Entry by Bill Cochrane
The Southern Pines Historic District Commission held their March meeting in the Boyd Room of the Southern Pines Utilities Building on Broad Street beginning at 4:00 P.M. The purpose of the meeting was to review the current draft of the HDC "Guidelines" with the hired consultant firm representatives (Hill Studios). This they did.
Viewing the proceedings should impress the viewer with the capricious, whimsical, arbitrary approach that this appointed board has used these many years. The Southern Pines Historic District Commission was formed and launched upon the downtown Southern Pines businesses and residences in 1994. But, as you listen to the discussions in this video, you will quickly realize that this group does not even understand their authority, its bounds, how they should operate, or the actual tenets of "historical preservation". There have never been any structured rules or standards. This appointed board has been operating on a whim since 1994.
We must at least give credit to the current board members -- and also to their immediate predecessors -- for realizing their limitations and for convincing our current Town Council to hire a consultant to help establish structure. At least now they are beginning to establish some defined and consistent "rules", or "guidelines" for "governing" the unfortunate businessmen and citizens who reside in the Historic Overlay District of Southern Pines.
I have been observing this appointed board now for just over two years. This has been the most disorganized, ad hoc, "from the hip" bunch of amateurs I have ever witnessed. The board has ruled based on personal opinions and agenda, imposing its will and whims on hapless applicants. Fortunately, for the most part, these appointees are real people who, although they aspire to gain expanded powers and to rule broader domains, will -- when confronted with real life problems of those who confront them, bend to rationality and reasonableness.
I give great credit to the current Commissioners for their desire to establish consistency, definition, structure, and rationality to their process. This is a welcome and long overdue effort!
The concern that I have is that this board is attempting to tighten its controls over the businesses and residents in the Historic overlay district of Southern Pines. I am not even sure that the targeted citizens understand or realize the loss of property rights and liberties they are about to suffer. First of all, the Historic District Commission is working to assume control of landscaping. Heretofore, they have only wielded controls over external building appearance and features, but now they want to control the landscaping and plantings of the surrounding property.
Moreover, they have aspirations for controlling the internal appearance and features of these properties. They continue to aspire for the power to designate "historic landmarks" outside their designated district, with or without the cooperation or agreement of those property owners. All this in spite of the fact that they obviously (look at the video!) do not really know what they are doing! But they know what they want! And they think they know better than the property owners!
It is not yet clear to me whether this board has the authority that they and their supporting Town Staff think they have. It is not clear to me what deed restrictions apply to the properties within the Southern Pines Historic Overlay District. It is not clear to me what ordinances the Town Council will pass in the new Unified Development Ordinance that will bind the property owners in the Historic Overlay District to the special rules, "guidelines", and processes of the Historic District Commission. It is not clear to me what avenues of appeal will apply should the HDC (and/or Town Council) and a property owner fail to reach agreement. It is not clear to me whether and how a property owner can "opt out" of the entire process and retain his property rights subject to Town of Southern Pines zoning and UDO regulations.
It does seem to me that this entire matter has been poorly implemented, poorly communicated, and poorly considered. Let me state it this way: I live in the Longleaf Subdivision. What I do to the external appearance of my home and the landscaping of my lot is subject to approval of the Longleaf Neighborhood Association. The Neighborhood Association exists to ensure that property owners do not do "crazy" or "inconsiderate" things which impinge on their neighbors' property values or the "quality of living" in the Longleaf community.
So, the Longleaf Neighborhood Association is really just like the Historic District Commission for downtown Southern Pines. It exists to "preserve" the character, ambiance, serenity, and property values of Longleaf -- basically the exact same goals of the Historic District Commission. The differences are that: (a) Those "restrictions" or "covenants" are spelled out in the property deed when one purchases property in Longleaf -- they are not, I understand, spelled out in the property deeds within the Historic District. (b) Those rules were spelled out explicitly in the bylaws of the Association, provided to us and explained to us when we purchased our properties -- whereas they are only now after so many years being defined in the HDC's new "guidelines". (c) The rules are not subject to change in Longleaf without a vote of the property owners -- whereas in the HDC, the rules can be changed at the whim of appointed, non-elected Commission members. (d) Although the Longleaf Association does have legal authorities, it does not wield the insuperable power inherent to an actual governmental authority which possesses the passion to wield thorough controls over its subjects.
The Historic District is not like zoning. Zoning restrictions are subject to the established ordinances which apply to the applicable designation. The Historic District has been subjected not only to established ordinances for the applicable zoning designation, but also to the non-ordinance "guidelines" and whims of the un-elected Historic District Commission. Obviously, these can change and morph without the approval of even the Town Council. The property owners of Southern Pines should be alert and protective of their property rights.
I am not attacking the idea nor the existence of a Historic District. We all value the quality of life that the Town of Southern Pines offers. I believe the businesses and residents of downtown Southern Pines do support the efforts of a rational and reasonable Historic District Commission to protect the character, ambiance, serenity, and property values of the District -- just as the residents of Longleaf support the efforts of our own Neighborhood Association. That is not the issue here. The issue is how arbitrary, how mutable the HDC will be -- how much control the HDC will impose, how many rights the property owners will be allowed to retain, and how accountable the process will be to the citizens of Southern Pines. Right now, it's not looking good to me.....
I have asked the Staff of Southern Pines for answers to certain questions, and they have promised to get back to me. More to come.....
The Southern Pines Historic District Commission held their Janauary, 2013, meeting in the Community Room at the Southern Pines Police Department on Pennsylvania Avenue beginning at 4:00
P.M. The meeting was conducted by the Hills Studios consultants, and the purpose was to give the Commission and those attending an overview of the agenda and content of the public hearing to be held at 6:30
The scope of the work and the targeted reach of the Commission appears to be constrained to the defined Historic District of downtown Southern Pines. Whatever you may hear in the words and rhetoric of the meeting, the Town Manager, Mr. Parsons, has assurred me that the authority of the Commission is not being expanded through this effort. The HDC will remain (1) an advisory board to the Southern Pines Town Council, (2) with a limited authority only over the currently defined historic district of Southern Pines, (3) with limited authority to award a certificate allowing a participating property owner to obtain the tax benefits by complying with HDC guidelines. No new authorities or scope is being granted to the HDC through this project or through the new Unified Development Ordinance.
The purpose of the public hearing later today is to gather input from business owners and residents within the currently defined historic district.The agenda and tax info for the meeting may be found here.Bill Cochrane
The Southern Pines Historic District Commission held their November meeting in the Boyd Room at 180 SW Broad Street beginning at 4:00 pm. Only four Commission members were present. Those discussed the Commission's guidelines project with consultant team members from Hill Studios. Items discussed included what has "worked" for the Commission with their current documentation and process and what has not "worked". What simplifications the Commission desires or knows to be needed... What new ordinances, requirements, educational materials, etc. the Commission would like to have developed for them....
Two things were of particular noteworthiness: (1) The Commission is very interested in having additional and more strict sign ordinances for the Historic District, and the HDC will work with the Town's UDO consultant to perhaps implement new and tighter sign ordinances for the Historic District. (2) The statement was clearly made during the discussions of "community outreach" and planned public hearings that the Commission and this project are not seeking to expand their area of control or to implement new regulations (kinda inconsistent with the sign ordinance stuff, however....).
I suspect this position was stated for two reasons: (a) First there was much discussion about the Commission's and Hill Studio's concerns over negative reactions from the public and how to counteract them. This included the Commission members personally inviting and stacking their public hearings with known advocates and also working with the local business association whom they perceive to be very friendly and cooperative with the HDC. In this way, anyone who shows up to complain would be outnumbered and marginalized. So, even if the HDC has not abandoned its aspirations to expand its area of control and to become a full-fledged regulatory body, they are not going to advertise those future aspirations now. These tactics are clearly Delphi Technique tactics, so typical of such commissions.
(b) Perhaps the Town Council has cooled the Commission's lust for new power and authority along with the additional staff and funding that would be required. I hope so. As it stands now, at their October meeting, the HDC simply tabled the matter until next year, and this statement by a Hill Studio employee at this meeting may be mere camouflage.
The meeting packet may be found here
The Southern Pines Historic District Commission held their October meeting in the Boyd Room on SW Broad Street beginning at 4:00 pm. A number of mundane items were handled. The Commission approved the bid from Hill Studio to develop historic district property management guidelines for the Commission. The contract will now go to the Town Manager for final approval and execution.
The most interesting discussions to me, which did not get recorded in the minutes of the meeting, were the continuing discussions by the Commission of (a) expanding the Southern Pines Historic District to "annex" more properties, (b) becoming a Historic "Preservation" Commission in order to designate, approve, and control properties outside the Southern Pines Historic District, and (c) potentially change from an advisory board to a board with governance authorities of some kind. This appears to be an ongoing goal and desire of the Commission members.
The only thing that appeared to cause pause at this time was the Commission's recognition that their desired plans would require additional Town Staff members to be hired and dedicated to the Historic District Commission's business. The new staff would require specialized knowledge and/or credentials. The new staff would become involved with the Commission in enforcement activities. Unfortunately -- in the Commissioners' minds -- there is no money in this year's budget to hire additional Town Staff, and the Commission has not yet worked with the Town Council to begin getting their approval to empower the HDC with the new authorities, funds, and staff.
With the work facing the HDC during the remainder of 2012, such as the Hill guidelines and the UDO, and the upcoming holidays, the Commissioners decided to "table" their plans until next year.
I wish the Town Council would put a stop to these plans and discussions! First of all, there is no "problem" with historic properties in Southern Pines for which we taxpayers demand a "fix" and for which we taxpayers are willing to pay. Secondly, these Commissioners wish to grant 50% property tax deductions to all properties they "manage", so not only would we taxpayers be paying MORE for additional Town staff and HDC activities, but we would also be reducing the Town's tax base considerably, thereby increasing our own property tax obligations. I object!
Thirdly, placing another approval and regulatory board into the application process greatly increases the complexity and roadblocks for growth and development. The Town can, if it is not careful, preserve
itself literally to death!
And fourthly, and not the least importantly, it is unwise and unacceptable to turn these Town advisory boards into government authorities. If the Town Council were, for reasons I cannot fathom, to grant regulatory or governance authority to what have been advisory boards, then these boards should become elected
boards. The Commissioners should stand for election -- not just by the folks in the Historic District, but by the entire electorate of Southern Pines. If the HDC is going to be granted authority to annex properties into their district or to grab properties at will as "landmark properties" regardless of the wishes of the property owners, then these Commissioners must
be answerable to the electorate!
This HDC and the Southern Pines Appearance Commission are power hungry and are considering themselves to be solutions in search of a problem to solve. Please don't give them the authority or money!
The meeting packet can be found here
The Southern Pines Historic District Commission held their September meeting in the Boyd Room, 180 SW Broad Street, Southern Pines, NC, beginning at 3:00 pm. A couple of members and a key staff person were absent; therefore, the HDC could not take up some pending applications.
Consequently, the HDC spent their entire meeting discussing two issues: (1) their pending consultant contract and (2) their continuing desire to expand their authority, budget, and control.
Much of the meeting time expended in the discussions of the Hill Group's proposal to develop "guidelines" for the Historic District Commission revolved around how much public/stakeholder input to allow in the process. I've got advice for the HDC and Southern Pines -- the more public/stakeholder involvement and input, the better! But, a great deal of the discussions were even more troubling. The HDC members began discussing turning the "guidelines" into ordinances. This would alter the entire character and purpose of the Commission, turning it from an advisory board to the Council which is charged with guiding renovations and development projects within the Historic District such as to maintain the character and charm of the downtown community into an enforcement board which imposes its rules upon the Historic District residents and then works with the Council and other Town departments to enforce their ordinances.
This is a terrible idea, and I was heartened to see the Commission members talk themselves almost out of it. The matter was left open, but the discussions concluded sounding like the Commission had come to its senses and realized that they were about to overstep their authority and capabilities. Good.
Then the discussions turned to the ongoing desire of some members to expand their authority and controls to "landmark properties" outside the Historic District and throughout the Southern Pines Town jurisdiction. The Commission members discussed holding exploratory meetings with representatives from Raleign, requesting a full time historic expert support staff employee to be added to the Town of Southern Pines Staff, and expanding their authority from an advisory role to a preservationist and magisterial role.
Thankfully, most Commission members seemed almost to talk themselves out of this bad idea by the end of the meeting -- but not altogether. The issue was left open with the Town Staff charged to explore setting up a meeting or conference call with the Raleigh folks and agreement to continue the discussions.
I just want to know: What is the big problem that justifies expanding and changing the role of the HDC? What problems does the Town of Southern Pines have which justifies adding another staff person to support an expanded HDC? What historic properties that are so crucial to the future and prosperity of Southern Pines are now in dire danger and require empowered intervention of the HDC? What are the perceived threats which justify granting the HDC magisterial authority over private properties inside or outside their current jurisdiction? How is this group of appointed citizen advisors really qualified or equipped to fulfill such expanded roles? How do the property owners feel about all this?
Why is it always the nature of governmental boards to try to expand their power and authority, to expend ever more and more taxpayer monies, to see themselves as the "foremost experts" who should possess central planning control over their fellow citizens? Why do people who become involved in government always want to grab more power, prestige and authority? Is it the type of person who seeks to "serve" on such boards? Or is the very nature of "serving" on such boards so seductive and addictive that any person given a taste of authority always thirsts for more and more?
I ponder these questions. But I ask the Town Council -- no, I urge the Town Council -- to nip this overreach in the bud. Send a message now to the HDC to cease and desist! Tell them they will not turn what has been a successful advisory board into a magisterial enforcement authority. Tell them they will not get any dedicated staff to service their own delusions of grandeur. Tell them to fulfill the advisory role to which they applied and give up their dreams of conquering new domains. They are wasting their own time. They are wasting state resources. They are wasting Town Staff resources. And I resent it. I doubt that I'm alone in this regard.
The Southern Pines Historic District Commission held its July meeting in the Boyd Room on SW Broad Street beginning at 4:00
P.M. The meeting ran for about 54 minutes.
The new Commission has not quite found its footings. There was some confusion about why so many members were absent; apparently the members do not feel responsible for notifying the Chair of their planned absences.
The Chair led those present through a discussion of the pending Request for Quote responses to the Commission's request for consultant assistance on developing guidelines for HDC actions. Ultimately, the Commission voted to select one of the proposals which will now go to the Town Manager. The Town Manager may decide to enter into contractual negotiations with the selected consultant, or he may decide that the Town Council need take some action.
Finally, the Chair advised the Commission that their wishes to expand their authority and purview to identified "historic landmarks" outside the designated Southern Pines Historic District has legal obstacles. If the HDC wishes to gain this new authority, it must be designated as a Historic Preservation Commission by the State. The Commission was unaware and uncertain of the requirements which would apply and the process which must be pursued to become a Preservation Commission. The Staff attempted to clarify that not only were there state legislative and regulatory issues, but the HDC must first gain Town Council approval and Town Council approval of ordinance changes as the existing HDC and its authorities is codified in Town ordinances.
The HDC decided to table this issue indefinitely while the Chair seeks to secure a meeting with the state authorities who can educate the HDC how to proceed.
In my opinion, the Town Council should quash this ill conceived and poorly planned power grab. There are staffing and cost implications which the Town can ill afford during these times and which are completely unnecessary. There is no popular upwelling of support for this expansion of authority and regulatory oversight. There is no indication that the HDC is in any way qualified or prepared to undertake such expanded controls and responsibilities nor is there any real evidence that such expansion is needed or warranted.
This is simply a "natural" desire of a government authority to expand its powers. Nothing more.Bill Cochrane
The Southern Pines Historic District Commission held their June meeting beginning at 4:00 PM on June 14 in the Boyd Room on Broad Street. The Commission first considered the request by the Southern Pines Business Association for a motion to approve the concept of placing a kiosk at the Train Station in downtown Southern Pines. This same request was heard and the concept was approved by the Southern Pines Appearance Commission on June 12. The Historic Commission approved the concept.
Next, the Commission heard from the Town Staff regarding an upcoming request from a downtown business to paint the exterior of their building. From there the Commission moved into an extended discussion of the respondents to the Commission's Request for Proposal to develop new guidelines for architectural and landscaping standards for properties under the purview of the Commission. The Commission identified the selected "top two" respondents, and the Town Staff agreed to set up an interview meeting with these firms in late June. The Commission is going to spend $40,000 of our tax dollars on these "guidelines".
It is interesting to watch and hear some comments by certain of the Commission members regarding the need for public input. Some of the Commission members expressed the opinion that the Commission does not "need" nor "want" the input of residents and businesses. They felt that the consultant should document what the Commission knows is best and needed for the businesses and residents over which they rule. What arrogance!
Finally, the Commission discussed the status of negotiations with the Weymouth Board about placing that property under the "protection" of the Commission. Because the Weymouth Center is already expending thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds to "study" the history of the grounds and thus determine the proper "historic" landscaping of the property, the Commission decided to focus only on the buildings -- the architectural aspects -- for their "landmark designation". Listen to their views of how critical it is to afford the Weymouth Center "an extra layer of protection" by placing it under Historic District Commission oversight! As if the Weymouth Board needs the Historic District to protect their property. As if the Weymouth Board is not competent to protect their property and to preserve its historic character without the help of these "experts" on the Historic District Commission! Do these folks sound like essential experts to you, dear reader?
The arrogance of these historic commissions is astounding, and the entire affair is more a tax avoidance scheme which places certain individuals in overly exalted positions (in their own minds). It's very sad, actually.
This Commission is still filled with zealots who believe they know better than property owners and that only they can "protect" and "save" property owners from themselves and certain "destruction". In the end, these people want to control property rights and to preclude any development or meaningful modernization. They believe that they know better than the rest of us. Don't listen to me -- listen to their own words!
The Southern Pines Historic District Commission met in the Boyd Room on Broad Street at 4:00
P.M. on May 10, 2010. After handling a very routine application for an awning over a business' windows, the Commission moved on to a discussion with representatives from the Weymouth Center. This resulted in a very interesting discussion of the merits of including Weymouth as a local landmark and whether such designation should include the grounds landscaping of the Center or even other areas deemed to be of historic significance.
This Commission is aggressively seeking to expand its jurisdiction and control.Bill Cochrane
The Southern Pines Historic District Commission held its April meeting at the Boyd Room on Broad Street in Southern Pines at 4:00 pm on April 12. In the first order of business, the Commission elected a new Chair and Vice-Chair. Congratulations to the new electees!
Next the Commission held a "public hearing" and considered a revised petition for renovation of First Bank, 205 SE Broad St. The Commission had already approved replacement of a flat roof on the building with a gabled roof. In today's first vote, they also allowed the poor bank to install an additional window (how generous).
But then the Commission agonized over the fate of the faux concrete "screens" that concealed the windows and real brick facade of the building. It seems that the building, constructed during the ancient 1960's, was "defined" by the hideous concrete block "screens" that were a "signature" of the 60's architecture. At least one member of the Commission was so enamored of the anachronistic eyesores that he could not bring himself to allow the bank to do the humane thing -- retire the old failing facade.
No, some folks just want to preserve no matter what. I, too, remember the 60's. I recall that lime-green leisure suits were all the rage and were quite a "signature" symbol of that unfortunate time period. I wouldn't want to wear a lime-green leisure suit today, much less "preserve" one! Some things are not worth "preserving" and are better relegated to the ash-heap of misguided mistakes.
The existing concrete "screens" of the First Bank building are not only UGLY, but unsafe. The majority of the Commission members finally gathered enough common sense and sense of responsibility to approve the request to remove the unfortunate artifacts and improve the building.
The First Bank building will now be a far more attractive edifice and a compliment/complement to the downtown environment without the last vestiges of a hippie generation.
We all want to preserve history which is inspiring and truly meaningful to the community, county, state, and nation. But fanatical preservation for preservation's sake, no matter what, is misguided. Thankfully, the Commission found its proper footing today.
The last area of concern came during the final discussions. This Commission is dedicated to the idea of expanding its controls and authority to properties outside the defined Historic District of Southern Pines. They are not content with their current district -- no they want to "annex" "landmarks" anywhere in the city limits. In fact, they want the authority to seize control of properties even in the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ).
A process is described whereby the Commission might be able to seize control of individual properties by declaring them to be "historic landmarks". The problem with this proposed process is that there is never any consideration of the wishes of a property owner who is targeted by the Historic Commission.
I simply do not understand how good folks can make plans and devise "processes" to seize control over private properties without any consideration of the property owner's plans or intentions. It may be that many such property owners would welcome the "status" and any tax advantages such "status" will bring.
On the other hand, it may not be so. A property owner may not welcome the controls and conditions placed on his use and management of his own property. And this may be even more true since the Commission expressly wishes to not only control the building architectural historical "integrity" but now wishes to control the groundskeeping, landscaping, and planting on the property.
I hope the Town Council will insert a step in this Commission's process that considers the property owner's wishes with regard to surrendering his/her property rights to this unelected Commission.
The Southern Pines Historic District Preservation Commission met in the Boyd Room at 180 SW Broad St. One of the members was late, so although scheduled to begin at 4:00 P.M., the meeting did not actually commence until about 4:20 P.M.
Since there were applicants present, the Chair decided to wait for the late arrival so as not to force the applicants to return next month. In the meantime, the Chair answered some questions from the audience about the Commission.
After handling the applicants' petition for approval of their architectural plans, the Commission moved on to discussion of their RFP for new Commission guidelines. There was an issue whether the RFP should be postponed pending the findings and actions of the Town's downtown study being conducted by the Council's consultants as part of the UDO development effort. The Commission ultimately decided to proceed with their RFP and to make any necessary amendments arising from the study before signing a contract with the RFP winner.
Finally, the Chair reintroduced two newly appointed Commission members who are replacing exiting members. The Chair then announced his pending retirement from the Commission, and took action on one current member who does not meet the qualifications for Commission membership as her official address and place of voting is in Maryland, not Southern Pines.
Two things which might be of concern: (1) The Commission still intends to increase the boundaries and reach of its jurisdiction, and (2) the Commission apparently, like another controversial commission in Southern Pines, has not adhered to the rules in the past.