Southern Pines is entering a transformational stage. Whether it knows that or not is an open question, but a near certainty is the change that will occur over the next several years.
The town’s two major corridors — U.S. 1 and 15-501 — are set for a dramatic re-engineering that will affect traffic flow and businesses along them. Its third major corridor, Morganton Road, is undergoing substantive development now. A new medical complex is nearing completion, with more construction coming. And across the street, the Town Council recently approved a multi-year mixed use development of retail, offices and multi-family living.
Add to that substantive development pressures on west Southern Pines on two ends, growth out near Sandhills Community College and a bustling downtown, and it’s understandable why Southern Pines planners don’t have a minute to spare.
Accordingly, growth has been the central issue in this year’s Town Council races. Four are vying to fill two seats. Mike Saulnier, appointed two years ago to fill out Carol Haney’s term when she moved up to be mayor, is running for a full four-year term along with fellow candidates Taylor Clement, Brandon Goodman and Ann Petersen.
In a primary election earlier this month to pare down the ballot to four names, Petersen and Clement were the top two vote-getters. Having interviewed all four, we see no reason to argue with that logic. The Pilot endorses Taylor Clement and Ann Petersen for Southern Pines Town Council.
Clement, who co-owns the downtown business Casino Guitars with her husband, Baxter, has long been an advocate for the town’s charms and its family-friendly scale of living. But it was her role as a board member of the Moore Montessori Community School that sparked a need to do more. In lobbying for the Board of Education to sell the old Southern Pines Elementary School May Street Campus to the charter school, Clement saw a need to improve what she believed to be short-sighted decision making and thinking.
“We need better plans,” she said. “Growth is coming. We can’t shut the door.”
Clement is all about fostering a culture-rich community — preserving the town’s key strength — while also helping guide future growth. In particular, she says the predominantly Black residents of West Southern Pines “deserve to participate in this growth.” While those residents have expressed concerns about higher tax values and higher tax bills because of neighboring growth, she sees an opportunity to grow generational wealth for those families.
With her background as a certified financial planner and her experience running a business and raising a young family, Clement brings a needed perspective to the council.
Petersen, a longtime Southern Pines resident, has spent years oftentimes leading with her heart. She gave up a law career in order to teach. She retired earlier this year after a successful career at Pinecrest High School.
Together with her late husband, Bruce Cunningham, Petersen was frequently at the forefront of key community-building initiatives in Southern Pines, including construction of a “discovery center” park at the former primary school campus that garnered national attention and accolades.
Petersen has been wanting for 10 years to run for office and says she now has the time to put toward the role.
Petersen’s three goals are maintaining the town’s culture — she crows that the town still has “a cooperative government” — maintaining its historical values and ensuring growth is “sustainable and carefully thought out.”
In West Southern Pines, Petersen sees the town working with nonprofit organizations to work on planning, fostering financial awareness and guaranteeing that residents have a voice in what growth occurs.
Petersen, long a passionate advocate, speaks candidly about sometimes “needing to check my heart at the door” on issues. Combined with a keen analytical mind and a long history of community service, Petersen’s strength of heart should make for a good council member.