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A matter of concern to Chatham citizens

By Judy Hogan
Posted Thursday, January 15, 2004

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I'm concerned about what is happening right now with our Compact Community Ordinance, which is to provide rules and guidelines for large, mixed use development, presently with the primary possibility being Briar Chapel, with Newland of California hoping to put 2500 homes in an area bounded, roughly by 15-501, Andrews Store Rd, and Mann's Chapel Rd. in the northeast part of the county. For 18 months the Planning Board, composed of citizens led by George Lucier, with a Land Use Implementation Committee led by Larry Hicks, has worked hard to put in place a way that development can occur in such compact communities, with protections built in for the county and for the neighbors of such a development.

The county should make money, not lose money to such a development.

For instance, after much struggle and work, with LUPIC Committee, Planning board, Commissioners, and public, we had reached agreement on many difficult items like: protecting the watershed, e.g., making sure that those ephemeral streams which flood during heavy rains and normally have no water, are protected, both for the sake of people living on housing built near them and for the sake of the health of the Haw River and Jordan Lake, both of which are already impaired as to water quality, from which many of us now and in the future will receive our water.

The draft of the CCO, which is called now Draft A, also provided for a bond for the waste water treatment spray fields, so that the county would not have to pick up the tab should anything go wrong with this. The developer would guarantee it and pay for problems. Nowhere else in North Carolina has such a large development been planned to use such spray fields. Most such large developments occur in urban areas where there are sewer lines. There are no sewer lines in northeast Chatham. Also it provided that the spray fields must be owned by the development, not merely leased. This was, as I understand it, to protect the neighbors.

Furthermore, the county should make money, not lose money to such a development. The developer by good CCO rules would contribute money and/or land to a school in exchange for greater density, and the county would have a way to study the impact of it on county finances (services such as schools, social services, fire, police, libraries, other county staff). A lot can depend on the objectivity of the impact study, so that the Draft A made it such that the commissioners had a stake in being directly responsible for the impact study, and whoever did the study, being responsible to the county, not to the developer, although the developer would pay for it.

There were a few things still being debated, like how big this first experiment should be, which, at 2500 homes, would bring about 9000 people to that area (equal to Siler City plus Pittsboro), but suddenly over Christmas a new draft appeared, prepared by the county's lawyer, Mr. Gunn, and his partner, Mr. Messick, not, as far as I know, hired by the county. This draft did away with bonding the spray fields, with the ephemeral stream protection, with the responsibility for the impact study being with the commissioners, among other things. This new draft, Draft B, upset a lot of people, including Bob Atwater, because it appeared out of the blue, without having gone through the whole process with Planning Board, citizen input, Commissioner study,etc. I have heard the suggestion that Draft B was written by the developer's lawyer. Certainly, it suits the developer. It doesn't bode well for the citizens if the developer shapes the rules for development. We know that in Wake County, for every $1 of tax revenue that homeowners pay, the county spends $1.50 in services. We know that generally resident development doesn't bring in jobs. We know that residential development raises taxes. Still, we live in a county that is primarily residential, and development is coming, but the idea that was behind the Compact Community Ordinance was that in exchange for such density, the citizens of the county would get some trade-offs, help with services like schools, libraries, policing, fire, etc.

Our county staff is greatly overworked. They do amazingly well, considering. But the Planning staff couldn't possibly visit every site where development occurs to make sure the rules are followed--right now. There aren't enough of them, enough hours in the day. The state doesn't have the personnel either. Once we get good rules, we still have to make sure they're enforced.

The upshot of this is that we citizens, of whatever political persuasion, whether we are inclined usually or not to write letters or come to Commissioner meetings, this is a key moment to speak up. If you want your county government to work as designed, if you want your commissioners to continue to listen to you, if you want good county services and reasonable taxes, speak up now. I will put the commissioners' e-mails below.

There are two gatherings of citizens to protest Draft B, and to protect the legitimate one, in my opinion, the Draft A--one meeting on Jan 20. The Compact Community Ordinance, both drafts, has returned to the Planning Board, where an able George Lucier will do his best, I'm sure, to work out something reasonable for the county. They meet on Jan 27. So there isn't a public hearing on Jan 20, but there is a commissioners' meeting, and the Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities, to which I belong, is asking people to come at 5:30 PM to the courthouse on Jan 20, to let the commissioners know that we want democratic government here in Chatham.

You also are urged to attend the Planning Board session on Jan 27, with pubic input session beginning before the regular meeting, I believe at 6:30.

The Chatham County website will give exact places and times, or call County Manager's office: 542-8200.

Bob Atwater:, Margaret Pollard:; Carl Outz:; Tommy Emerson:; Bunkey Morgan:

Thank you for listening. I am very worried about what will happen unless many, many citizens of Chatham stand up for our county, our services, the cost of development to us. If you want to join the Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities, contact Mary Bastin:

Some of you are already alerted, but please spread the word. A few minutes of your time now can help keep taxes reasonable, services from deteriorating further, and water fit to drink, not to mention our democracy here in Chatham healthy.

Related info:
Chatham County
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A matter of concern to Chatham citizens
Citizens will come to the courthouse at 5:30 pm on Jan. 20

Related info:
Chatham County

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