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Chatham Park is already our future

By Virginia Penley
Posted Monday, December 9, 2013

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Pittsboro, NC - One can put land into a conservation easement or one can use the land he or she owns as one wishes, within the restrictions of local zoning or lack of zoning.

It is apparent that the previous owners of each parcel of the land now owned by Chatham Park could have put it into a conservation easement in order to protect it from development and to reap other potential benefits as well.

This was not done.

However, every acre now owned by Chatham Park was bought from owners who knew they were selling that land to people who intended to build Chatham Park. Some of the property was already approved in the past for mixed use planned development and or commercial development (River Oaks, Eubanks Crossing to name a few) other parcels have already been in commercial/industrial use such as the former Townsends Chicken Plant and finally some were proposed as residential development to the Town years ago. (Chatham Forest East.) All of these parcels were purchased over the past seven years along with parcels that have the basic residential/agricultural zoning. To my knowledge no “straw men” were used in these purchases and no intent on the part of the purchasers was hidden. There were no secret deals, the landowners who were their neighbors were
aware of the entire process, and they all chose to sell their land. The former owners chose to sell the land and received a sales price that worked for them. The land is now the property of Chatham Park and if the community wants to advocate for conservation easements and other land use options it will need to work constructively with the Town Board and Chatham Park.

Once the Town Commissioners vote to affirmatively rezone the property it will be the beginning of a very long journey. The initial rezoning will NOT give Chatham Park a free hand to build without oversight. From what I understand every part, every stage of development, every building on every parcel will have to be reviewed by the Planning Board and/or the Town Board with ultimate authority resting with the Town Board. For example, Site Approval/Plan Permits will need to be issued by the Town Board and can be withheld if conditions of the masterplan and/or other agreements and code(s) are not met.

This process will likely take 30 to 35 years before the project is near completion and will involve input from current leaders and citizens as well as their children, grandchildren and citizens and stakeholders who have yet to call Chatham County and Pittsboro their home.

For historical context think of Fearrington. In 1970 Chatham County was even more agricultural than it is today with a countywide population of 29,554 and Pittsboro had less than 1,400 people living within its municipal limits. In its time Fearrington, which is quite a bit smaller than Chatham Park, created a similar commotion and backlash. Yet today Fearrington is considered a jewel for Chatham County and the Triangle with a ready reserve of retirees who have made an indelible and for the most part extremely positive impact on Chatham County and Pittsboro. This is what many of us perceive to be the future for Chatham Park.

If we work with Chatham Park, we can direct its appearance standards and how it flowers in our community. The town already required a substantial list of master plans to be submitted to the town and Chatham Park offered to create a stakeholder committee that they called the “Compass Committee” to help chart the direction of the project. (This committee was different than the “Development Committee” that the Town required to standardize all site plan submissions from Chatham Park.)

Through positive constructive engagement we can require items such as LED use in outdoor lighting to limit night sky interference, democratize access to the forest with walking and biking trails thus making it available to everyone and requiring that a public arts plan be implemented that requires all artwork to be purchased from local artists. (The masterplan agreement already includes this concept and Mayor Voller negotiated with Chatham Park the notion that all artwork would be purchased from local artists.)

In addition we can work to implement a “buy local” component of the project wherein the designs and materials for the project will be drawn from local suppliers when possible.

We can ensure a minimum living wage for all workers there, both now during construction, and in the completed community.

They have also included a twenty megawatt solar farm in the plan, public transportation with the transit plan and a commitment eliminating sprawl by pushing density, verticality and utilizing walkable retail.

Furthermore we can work with Chatham Park to assist in building new infrastructure for Pittsboro, such as improvements to the potable water plant, its distribution network, a reuse water network and the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant and/or further expansion of the existing plant. The Town can also accept the negotiated offer to provide Pittsboro $300,000 annually, which is in addition to other fees, to pay for the costs associated with the time needed to process the planning effort.

Among projects initially proposed for Chatham Park on the north side of town is a UNC Medical Center with a rehabilitation center, a hospice, and a skilled nursing facility. These facilities will provide obvious benefits to Pittsboro and eastern Chatham when completed. They will also create direct and indirect jobs for skilled, unskilled and professional people in Chatham County during construction and when completed. The initial project will catalyze growth and the new citizens and businesses will increase the tax base of Pittsboro as well as other revenues to the citizens and the town. The steady growth will provide a slow and manageble rise in the customer base for existing businesses and new businesses in Pittsboro.

Chatham Park represents the type of growth that will help Pittsboro and Chatham County and provide good jobs for our citizens and our children locally in the near term and the long term.

And this is the type of new growth that is desired by every region of the country, it is the type of growth that is the envy of every depressed region of NC and the Southeast because the well paid construction jobs and supporting jobs cannot be outsourced and neither can the permanent jobs in the medical center. (If all goes as planned Pittsboro will also receive a UNC Cancer Center.)

To delay the rezoning vote further serves only to obstruct the project as opposed to the clarity of moving forward. The studies and detailed planning will occur during the site approval process and subsequent small area planning processes. Those claiming to be neutral while demanding detailed, exhaustive studies of the entire project before the rezoning vote are, in reality, trying to prevent the project from happening at all. Their real intention is to stop Chatham Park altogether because the it is unreasonable for an applicant to invest millions of dollars on planning and engineering documents as well as major improvements without some form of assurance.

And if the rezoning is denied or turned into a political football and/or circus, the GOP-led NCGA can potentially remove the control from Pittsboro and/or meddle in the project--an outcome that provides nothing for the citizens of Pittsboro in terms of control and/or tax base yet potentially manifests the same problems that citizens do not want.

Now is the time to negotiate with Chatham Park. The forest has already been sold. If you care about what occurs next on that land, support your Town Commissioners as they constructively engage in negotiating the masterplan before the rezoning of the property.

Approval of the rezoning will allow all parties and stakeholders to begin the work of planning the details of our future. Specific site approval of detailed building plans and other master plan documents are part of the next phase of the process that will occur over the next two years. In addition, there will be a developer agreement that is part of this two year process and this agreement will require a public hearing to review the agreement.

In conclusion, constructive engagement with Chatham Park now, while they are offering to negotiate the masterplan and related documents, is the way the people of Pittsboro and Chatham County can shape this project into something we want to live with, something that can benefit our community by providing direct and indirect jobs and finally allow for sustainable and vibrant growth for Pittsboro’s future.

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Chatham Park is already our future

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