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.....