Pinehurst 2011: Dueling attorneys


If Pinehurst village attorney Mike Newman gets paid by the hour, he is having ONE HECK of a windfall this year.   His latest action involves the controversy over the development of The Village Green and the expansion of The Village Chapel.

Newman defended the village’s stance on development of The Village Green in a March op-ed published in The Pilot:

The village of Pinehurst is concerned about some unfounded rumors regarding the use and preservation of the acreage commonly known as the Village Green.

These rumors range from plans to “clear-cut” trees, to secret intentions of the ­village to construct massive structures on the Green.

One rumor even claims that the village can never make improvements to the Village Green without the consent of a corporation which was dissolved decades ago.

It appears that much of this confusion stems from a misunderstanding of what the Village Green is, where it is located, and how it can properly be used by its owner, the village of Pinehurst. …

One such rumor is that The Village Chapel plans to ­construct its anticipated Learning Center on The Village Green. This is simply untrue. The Learning Center is to be constructed on the Village Chapel’s property — including a portion of the two-acre tract conveyed to it by Pinehurst Inc. in 1982. All restrictions on the placement of structures on that two-acre tract were properly removed by Pinehurst, LLC, in December 2008.

Likewise, rumors that the village of Pinehurst plans to improperly alter or “clear-cut” the Village Green are simply false. In 2009, the council appointed a commission (the Village Green Commission) to study ways in which the Village Green might be improved to become more attractive for residents and guests of the resort. Several landscape architects submitted proposals to the village in public hearings.

However, no action has been taken by the village. The restrictions contained in the village’s 1983 deed were properly removed by Pinehurst, LLC, in June 2009.

The Village Council has taken and will continue to take appropriate actions to protect the ambience of the village, including the Village Green.

The council and village staff will also continue to work cooperatively with all historic commissions, as well as National Historic Landmark personnel, regarding any future efforts to ­protect the Village Green.

And, of course, any and all future plans regarding the use of the Village Green will be openly discussed and considered in public hearings.

Last week, The Pilot reported on a setback for opponents of The Village Chapel project at The NC Court of Appeals:

The Court of Appeals has rejected a lawsuit filed to stop approval of a 16,500-square-foot learning center to be built on Village Chapel property in the Village Green.

The dismissal comes on the heels of another lawsuit filed by three families in another attempt to stop development.

The most recent suit claims the defendants — the village of Pinehurst, Pinehurst Resort and The Village Chapel — have violated protections placed on the Village Green in the village center.

The attorney for the village says the new lawsuit filed by the same three families over development on the Village Green lacks merit.

“This is simply an effort to have a second bite at the apple because their first lawsuit on the identical issue was dismissed,” Village Attorney Mike Newman said.

Well, fast forward to this week.  We now get a few words from the attorney representing the plantiffs in the VIllage Chapel suit:

Your article “First Village Chapel Suit Rejected, New One Filed” (Oct. 5) quoted Mike Newman, attorney for a defendant, throughout, and his point of view was adopted in the tone of your article.

By contrast, your reporters did not quote or even contact the attorney for the other side. The quotes from Newman create the impression that the Court of Appeals already decided the issues in our lawsuit. This is absolutely false, for two reasons.

First, the Court of Appeals did not decide who was right in the special use permit case, but only decided that a deadline had been missed. The case was decided on a technicality.

Second, the current case does not involve the special use permit. This case is about essentially one thing: Could Pinehurst, LLC — never owner of the Village Green — waive the protective restrictions that were placed on the green by the original owners?

Those restrictions prohibited development of the green, intending to preserve it for the enjoyment of generations of Pinehurst residents and visitors. Pinehurst, LLC filed a document claiming to waive those restrictions and throwing the historic green open for any sort of destruction. We have asked the court to decide whether that waiver is valid.

(As quoted in) your article, Mr. Newman misstates the law. A letter to the editor is no place to argue complex points of law, but your readers should know that deed restrictions are indeed enforceable by the intended beneficiaries of those restrictions, not just successor corporations. They should also know that the Court of Appeals did not say “in its next breath” that Pinehurst, Inc. is a successor to Pinehurst Inc. with regard to the Village Green property. The Court did not say that because it is not true.

Is it just me — or does the Village of Pinehurst spend more time in court than most municipalities our size?  (Southern Pines only seems to ends up in court when perennial candidate Marsh Smith decides it’s time for him to earn some publicity.) 

Why is the village’s first instinct to hire an attorney and fight? How do other neighboring municipalities solve their disagreements so well without spending all this time in court?  Could it have something to do with the public relations / customer-service approach of the village bureaucracy toward its customers (i.e., US)?