When I was looking through my file of past column clippings the other day, a couple of headlines caught my eye.
“Some Things I Love About Southern Pines” read the first one, from May 16, 2002. The second, which appeared four years later, on March 8, 2006, said of Moore County as a whole: “Our Blessed Remoteness is One of our Strengths.”
Wife Brenda and I still love this wonderful little place as much as we did when we and daughter Kate moved here nearly a quarter-century ago, way back in August of 1997. But with so much development pouring in — and with a county population that recently topped the milestone level of 100,000 — this still-wonderful place no longer feels quite as blessedly remote or unique, does it?
That first column spoke of loving the “funky, eclectic look” of the homes in this area.
“No matter what neighborhood you’re in,” I wrote, “you seldom see a group of homes (or even two in a row) that give the impression of having been built in cookie-cutter design. Each one is individual — and some downright odd — and proud of it. Architectural eccentricity coexists peacefully with conservatism, humility snuggles comfortably up to affluence.”
That is still true in some old neighborhoods like ours on Weymouth Road. But the more I’ve driven around in Southern Pines or in adjoining Pinehurst or Aberdeen over the years, the more I’ve been struck by the advent of so many new neighborhoods, many or most of which are presumably filled mostly with newcomers — and most of which can only be described as cookie- cutter.
And there are more such neighborhoods (if that’s what they are) to come.
It’s been just a few weeks since Southern Pines approved the controversial plan for a 276-unit apartment complex in the Patrick’s Pointe area along U.S. 1. This development has been bitterly opposed by nearby residents — who, according to Pilot reporter Evey Weisblat, view it as “incompatible with the character of their neighborhood.”
Then there are the even more recently revealed plans — still tentative — for the so-called Morganton Road Apartments across from Memorial Park in Southern Pines. According to documents submitted to the town, this complex would consist of 150 units on 4.4 acres of land.
To get a better idea of the area involved, try driving out there and looking around, as we did the other day. I’m talking about an area roughly bordered on two adjoining sides by Morganton Road on the north and South Bennett Street on the east. Running up roughly through the middle is little-known, dead-ended Gatewood Avenue — which in reality looks more like an alley than an avenue.
It hasn’t been that many years or decades since that boxed-in area boasted several thriving businesses: a restaurant, a pawnshop, an upholstery shop, a business called Greyfox Outdoor, and so on. Now, though, all you see are maybe a half-dozen old buildings, some of them quite large and cumbersome — but all of which are now standing there empty and deteriorating amid overgrown weeds and big, ragged holes in the pavement and lewd messages scrawled on dirty windows.
It’s hard to see how bulldozing all those wrecks and replacing them with 150 brand-new, shiny apartments in three towering buildings could be considered anything but an improvement. Still, when John T. Patrick bought 675 acres of land for $1,265 back in 1884 and began forming what would become the town of Southern Pines, this is not exactly what he had in mind, is it?
Things change, often for what seems like the worst. And yes, we have to adapt. But lately, it is hard to argue with those who complain that it feels as if things around here are getting out of control in terms of growth and change and loss.
We have to fight that — though on balance, I still can’t think of anyplace else in the world where I’d rather live out my retirement years.
On that note, allow me to close by quoting myself again — from that 2002 piece about things to love about this place:
“I love the tolerant, worldly, laid-back, live-and-let-live atmosphere that prevails in Southern Pines. No one puts on airs or looks down at his neighbors. Everyone seems more than happy to share the good life here without asking too many questions about who you are or where you came from.”
Amen. Let’s try hard to keep it that way.
Steve Bouser is the retired editor and Opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.