Recently, there have been a couple of Pinehurst issues that strike a chord with me.
First is the village’s desire to extend its extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction (ETJ) west along N.C. 211 and northward of its present village zoning limits. Village residents have requested that the council set standards for new development in these areas to ensure that it is compatible with the development already in the urbanized area of Pinehurst.
This desire reflects a fundamental principle of allowing municipal zoning jurisdiction to extend to newly developing areas. Adjacent areas develop in more intense uses as the existing developed areas fill up and the market responds to the demand for more houses, businesses and other uses. The area becomes more urbanized, and the new uses should be organized in a compatible fashion with the existing urban area rather than the farther-out rural areas.
Municipal zoning reflects those more urbanized uses. In contrast, non-municipal (i.e., county) zoning and development standards, where they exist in North Carolina, typically reflect rural land uses. Since areas under county zoning do not typically contain urbanized areas, their zoning standards often do not contain the same features as municipal zoning because they have no need to.
Opposition to Pinehurst’s request has arisen from existing resident landowners in the area proposed to be covered by an expanded ETJ. They do not wish to comply with Pinehurst’s standards now or as they envision how they might use their land in the future.
Interestingly to me, from what I have read about Pinehurst’s interest in extending its ETJ, its motivation does not seem to be to change current land uses in the area. Rather, the village is interested in how the area adjoining it changes as new nonresident owners (typically developers) come in and seek fundamental changes in the intensity of land use.
It strikes me that these two interests of the village and the existing resident landowners are not necessarily in conflict. The challenge lies in trying to reconcile these temporally separated interests using the existing zoning framework allowed under state law. Are there officials at the village and county levels who can use creative ways to protect the interests of the current resident landowners while also ensuring that new development is compatible with the national treasure that is the village of Pinehurst?
Another issue facing the village relates to its landscaping requirements for new development. A developer contends that the council should be involved in approving landscaping plans. From news reports it appears this proposed change is the result of some unique aspects of his site. Rather than comply with the existing regulations, he wants the council to have, by law, the discretion to approve plans which do not comply with the existing ordinance, but take into account his site’s unique features. The Village Council has decided not to pursue this.
I applaud the council’s decision because I believe that such discretion is a failure of legislating. Rather than adopt a detailed ordinance that considers all of the facts, the law becomes a generalized statement of desires. This produces several undesirable results.
Consider this from the standpoint of a citizen who cares about the village’s landscaping standards (to use the example at hand). Instead of reviewing and offering input on a landscaping ordinance one time prior to adoption, now you would need to follow every landscaping proposal that comes up for approval. You would be forced to offer your input multiple times over many years. This places an unnecessary burden on citizens.
From the developers’ standpoint, they can either potentially find a receptive council that would allow them to do whatever they want, or a council that would make arbitrary demands on them. Uncertainty would be one result. Another result would be increasing the importance of paid advocates like land planners or attorneys who develop the ability to convince councils to do what they request.
If circumstances arise that were not considered when an ordinance was first written, then the response should be to study the issue and amend the ordinance to reflect these circumstances so that every subsequent applicant in similar circumstances has to meet the same legal requirements. I know this can be done, since I led that process many times during my career.
The end results are laws that apply to everyone equally and with certainty. We should expect nothing less from our government, and we should all be glad that this is the course the Village Council has decided to pursue.