It was intended — and received — as a joke, but the truth of the comment last week from Pinehurst Senior Planner Alex Cameron was missed by no one.

“Pinehurst has a reputation,” he said, “of requiring a permit for everything.”

The comment was part of a much larger discussion at the village’s Planning and Zoning Board meeting. Board members were discussing if they could institute ways to prevent builders from denuding lots of mature trees. Cameron said there were a number of methods the village could employ, including addressing clear-cutting in the permitting process.

Of the hot-button issues in Pinehurst, the matter of clear-cutting trees glows white-hot. The issue was called out time and again by residents over the past year as a chief concern to address in the village’s new comprehensive land-use plan.

State Sen. Tom McInnis, whose district includes Moore County, introduced a bill earlier this year in Raleigh that basically would take away municipalities’ authority over its trees unless they got special permission by the state. McInnis said the bill wasn’t meant to target Pinehurst, but village officials felt differently and thought a message was being delivered.

In the end, McInnis put this bill on ice when he couldn’t get consensus from local towns and builders. But it’s not dead, so last week’s discussion by Pinehurst has us thinking the village is poking the bear with a stick.

Beefing It Up

We said the last time this issue came up that McInnis’ bill was overreaching and effectively punitive for communities that are trying to balance developers’ interests with those of existing residents. Character, appearance, zoning and other local matters should be the purview of our municipalities, not the state.

So while we certainly side with Pinehurst and its local brethren, we sense a detente that has set in could be in jeopardy once more.

The village’s planning board clearly wants to take on tree clearing. Cameron spoke of “a growing concern” from some property owners who have complained of developers clearing a lot but then leaving it unbuilt on for several months, which can lead to soil erosion and other problems.

Village officials are looking at ways they won’t run afoul of any state regulation, should McInnis unpocket his bill. For instance, the village could require a developer have an “active development permit.” Or that the village could limit tree removal to a new home’s footprint. Or the village could consider “beefing up” the number and type of trees that would have to remain on a property.

Here is where we would insert an “eye roll” emoji. Really guys?

Too Clever For Their Own Good

Clear-cutting a lot is wrong, and most of us agree. Doing so and then planting back those itty-bitty ornamental or specimen trees like bradford pears, hollies or dogwoods is a weak substitute for what mature-growth trees add to a neighborhood and a property.

But if Pinehurst continues climbing out on this limb of regulation, it is risking someone coming behind them and sawing it off. One can get too clever for their own good, and this sounds like Pinehurst right now.

For a community that prides itself on bedrock conservative principles, it’s long been the poster child of activist government that trips over its own worst bureaucratic inclinations.

Perhaps rather than trying to turn contrivance into cleverness, the village might sit down with representatives of the building community. Is there a peaceable middle that could be struck that makes aesthetic and business sense? We bet there is.

This General Assembly has shown it has little love for local governments, and especially ones that are too activist. Charlotte and its “bathroom bill” are a good example. Pinehurst is quickly emerging that way.

(2) comments

John Webster

So, let's roll over and play dead? There is no middle ground when state legislators strive to foster a free-for-all developer agenda to please their main contributors. Pinehurst must have done something right if the developers want to make money here. Overdevelop it and the despised retirees will stop relocating to Pinehurst. Who will pay the taxes then?

Chris Smithson

"For a community that prides itself on bedrock conservative principles, it’s long been the poster child of activist government that trips over its own worst bureaucratic inclinations."

Having spent 10 years in local government, I can tell you that everyone is a big libertarian until a neighboring property owner wants to do something they don't like.

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