This is all true. And if the Town of Southern Pines is truly worried about "maintaining its character" and "preserving its appearance", then these matters do deserve special attention. But, as a relative newcomer to the area, I may look at all this with perspective that involves a little less of sentimentality and emotionalism and a bit more of realism and pragmatism. I've lived in major cities, and I've seen neighborhoods decline and even decay. In my experience, those things occur because of bad city policies and tax rates. People flee outside the city, even if that entails long, costly commute times.
That is not the problem here in Southern Pines. Town policies, ordinances and tax rates are not driving people away -- not yet anyway. On the contrary, Southern Pines is a beautiful area and a charming town. One drive through during our search for a new home after my retirement, and we fell in love with Southern Pines.
So, what is the problem? I think I can tell you. First, as Councilman Walden has recognized, part of the problem is an aging population. This is true across Moore County -- especially in the farmlands. Farmers are aging -- the average age of farmers in the U.S. is 62 years of age and it's 65 in Europe. The problem with small and family farms is that the farmers are aging and their children don't want to farm. Their children leave the farm and go to the cities to seek more lucrative careers. Just look how the Town of Carthage has declined over the last 30 years.
So, the West Side and Pennsylvania Avenue area are declining from the loss of younger generations, too. Although the problem is somewhat different from the farmlands, here is the common thread. The younger generations are not finding good careers and high-paying jobs here in Southern Pines. So, they are leaving for bigger ponds, and the area they leave declines. At the same time the neighborhood in which I reside is filled with retired older folk like me. Long term, this is a recipe for stagnation and decline. A slow death for the town and the area.
I have looked at the Comprehensive Plan adopted by Southern Pines. I have watched the previous Town Councils and their policies. I have studied the previous councilmen and candidates and their positions. This is what I can tell you. The problem is with Southern Pines policies which have been very anti-development. The Southern Pines town government has been obsessed with historical preservation, bird habitats, arboreal fixations, greenways and setbacks, and development moratoriums. The town has been so consumed with its "preservation" that the town has lost sight completely of what it takes to remain healthy.
If you stifle growth and development, you stagnate. If you stagnate and there are no jobs, the young folks leave. When the young folks leave and the old folks die, the town declines. It's just common sense. Look at the Town of Glendon -- better hurry, there's not much left....
I agree with The Pilot and Councilman Walden that it's going to take more than "municipal beneficence". But it's also going to take a great deal more than "giving young people a sense of community". If our city officials think that's the problem, then we're in real trouble! No, the problem is lack of growth and good careers here.
The Pilot article expressed hope that the new UDO will help solve the problem. I am very, very doubtful. The notices of the public hearings for the new UDO (occurring beginning tomorrow) and the information published about the process has already stated an intent to make the new UDO more consistent with the Southern Pines Comprehensive Plan. That is a recipe for failure! The Comprehensive Plan is anti-development, anti-growth. If the UDO is made consistent with that document, the decline of the Town is certain. And if the Moore County "Working Lands Protection Plan" is approved by the County Board of Commissioners, the death of Southern Pines is guaranteed.
If these things happen, then rest in peace Southern Pines. The plight of the West Side is simply a harbinger of your future in 30 more years.