As would be expected of longtime neighbors, Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen have had issues with each other over the years. So when they agreed earlier this year to improve their cooperation on planning, that was a substantial accomplishment.
Specifically, the three agreed to have their professional staff share information regarding “zoning requests, special use permits, subdivisions and site plans” that would be within a quarter-mile of a shared border.
Like many agreements, the best of intentions can, in practice, not quite work out the way everyone thought, especially when the details are not thoroughly hashed out.
The first such project to test this new cooperative pact is a doozy: Blake Village, a proposed 119-acre mixed-use development in Aberdeen off N.C. 5, adjacent to Pinehurst and the unincorporated area of Jackson Hamlet. The plan is an ambitious one and somewhat novel for Moore County. It is not your average subdivision.
Objections Rise Up
Although the Blake Village project is fully in Aberdeen, it’s been mostly Pinehurst objecting to it — much to the consternation of Aberdeen.
During an Aberdeen Planning Board meeting last month, most of the opposition came from Pinehurst residents who live nearby in the Country Club of North Carolina. Opponents disapproved of the proposed size, its density, the traffic impact on N.C. 5, and its setbacks from CCNC.
The Aberdeen Planning Board ultimately agreed, recommending its rejection for those reasons.
Then the Pinehurst Village Council, in the spirit of the interlocal agreement on sharing information, shared its view. Its comments made the Aberdeen board look tame.
“I am very glad the Aberdeen Planning Board turned it down,” Pinehurst Mayor Nancy Fiorillo said to some applause during the council discussion. “It is enormous. … It is a very large development on a very, very busy road. I just don’t see how the infrastructure could possibly handle this.”
Meanwhile, you could kind of sense the professional staff wincing a bit, worried that this really positive joint agreement was being misconstrued. Village Manager Jeff Sanborn suggested to his council that, while their feedback was “appropriate,” he wanted to send that back “in a friendly way to our partners.”
Don’t Scuttle a Good Thing
What did the three towns mean by “sharing”?
Response so far to the “shared information” is not doing a whole lot to encourage the three towns’ professional staffs that they got this thing right.
“That is simply not fair to an applicant to have their project discussed by another jurisdiction where the information may not be complete,” Aberdeen Town Manager Paul Sabiston said when the three municipal staffs got together last week.
Whatever your view of the Blake Village project, ultimately the project is Aberdeen’s responsibility. What Pinehurst thinks is all well and good — the village and its residents’ views have some merit — but Aberdeen has to make its decision based on its guidelines, desires and best intentions.
Still, this interlocal agreement is not a bad thing. Had something like this been in place over the last few years, there would have been much more discussion about projects that have impacts far beyond municipal borders. That’s a smart way for our planners to address growth.
We’ve already seen that a little farther north, where Moore County planners have sought Pinehurst’s input and recommendations on a proposed shopping center at U.S. 15-501 and Juniper Lake Road. Ultimately, cooperative work among governments with the developer will lead to a better project.
So let’s not scuttle what Pinehurst, Aberdeen and Southern Pines have bravely launched, not when all this needs is detail work. Because when you’re dealing with sensitive legal matters, community perceptions and business decisions involving millions of dollars, well, you kind of want to have the details worked out.