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Why Chatham Park matters

By Dianne Reid
Posted Saturday, February 14, 2015

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Pittsboro, NC - The Chatham Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is a private, non-profit organization working to make Chatham County the preferred location for emerging growth companies. By attracting new companies, helping existing businesses expand, and assisting new ventures, the EDC encourages new job creation and private investment in property and equipment.

In 2013, the EDC spearheaded an effort to develop a conceptual land use plan for Chatham County. Our motivation was to position the county for sustainable and balanced growth for future generations. Working with County and Town staff, we developed several growth scenarios. We then sought public input, both through public meetings and an online survey tool.

Based on our research and feedback from the community, two paramount goals emerged: creation of good quality jobs and preservation of rural areas, leading us to develop a hybrid scenario we called “Rural Preservation with Targeted Employment.” The hybrid scenario was approved unanimously by the Chatham County Board of Commissioners last summer.

The approved conceptual land use plan envisions employment centered in relatively dense development in the towns within the County, creating opportunities for residents to work here, and generating adequate commercial and industrial taxes to support a rural and natural area preservation strategy. It is in the context of this overall strategic approach that the Chatham EDC has endorsed the proposed Chatham Park development.

Why Change?

Chatham County has developed largely as a bedroom community, with the majority of employment and service needs being met by surrounding counties. Approximately 55 percent of Chatham County’s labor force leaves the county to work, commuting on average more than 26 minutes.

These commuters tend to spend their dollars outside the County as well, with studies showing that Chatham County residents spend $0.64 of every dollar outside the County. This means a significant portion of locally generated retail sales tax dollars go to other communities.

We simply don’t have enough jobs. Almost 30,000 Chatham residents work outside of their homes. The total number of jobs in the county is just more than 14,000. Moreover, the jobs we have pay below the state average. In January, 2014, the average weekly wage for jobs in Chatham County was $625 while the state average weekly wage was $710.

Chatham County also lacks a balanced tax base. Today, commercial and industrial property represents only 9 percent of our total tax base, forcing homeowners to shoulder the bulk of the tax burden. For comparison, Lee County’s tax base is 24.8 percent commercial and industrial, Harnett’s is 11.7 percent, Orange’s is 14.1 percent, Moore’s is 14 percent , Durham’s is 37.9 percent, and Wake’s is 22.3 percent.

The composition of the tax base is important because studies consistently show that residential, commercial and agricultural development demand very different levels of services and residential development seldom pays for itself. In a cost of community services study completed in Chatham County in 2007, researchers found that residential services cost $1.14 for every dollar of tax revenue generated. In contrast, service costs for commercial and farmland are $0.33 and $0.58 per tax dollar, respectively.

To date, corporate growth and greater employment opportunities in Chatham have been limited due to inadequate infrastructure and a lack of quality commercial/industrial building stock and available build-to-suit sites. Chatham Park represents an opportunity to overcome these limitations.

What Chatham Park Offers


Chatham Park is a 7,100 acre assemblage of land located primarily east and south of Pittsboro. Its developers submitted a proposal to the Town of Pittsboro to rezone the property as a Planned Development District last May. Several significant revisions have been made to the proposed master plan, and the Town Board is expected to vote on the rezoning, perhaps in March, after review by a planning consultant.

Chatham Park is designed to provide opportunities for residents to live, work, and play within its boundaries. Its core is a business campus designed to attract mid-tech companies that will create good quality, well-paying jobs. Chatham Park will stand as a complement to the Research Triangle Park, providing a new anchor in one of the nation’s fastest growing and economically vibrant areas.

The development’s master plan calls for locating more intensive commercial uses nearer the town, with density decreasing as you move away from Pittsboro and with open spaces preserved along the Haw River to the east. Plans call for an extensive trail system, tied to existing trails, providing access to the river for Chatham Park residents and employees.

The preliminary transportation plans includes a new interchange on the Highway 64 bypass and roads that will connect various neighborhoods within the development. The developers plan to incorporate emerging clean technologies throughout the project, including extensive water reuse. One of the first developments will be a 20 megawatt solar farm.

The first buildings are expected to be medical offices and other specialized medical service facilities. Additional medical facilities are planned for Chatham Park, which will mean both jobs and better access to health care in a community that currently must drive more than twenty minutes to the nearest hospital.

With multiple housing types and price points, from townhomes to large-lot single family homes, Chatham Park will offer housing options for individuals and families at various life stages. Its neighborhood centers will provide basic goods and services, reducing residents’ dependency on automobiles.


Why Chatham Park Matters

Chatham County is not immune to the growth pressures facing the Triangle area. If current trends continue, the Research Triangle region’s population will increase by more than 1 million people by 2030. Between 2000 and 2010, Chatham County’s population grew by 28%. In that same period, Pittsboro’s population grew by 68%.

The growth is inevitable, and the demand for housing, jobs and infrastructure will be strong. Chatham Park offers a cohesive, comprehensive vision for a 21st Century mixed-use project, and the developers have demonstrated a willingness to work with Pittsboro officials to ensure citizen concerns are addressed.

The alternative is piecemeal residential growth, a strategy that scatters development throughout the County and rarely offers employment opportunities. Large lot residential development will continue to sprawl into rural areas, putting additional pressure on farms and farmers.

By concentrating residential and commercial development within its borders, Chatham Park enables rural and natural area preservation throughout the balance of the County as a byproduct. With focused residential growth that embraces job creation, Chatham Park can help Chatham County achieve the “Rural Preservation with Targeted Employment” pattern of growth endorsed by residents and officials.

Additionally, existing businesses can benefit from the larger resident population. One of the most common complaints of Pittsboro merchants is the lack of business traffic. With more residents, the historic downtown area can become an attractive destination for consumers. Regardless of the planned service-oriented neighborhood centers, a historic downtown will always draw visitors for its charm and unique small businesses.

Conclusion

For Chatham County residents, Chatham Park provides: a larger and more diverse tax base that reduces the burden on individual homeowners over time; easier access to medical facilities; closer proximity to shopping; and greater opportunities for local employment in jobs of all kinds – service, medical, research, technology – reducing time spent away from home and enabling children to return to live and work here after completing their education.

normal" class="MsoListParagraph">For new and existing businesses, Chatham Park provides: a larger consumer base and enhanced business traffic potential; new business to business opportunities as new companies move in; access to a larger employee pool; synergies in locating near complementary industries; and opportunities for additional tourism expenditures as the development progresses.

For local government, Chatham Park provides: smart, planned growth with an infrastructure growth plan instead of scattered development; developers with an interest in working with the Town, the County and the School Board for mutual benefit; enhanced potential for the preservation of rural farmland; increased property and sales tax revenues; and a more balanced tax base.

In sum, Chatham Park matters.

 
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Why Chatham Park matters
Dianne Reid is President of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation.
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