I’ve been hit with a lot of background spin about how the days of the Pinehurst Village Council delegating everything to the bureaucrats and rubber-stamping whatever the bureaucrats at Village Hall do are over. I got told that the iron-fisted fascistic tactics of the Planning Department would be reined in. I got told that a practice that looks a lot like a shakedown of builders trying to do development deals in Pinehurst would be smacked down this week.
Well, as usual, it’s Same, um, Stuff — Different Day.
Trying to build something in Pinehurst borders on sisyphean. You have to jump through a lot of arguably unreasonable hoops and be subjected to appointees and bureacrats quite often making up obstacles / barriers to your project. And they wonder why the effort to grow downtown and plant a vibrant new commercial district is sputtering.
Pat Molamphy is trying to get a townhome development underway:
The developer of a major, proposed project debated the meaning of words with the Village Council, as they sparred over whether he is required to pay a fee.
At issue is a village requirement that developments have a certain amount of open space and recreational space. Walker Station, a proposed subdivision of 70 town homes in the 2000 block of Midland Road, has the needed open space, but not the required 1.8 acres of recreational space.
Local governments can require the developer to pay a fee instead of setting aside the land. In the case of the Walker Station development, the fee, calculated according to a formula, would be about $35,000, village officials said.
I contacted Pinehurst for some documentation of this whole policy. The planning office directed me to a passage in the Pinehurst Development Ordinance that offers NO specifics on a fee scale. (It does offer a formula for figuring out the amount of open space.) Where does that $35,000 figure come from?
This whole policy excessively adds to the cost of projects. It limits the scope of the entrepreneur’s project. It adds a lot of unnecessary red tape and hassle. It makes people throw up their hands and move their deals down the road to another jurisdiction.
The Village Council unanimously approved preliminary plans for the development last month. A draft of minutes from the meeting says the fee was discussed before the vote.
Pat Molamphy, who owns the land, objects to the fee. He read a section of village law that says recreation space “may not” be used to meet the open space requirement.
Molamphy said “may” is a permissive word. The law does not say open space “shall not” be used for recreational space, he said.
“‘Shall’ and ‘may’ are two different words,” he said.
He’s right. Shall leaves some wiggle room. Can anyone — who is NOT a shyster lawyer or a bureaucrat — explain the difference between “open space” and ”recreational space”? Seriously? Help us out here in the real world.
Mayor Nancy Roy Fiorillo said she thinks the law means that using open space to meet the recreational space requirement is not allowed.
“I’m sure we’d all like to rewrite the rules,” she said.
Councilman John Strickland told Molamphy that village officials are excited about the proposed development.
“I think you’re trying to play a little word game with us,” he said. “I hope we don’t get hung up on this issue.”
And the whole “open space” vs. “recreational space” thing is NOT a word game??
Councilman Mark Parson said he would not have voted for the developer paying the fee. He said that when it was discussed last month he called it a “shakedown.”
Andrea Correll, the village’s planning director, said that if the developer does not want to pay the fee, he should appeal to the village’s Board of Adjustment.
He’s appealing RIGHT NOW to THE ultimate authority — elected BY the people — in The Village of Pinehurst. The buck should stop at the council.
Molamphy said the council can determine what “may” and “shall” means.
“I really don’t know where we stand because the plat was approved,” he said.
The council decided to discuss the issue again after Village Manager Andy Wilkison talks with the village’s land use lawyer.
What’s needed here is some leadership from Pinehurst’s elected representatives. For far too long, the village manager and the planning office have been given a LONG leash — allowed to do whatever the hell they wanted to do.
Pinehurst sets a county record for legal fees. These bureaucrats get arrogant with the taxpayers. A taxpayer sues — and all of us pick up the bill. It’s no sweat off Mr. Wilkison’s or Ms. Correll’s brows. The money to pay the lawyers doesn’t come out of their pockets.
But the unchecked bureaucratic arrogance hurts the village as a whole. The village has expressed interest in building up the downtown area and developing a thriving commercial district. But who is going to invest their time and money in stuff like that when you have to deal with this kind of heavy-handed obstructive arrogance? (You don’t get hit with nonsense like this in Southern Pines or Aberdeen.) Why do we even have elections if the council members are not going to bother keeping a close eye on the bureaucrats?