people are allowed rights and other property owners are not allowed those same rights,” Harrison said of being able to appeal to the council for some relief.
Cameron said earlier in the discussion that Pinehurst Coins has submitted a plan to comply with the requirements of the current ordinance and that a technical review committee is going over them.
Harrison also questioned the fairness of subjecting four properties on N.C. 5 to the buffer requirement while all of the existing businesses are not screened in any way.
Davis said that is because they existed before the requirements of the current zoning ordinance.
Harrison said if there is “a specific vision and look for the corridor, then wouldn’t you want it to apply to all properties along that corridor?” He said ones that are developed now could be redeveloped later and would then be subjected to the buffer requirement.
“I would say I would want to improve the look along Highway 5, and I think this ordinance as written would do that,” Davis said. “And yes you might be one of the only properties that this is being applied to, but it is where we are today.”
Wade, who did not speak at the public hearing last month, told the council that, “We are not trying to lower the standards. We are trying to get rid of what we call a screen. ... The building that is being proposed is a beautiful building, a wonderful addition to Pinehurst, that would just be blocked. It would just look odd to have that building blocked out. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Harrison pointed out that there is undeveloped land on the opposite side of N.C 5. He said that with the rail road tracks running through there, “you get an extremely clear view” of any businesses that are built there.
Fiorillo said the Riney Insurance office in Trotter Hills, which is next to where Pinehurst Coins wants to build, “looks pretty darn good” and it has only plantings around the foundation. She said is not close to the highway.
“I think it depends on the architecture of what is being built,” she said.
Harrison said that building was constructed under the previous development ordinance and overlay district, which required a 50-foot setback from the highway but no buffer to screen it.
Davis responded that vacant sites in Trotter Hills fronting N.C. 5 are close to the highway.
“I think that warrants and merits some type of buffer,” she said. “I don’t know if your plan that you submitted can prevail with the administrative leeway that we have, but I am not feeling a case to change the ordinance based on what I heard so far.”
Harrison said it is “unfortunate” the some businesses do not have the right to be seen from the road while others are visible.
“It almost seems the ordinance is a bit arbitrary,” he said.
Davis responded, “I think the probability that the property wont’t be seen is pretty low.”
But Fiorillo said that once the landscaping required for the buffer grows to maturity, it won’t be seen, “kind of like Hilton Head.”
Village resident Tom Campbell brought up the Hilton Head comparison during the public hearing last month. He said even with the screening requirements, people have no troubling finding the businesses.
“Is that the desire?” Harrison asked of completely screening buildings from view along the highway.
Davis said N.C. 5 is “a primary gateway into Pinehurst” coming from Aberdeen.
“I for one want to have a character change as you come into Pinehurst and not so much look like a retail strip as it does in the Aberdeen section of N.C. 5,” she said.
The Food Lion shopping center just beyond the Jackson Hamlet community south of Pinehurst is actually in the Aberdeen town limits, as a result of a satellite annexation years ago.
Harrison asked if Pinehurst South, which has a mix of offices, a few retail businesses and banks, “looks objectionable.”
“This will be more flora and fauna,” Davis said of the landscaping and buffering. “That will be beneficial to the character of the village.”
Harrison said another reason for seeking a reduction in the landscaping is to cut down understory trees to protect the habitat of the endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, which nest in some of older longleaf pines on the site.
Fiorillo said that she still has a concern that four properties in this area are being treated differently than others because of the buffer requirement.
“If you look at the context and you have 20 properties with minimal landscaping and you are going to make four be screened ... it just doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Drum said his concern is not about this particular site. He said by changing the ordinance, it would apply to all property zoned Neighborhood Commercial and Office and Professional throughout the village.
“I think there should be another process,” he said. “It just doesn’t exist right now.”
He thanked Wade and Harrison for the presentation and their arguments, which have caused the council to think about coming up with a way to address this issue.
Fiorillo suggested creating an overlay district specifically for that area of N.C. 5. She said the village could come up with something that would be “a little less screening and more plantings that complement the properties where there are large pines.”
Village Manager Jeff Sanborn agreed that an overlay district “is a more targeted way to deal with this.”
Harrison said there needs to be a way now for his client to avoid having to put in a 30-foot buffer to screen his building from view but still have “something that is tasteful and still be in the best interest of the village.”
“We really want Trotter Hills to develop and not be completely hidden,” she said. “It can be tastefully landscaped. I don’t think a 30-foot buffer is the way to do that.”