By Steve Woodward
Pinehurst is a world-class, world-famous golf destination, and a nice place to live.
Pinehurst also is a small town with many melodramatic sub-plots coursing through its communal arteries. It has, like any town, its share of petty small-minded people warped by delusions of grandeur and driven by a sense of moral and intellectual superiority.
In fact, Pinehurst might be able to claim that it is home to the poster boy of said demented person. He is John Strickland, mayor of Pinehurst, registered Republican, and a member of the Country Club of North Carolina.
That thumbnail bio is important by way of understanding why Strickland is well on his way to becoming Public Enemy No. 1.
Despite broad public sentiment and a planning and zoning board opposing him, Strickland is unrelenting in his desire to eviscerate private property rights and steamroll the short-term home rental market in Pinehurst. The Pinehurst Village Council has twice delayed voting on a measure to scale back and, eventually, stop short-term rentals (STRs) after throngs of citizens lined up to speak out against Strickland and two council members (also so-called Republicans), Jane Hogeman and Pat Pizzella, who will act in lockstep to ensure a 3-2 deciding vote. What are the odds of three anti-Capitalist Republicans ending up on the same board?
The Council meets at 8 a.m. this Wednesday, October 26, in Assembly Hall at 395 Magnolia Road, to re-visit the STR issue. Time will be allocated for public comment. Comments also can be submitted by email to email@example.com. The meeting will be livestreamed via the Village web site, vopnc.org/live.
Pinehurst has two engines of commerce tied to the golf industry. It has the all-encompassing Pinehurst Resort, which operates nine golf courses, a sprawling merchandise/pro shop, one grand hotel, three inns and multiple dining venues, along with the members-only Pinehurst Country Club and its private merchandise shop. The secondary engine is fueled by area golf facilities, gated/residential, semi-private and public, which accept tee time reservations booked by golfers who are not resort guests.
Where do these golfers reside when they visit? Many choose from a roster of area hotels, from bargain to slightly less-than-bargain. Seasoned golf groups have over the years rented private homes for their “buddy trips”. As a former owner of a golf-centric rental home, I can report enjoying 14 years of rental revenue and relatively low maintenance. Golfers come and go leaving things generally unscathed. Occasionally, they rearrange furniture, or spill on the carpet, or discombobulate the cable TV settings. And they almost never clean the gas grill after grilling. All were minor inconveniences for the owner and a competent property manager.
Strickland claims these golfers are a plague on our community, a blight on our daily lives.
As the Pinehurst STR market grew exponentially due to the advent of VRBO and airbnb, and other online rental portals, Strickland become ever more tyrannical about stopping it cold. (Historians will remind Strickland that cottage rentals have been integral to Pinehurst’s popularity since the early 1900s).
His zeal is such that he is uncaring about collateral damage, including squeezing a revenue stream that will cripple the balance sheets of the Country Club of North Carolina, where he is a member.
Contemplate the absurdity of this. A STR home on a random street in Pinehurst might, conceivably, become occupied by a group of young golfers, set free for a weekend without spousal supervision, who decide to drink too much, swear too loudly, and crank up the sound system too late into the night. In that rare case, a neighbor would be within the bounds of reason to call on the Pinehurst PD to the pay a visit to the party house. If it keeps happening, law enforcement and the Village would take steps to penalize the homeowner. Problem solved.
At CCNC, there are 14 rental homes within the gates. Who rents these homes? Members of CCNC, typically the state and national members, those who do not live on the grounds or in the area. As such, there is no comparison between STRs in the broader community and those in the pool at CCNC. But Strickland pointedly refuses to draw a distinction or make an exception.
In a recent letter to its membership, club president Mark Reinemann detailed the board of directors’ position:
“CCNC is at a near historical low in available homes given the real estate buying frenzy of the last several years. We need to expand the number of rental homes, not cap them. Not only is this an obvious impact on our members who travel to CCNC and typically stay at one of our rental homes, it also impacts individual homeowners who plan one day to place their homes in the rental pool at CCNC for a variety of reasons.”
The loss of rental home income would negatively impact the club’s annual revenue stream by millions of dollars because of Strickland’s reckless plan.
Overall, the economic damage to Pinehurst’s STR owners, restaurants and pubs, and retail has the capacity to make Governor Roy Cooper’s maniacal pandemic lockdowns feel mild by comparison. Strickland’s “state of emergency” would be indefinite. But this assumes that his hand-picked predecessor, most likely Pizzella, is elected in the future.
Meanwhile, a cascade of lawsuits is certain to be filed by all parties, which will almost certainly add to the long list of citizens fed up with Mayor Strickland, and for he and is “legacy” the timing could not be worse.
Early next year, candidates will begin filing to run for mayor in November 2023. Strickland has given his ideological foes (Republicans who know all too well he is not one of them) an irresistible campaign issue – the resurrection of short-term rentals by 2024, just in time for the return of the U.S. Open that summer.
Things never end well for tyrants, do they?