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.

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(8) comments

Chris Smithson

Whether or not everyone agrees with it, your argument in the editorial for the Land Trust project is fairly consistent EXCEPT where you swerve into this absurd paragraph about traffic. “Putting 50 or so homes on the site means a more congested West Pennsylvania Avenue and Carlisle Street.”

1) THERE WAS A SCHOOL THERE! I went to that school there. My child went to school there. I did dropoff and sat in the pickup line. I can guarantee you that the rush hour traffic from 50 homes PALES in comparison to the traffic and gridlock the school created in its decades or operation

2) If the proposed center is to be successful, will it not create traffic? The Trust’s own chairman is quoted IN the editorial about drawing people in, including tourists. Traffic!

3) How can the West Southern Pines neighborhood be revitalized if there are not more businesses as well as probably hundreds of new homes on the multitude of other vacant lots in the neighborhood -all of which will create traffic?

Stick with the core of your argument. The traffic part is simply contradictory.

David Hensley

And they ignore that Carlisle now connects to Morganton which will increase traffic AND that there is a new 800 seat school along the same street.

This is the EXACT SAME ARGUMENT that the Moore County Swamp used to fight AC Sandhills putting a volleyball facility into the former carpet plant along Rt 5. "Route 5 can't handle the traffic" said Partners in Progress and echoed by The Pilot.

A year later when MCS proposed building a new 800 seat school on Rt 5, there were ZERO concerns about traffic.

These people rely upon their readers having no memory of what occurred a week or more in the past...And they are so predictable.

Conrad Meyer

David, I appreciate your candor. I am interested in the reference to the Moore County Swamp. If you could elaborate, I think the readers would appreciate it.

Personally, I have had a number of dealings with Moore county government. Most of the routine items were handled efficiently with no problems. Those employees did a great job. And I will say that most of the lower level employees work hard and do a good job.

However, there have been other issues that were 1) stonewalled by the public works department, which required followup and insistence that they were WRONG and 2) the county attorney reneging on an agreement in writing by stating that she was on vacation and the agreement was thus void. Apparently, she is queen - period.

You can't make this stuff up. The swamp exists in Moore County - or at a minimum a lack of integrity.

Stephen Woodward

The editorialist presumes to instruct our county board of education on making "the right choice". Allow me to interject that "the right choice" would have been to do some research on the topic.

For if one does not choose to conclude that the editorial begins with a false assertion and an erroneous claim, the only other conclusion is that the writer is lying in order to make a racially charged argument for the Land Trust's proposed land grab.

To wit, the opening of paragraph five: "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."

To the contrary, the rules certainly are not complicated, while the board certainly is obligated to accept the highest bid for the 17-acre parcel. These are plainly cited by a state general statute and by the state's constitution. In other words, law dictates what the board must do. A few examples. First, "local school boards have statutory authority under G.S. 115C-40 to own, purchase, and sell real property." And, "bids are solicited and received at one time and opened publicly, and the highest responsive offer is conveyed to the school board."

But, but ... what about the section allowing non-competitive sales to a non-profit or a trust seeking land owed to its "cultural, historical, natural or scenic significance"? The statute addresses this plainly. "The exception listed above is discretionary, not mandatory." Which leads to the constitutional authority granted school boards to dismiss low bids. This is hiding in plain sight in Article 9, which holds that the constitution prohibits "school boards from donating real property or selling it for less than its fair market value" unless another school would be built on the land.

The Land Trust's plan for the land includes "affordable housing for minority teachers", along with a museum, an outdoor learning lab and "entrepreneurial opportunities" (black-owned businesses, in other words). Thus, this pandering editorial begins with falsehoods and goes on to advocate for converting the land into "a mixed-use hub ... focused on serving its historically black community."

The Pilot's "right choice" envisions a permanently segregated Southern Pines. That's a false choice. The board's only choice is to comply with the law and the North Carolina Constitution, sell to the highest bidder and allocate a projected $1.5 million in proceeds across all of Moore County's structurally deteriorating schools.

William Dean

As a life long Moore county resident and tax payer, I want that land to be sold for top dollar. I want to see money coming into the county, not being allowed to not be paid because the groups have tax exemptions.

You probably thought it was OK though to give Pinehurst Resort a $1,000,000 County tax benefit and for them to get another $400,000 from the Village of Pinehurst to build their proposed new hotel.

John Misiaszek

David Hensley

I am NOT okay with that either.

You may not agree with me, but I am consistent...Well, mainly consistent. :^)

Conrad Meyer

Take this for what it is worth. So you think it is probably OK to bail out the debacle at Woodlake for the benefit of a small number of residents. The parallels are similar in my mind. Workable proposals were brought forward, but rejected by the commissioners.

I do think that Woodlake got the shaft from everyone, including the Moore county commissioners, but you have to be consistent.

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