Southern Pines, N.C., May Have More Smarts than Santa Monica, CA

Just a few days after writing about the ongoing drama in Santa Monica brought on by a negligent city planning, I came across an AOPA article that gives me some hope. It appears that the municipal planning board of Southern Pines, N.C., recently voted to not allow a plan to put over 200 apartments and a large retail area directly off the approach end end of Moore County Airport's runway 5.

Southern Pine's Fay Observer didn't seem to have a strong opinion about the board's decision, but it did mention that the developer's architect, Robert Hayter, sits on the Board of Trustees for the nearby Sandhills Community College. The apartments and businesses in this project would definitely benefit the college.

I was a little worried about conflict of interest until I read an article in the Southern Pines Pilot that he recused himself from the college board's discussions about the project. He only reported that the college supports the development.

The Pilot goes on to present several other points of view. Several people still want the development, even though safety and noise complaints were thoroughly discussed. Thankfully, there were several pilots at the meeting to help keep things in perspective.

A local pilot named named Charles Mirman wisely reminded the board that the airport is obligated to allow all air operations for 20 years after it accepts any federal funding. He warned that allowing this development would be essentially asking for trouble (the kind of trouble we've seen in Santa Monica and other places.) He put a point on it with a very concise statement, quoted by the Pilot, "Who wants an airplane going over producing 100 or so odd decibels at 3 in the morning?" he asked. "You're buying into 20 years of problems."

The bottom line is that the council voted 4-2 against the development project. Board Chairman John McInerney's vote against is reported to have been based on the project not having enough parking. I hope that's not the only reason though. He seems to have made some other, more intelligent comments during the meeting as well.

In spite of this victory, the Town Council is going to continue considering this project. For the safety and comfort of their citizens, I hope the town council shows the same good sense that the planning board did and encourages the developer to put his project elsewhere. If they do, they'll be protecting the long-term well being of their city and will avoid the embarrassment, expense and possibly deserved criminal liability that burdens the city of Santa Monica right now.

Congratulations to the pilots and planners of Southern Pines! You've taken a successful step in balancing safety, comfort and the freedom to fly in your town. Keep up the good work and put this issue to rest.