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Rush Vote on Controversial Development Alleged

A newly elected Town Council member who opposes a controversial mixed-use development said Tuesday that the outgoing council is trying to rush the project through before she takes office.

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SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — The Town Council on Tuesday delayed a vote on a controversial mixed-use development after some people questioned whether proper notice was given for a recent public hearing on the project.

Notices for the public hearing weren't posted on the town's main bulletin board.

Before the meeting, a newly elected Town Council member who opposes the Pine Needles Village development said the outgoing council was trying to rush the project through before she took office.

Pine Needles Village has been proposed for 558 acres along U.S. Highway 1 and Midland Road by Houston-based developer Hines Interests. It would include 832 homes and 400,000 square feet of retail and office space.

Four of five members of the Southern Pines Town Council must approve the planned-unit development, or PUD.

Abigail Dowd, who was elected last month to the council on an anti-PUD platform, said she believes her swearing-in was delayed to  improve the chances of approval for Pine Needles Village.

"I think that it looks like they want to make sure that it's passed," said Dowd, who was set to be sworn in at the end of Tuesday night's council meeting – after a vote on the PUD.

Dowd said she should have been sworn in last week at the public hearing on the project, citing state law.

“The general statute doesn’t make a difference between agenda meetings and work session meetings,” she said.

But Mayor Frank Quis said new council members have always taken the oath of office at the end of the first regular council meeting in December, not special meetings like the recent public hearing.

"Over the years, we have often dealt with some bigger projects at that (December) meeting to basically take care of business that the existing council has been working on for many, many months," Quis said.

The mayor called Pine Needles Village a prime example of smart growth, and he denied Dowd's accusation that the Town Council was trying to ram through a vote before she takes office.

"We are meeting expeditiously, but it's not for lack of knowledge," he said.

Dowd, who has expressed concerns about density and environmental impact, maintains that the council should thoroughly study the PUD before taking action.

"To rush this, especially for political reasons or for the benefit of certain individuals on the council, is completely irresponsible,” she said.


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