Recently there have been a couple of news stories dealing with communities opposed to change in High Falls and the Donald Ross Drive neighborhood in Pinehurst.

In the first instance, Unique Places LLC owns a dam on the Deep River that they plan to remove in order to save the Cape Fear shiner from extinction. This minnow is estimated to have a breeding population of only 1,500 fish. The fish only breeds in a shallow water habitat. Dam removal would recreate more of its favored habitat.

Residents of the area are opposed to the dam removal for aesthetic reasons, as they enjoy views of the water falling over the dam. While Unique Places points out that dam removal will enhance recreational use of the river by canoes and kayaks, at least one area resident questions that rationale and suggests that this will make the area more attractive for development.

Reading the news coverage, I was struck by the lack of context in the reporting. This dam removal is discussed as if it is a one-off effort, and motives seem to be attributed on that basis.

However, it is not a one-off effort. Dams across the country are being removed in order to improve aquatic habitat. While I lived in Delaware, I served as chairman of an organization that managed a National Wild and Scenic River on behalf of the National Park Service. We were responsible for protecting, preserving and enhancing the natural attributes of this waterway.

One significant part of the effort was allowing anadromous fish to migrate upstream for the first time since 1777. In that year a gristmill and dam were constructed on the river, blocking various species of shad from their ancient spawning waters. Our organization received dam removal funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the same funding source Unique Places plans to use on its dam removal.

Working with various partners, the dam was breached and fish were able to migrate upstream for the first time in over 230 years. And that was not the only dam removed in this country that same year. There were 72 dams removed, restoring 730 miles of aquatic habitat.

The effort to remove dams has been going on for many years. In fact, just downstream on the Deep River, the Carbonton Dam was removed previously. Clearly there is no nefarious intent in the planned removal of the Deep River dam at High Falls. It is intended to restore the natural environment.

It is being undertaken by its owner as allowed by law just as any owner of private property can choose to demolish structures which no longer meet his needs. (The fact that Moore County government is considering interfering with the dam owner’s property rights seems incongruous for a Republican-controlled board.)

Meanwhile, farther south, residents in the Donald Ross Drive neighborhood are opposed to a group home which they define as a commercial use.

One resident points out that “the majority of our neighbors are seniors; residents of all ages are welcome. No one opposes quality care for the elderly; the group home designation would allow this to be a home for people with temporary or permanent physical, mental or emotional disabilities.”

Let’s ignore the characteristics of the people who will be living there and focus on the form and use of the group home compared with other homes in the area.

The form of the building is a house, just like other houses in the neighborhood.

The use of the building will be to house residents, just like any other house in the neighborhood. Those residents will have caregivers on site who can assist them with the functions of daily living. Any other neighborhood resident can have caregivers assist them in their homes.

Most local governments do not regulate who owns or rents a house, nor whether there are unrelated people choosing to live under one roof together.

So how — in form or use — is a group home different from the form or use of any other home in the neighborhood?

There is really no difference. But as we are seeing here in Pinehurst, there is a reason that the state has passed a law that protects the residents of group homes from exclusionary zoning efforts. Far too often, we oppose those who are somehow different from us. Fortunately, one of the strengths of our society has been to recognize this tendency and to use our laws to ensure a more just union for everyone.

Kyle Sonnenberg, who served as Southern Pines town manager from 1988 to 2004, has returned in retirement after a three-decade career in city management in three states.

(1) comment

Kent Misegades

Assuming beavers constructed a solid dam across a stream that impeded the migration of those minnows no one ever sees, would it be correct to remove the beaver dam? Why aren’t the actions of the most intelligent creature on the planet, man, given as much importance as that of a minnow?

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