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Citizens seek public hearing on the Homestead development at Jordan Lake

By Jeffrey Starkweather
Posted Thursday, March 11, 2004

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Local citizens' groups are asking The Chatham County Board of Commissioners to schedule a second public hearing on the Homestead residential development proposed for the west side of Jordan Lake. the commissioners vote to approve the development without another public hearing, their action could result in a legal challenge," said Jeffrey Starkweather, a Pittsboro attorney and co-author of a 200-page report critical of the development.

In his March 10 letter to the commissioners, Starkweather indicated he was speaking on behalf of the co-authors of the report, "Concerned Citizen Review of The Homestead Proposal." The authors concluded the development would cost the county more than $800,000 a year, have a negative impact on water quality, traffic, recreation, tourism and sprawl, and conflict with the county's land conservation and development plan.

A similar public hearing request has been filed by three other groups concerned about runaway development: Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities, Chatham Citizens United, and Southeast Chatham Citizens Advisory Council

The county planning board voted 7-3 last Tuesday (March 2) to recommend that commissioners reject the developer's proposal. Commissioners are expected to review the planning board recommendation at their regular meeting Monday March 15, and perhaps vote on whether the development should proceed.

Starkweather said the county's public hearing timetable did not give citizens enough time to review the complex proposal and present informed testimony at the hearing. There was a public hearing on the Homestead development on November 17, less than two weeks after the proposal was first released to the public (at a November 4 planning board meeting).

The 475 residential unit proposal includes a request by Jordan Lake LLC to re-zone 577 acres in the Big Woods watershed protection district from RA-5 (5-acre lot average ) to RA-40 residential use district, which would allow approximately four greater times density than allowed under the current zoning. The developer also seeks a conditional use permit allowing on-site sewage treatment involving the spraying of wastewater on vacant land in the development.

Starkweather argues that such a complex proposal requires more time for citizen review and input, and to ensure that the county commissioners are able to make an objective review that follows the formal public hearing process required by state law.

"Since this involved a conditional use permit request, the county was required by state law to conduct a formal, evidentiary, quasi-judicial public hearing in which each witness must be sworn and parties given the right to cross-examine witnesses," said Starkweather. "The commissioners are required to make findings solely on factual evidence presented at the public hearing and to apply those facts to the five findings necessary to grant approval."

County planner Keith Megginson presented his evaluations and recommendations on the Homestead proposal January 6, two months after the proposal was first released to the public. Jordan Lake LLC then submitted information at the February 3 planning board meeting, concerning traffic projections, wastewater treatment and monitoring, and economic impact. The citizens' review was submitted four weeks later at the March 2 planning board meeting.

Now that reports have been submitted by the planner, the developer and the citizens, commissioners should hold a hearing to objectively assess the information and question all sides, Starkweather said.

"There is no way the commissioners can properly weigh this substantial, critical, and to some degree, complex additional factual information without receiving a formal factual presentation from both the developers and the citizen groups, after which the commissioners can question each party," said Starkweather. "A public hearing is the best way for the commissioners to receive this information."

 
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