Planning directors shared details about the inner workings of development in Moore County at a panel meeting Wednesday at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club.

Filling a packed room were private and public sector leaders gathered together as members of Moore 100, a relatively new group created by the county’s economic development arm, Moore County Partners in Progress. The mayors of Aberdeen, Pinehurst and Southern Pines attended the panel discussion, as well as Frank Quis, chair of the Moore County Board of Commissioners.

However, taking center stage were not the politicians but those who work for them “in the trenches everyday,” said Adam Kiker, as he introduced the panelists. These planners don’t often get the spotlight, but they are responsible for doing much of the legwork when it comes to managing developments within the county and its municipalities, Kiker said.

The planning directors featured on the panel included BJ Grieve of Southern Pines, Darryn Burich of Pinehurst, Justin Westbrook of Aberdeen and the county’s head of planning, Debra Ensminger. Each took turns answering various questions about the increasing demand for development opportunities in the county.

This planning discussion comes as Moore County has seen a substantial uptick in development interest, particularly in the past five years. Partners in Progress has seen a 35 percent increase in businesses looking to develop in the area since July 1, 2021, according to its latest quarterly progress report from the end of last year.

The largest common area of growth was residential developments, with subdivisions being popular pretty much across the board.

Grieve said that, most recently, Southern Pines is seeing significant interest from developers for apartment complexes and townhomes. He noted that his department is seeing proposals for 1,300 to 1,400 apartment units across six different projects.

On the other hand, Westbrook has been processing a lot of applications for single-family residential homes in Aberdeen.

Pinehurst continues to see a similar interest in single-family residential developments. Burich said his department has two or three subdivisions currently under review and one under development.

As a way to spur future development, Ensminger said that the county is thinking about updating its long range development plan to include a requirement that major subdivisions connect to public water and sewer.

“And so that would guide the growth, where growth needs to go,” Enmsinger said. “And that’s to the towns out, instead of out to the towns.”

In addition to discussing shared areas of development, the planners talked about how they work with each other to manage the tremendous amount of growth in the county. They communicate on a regular basis, seeking help when zoning issues come up and helping each other with routine inspections when one municipality is short-staffed.

There are also more formal ways in which the planning staff collaborate, including an agreement where Pinehurst, Aberdeen and Southern Pines have to alert each other to developments that occur within half a mile of the adjacent municipality.

Westbrook said that communication is key when it comes to planning staff collaborating across the three towns and with the county. This means not only talking to each other, but also keeping the lines of communication open with public entities like the state transportation and watershed departments and private partners such as the engineering firms and developers.

“It’s not an us vs. them mentality,” Westbrook said. “What’s good for the county is good for everybody and vice versa. . . . It’s very much a symbiotic relationship as long as we can keep those conversations open and honest.”

(Original story by Evey Weisblat, The Pilot)