Southern Pines approves Whitehall Master Plan

Preliminary town budget presented

SOUTHERN PINES — The Southern Pines Town Council met Tuesday, May 9, with two public hearings on the agenda.

The first hearing was for the proposed 157-acre Whitehall Master Plan at Reservoir Park.

“We had three goals with one plan,” said Parks and Recreation Director Cindi King. “The three goals were resource preservation, passive recreation and publicly accessible.”

According to King, for resource preservation, the town will focus on the preservation of the longleaf pine stands and red-cockaded woodpecker habitats, the capitalization of infrastructure at Reservoir and Elizabeth Rounds, the restoration of the pond to attract waterfowl, the maintenance of the pecan grove, and the utilization of a trail system to provide a burn trail to allow for controlled burns which are necessary for the longleaf pines natural cycles.

For passive recreation, the town is looking to have 5+ miles of trails, open fields for free play, a picnic area and shelters, a wildflower meadow, and they will provide opportunities for environmental education.

Lastly, for public accessibility, the town will utilize the parking lots at Reservoir Park and Pee Dee Rd., an ADA-accessible, 2-mile perimeter trail will be created, the barn and carriage house will be renovated for programming and public use, there will be connectivity to other parks and trails in Reservoir Park, there will be an opportunity for a community garden, and there will be access for emergency vehicles.

“The previous landowners, before they sold it to the town, they put about 40% of the 157 acres in a conservation easement which is held by the Three Rivers Land Trust,” said Assistant Town Manager Jessica Roth. “That’s really important because that conservation easement it transfers with any landowner, none of us are able to do anything to take that easement off, and it permanently protects those 66 acres so that they will not be disturbed, although it does allow us to open up those areas for public use with some trails and things like that. However, the most critical habitats are within this easement, and that includes the red-cockaded woodpecker habitats and the longleaf pine stands.”

Following the hearing, the council approved the Whitehall Master Plan.

The second hearing was for the proposed FY 23-24 budget.

“This is a unique budget year which happens every four years here in Moore County because Moore County ran around and did a re-valuation of properties last year,” said Town Manager Reagan Parsons. “Last year, when I stood at this podium, the average home value in Southern Pines was $324,146. Our tax base increased 46% from the 2023 re-valuations, which factors out to $473,253.

“If we kept a $0.40 tax rate and did not adjust for revenue neutral and if the average property went up that 46%, you’d be looking at an additional $596 in taxes this year. That, of course, is not how we do this. We actually look at a period of four years, take an average growth rate and factor it out and arrive at a revenue-neutral tax rate. That revenue-neutral tax rate is 28.15 pennies which we round up to 29 pennies.”

The goals of the preliminary budget are a 5% pay adjustment for all employees, an increase in starting pay and internal equity adjustments for police, a 25% reserve for fund balance, and a focus on a variety of projects, including annual street resurfacing, police vehicle replacements, sidewalk projects, reservoir park dam, yard debris services, additional firefighters, Whitehall design and land management, playground renovations, skate park cost-sharing, and new staff positions.

In terms of impacts on residents, the budget proposes a property tax rate drop of 11 cents, a waste fee increase of $0.25 to $17.00, and a $2.93 increase per month for average water and sewer customers using 5,000 gallons.

“It was really important to not raise taxes,” said council member Bill Pate. “So to stay at that $0.29 rate so that most citizens did not see a major increase in taxes was super important.”

The council will hold another public hearing on June 13, where the budget will be adopted.

The council also approved an architectural compliance permit for the Creston Commons planned development for modifications to eight existing multi-family buildings and one existing clubhouse.

“This is for the replacement of the siding; that was the only issue,” said Planning Director BJ Grieve. “It was going from vinyl siding to Hardie plank siding. We looked at the entire project, and it’s a rehabilitation of all the structures.”

Finally, the council approved an architectural compliance permit for the Brad Halling American Whiskey Ko. distillery development in order to construct a 4,800-square-foot building to store whiskey barrels.

The Southern Pines Town Council will next meet June 13.

By Ryan Henkel, North State Journal

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