For almost 100 years, land at the corner of Carlisle Street and West New York Avenue has been a community cornerstone. Over all those years, in one iteration or another, it was a center of education, of pride, of support for the Black residents who lived in surrounding neighborhoods.
There is no reason that should end now.
That future rests with the Moore County Board of Education, which has spent more than a year figuring out what to do with the 17 acres at this intersection now that it no longer needs it for Southern Pines Primary School. A beautiful new school, opened last January about a half mile farther down Carlisle, has rendered the property surplus — but not useless.
Two parties have expressed interest, ensuring the board will at least get its appraisal of $685,000. One party, home builder Ron Jackson and his Drain the Swamp LLC, has offered $900,000 and wants to build “affordable housing.” The second party, the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust, has raised its offer to the appraisal with plans to renovate the property into a mixed-use hub of businesses and services focused on serving its historically Black community.
The rules are complicated, but the school board is not obligated to take the highest bid. It can accept the lesser offer if it deems it to be in the best interest of the community. In this case, there is no doubt that west Southern Pines — all of Southern Pines — would be better served with a center that respects the community’s past with an innovative future of service.
Why Not Housing?
There’s no question that Moore County needs affordable housing: homes that teachers, service workers, first responders and laborers can buy. As it is now, many of these individuals live in Hoke, Scotland or Lee County because they can’t afford to live here.
But a large-scale housing development, while compatible with surrounding land uses, is ill served in this neighborhood because of the limited road network that serves it. Putting 50 or so homes on the site means a more congested West Pennsylvania Avenue and Carlisle Street.
A subdivision doesn’t add significant value to the neighborhood — in fact, it would likely cost the town more in services than it would generate in taxes. And it would do nothing to honor the site’s past history as a center for education, lest the developer give the subdivision one of those nauseatingly faux names like “Schoolhouse Run.” Bleh.
Trust for the Trust
The Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust has a clear vision from which neighborhood residents and all the town can all draw pride.
Trust Chairman Vincent Gordon said that it is working with Southern Pines, the early childhood education program at Sandhills Community College, and an N.C. State University Natural Learning Initiative to develop a “Farm to Fork” STEM education program for preschoolers in the Blanchie Carter Discovery Park.
The local Habitat for Humanity chapter has agreed to open offices there and could also put another of its Restore second-hand retail stores on the site.
“What our offer contains as part of a non-cash incentive is affordable housing for minority teachers, an outdoor learning lab for all pre-K kids of Moore County, entrepreneurial opportunities, community services, and most important: to restore cultural and historical significance through arts and entertainment with a museum that leads to an impact on tourism,” Gordon said.
The Land Trust has come far with its proposal. Earlier versions lacked specificity and viability. A sound business plan that ensures financial success for itself and the community — not just through philanthropy — is the hallmark for a successful future. Ultimately, it must make money.
The Board of Education might not maximize the cash value for Southern Pines Primary, but selling to the Land Trust for appraised value serves the greater good for the community, the town and the county.