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Concerning Development

By Efrain A. Ramirez Jr.
Posted Monday, January 12, 2004

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One topic that gets under my skin and continues to aggravate me (like a chigger) is the tone that was taken during the last County Commissioners election by "pro growth", "pro development" forces. There were considerable funds expended on behalf of those who prevailed, by individuals from outside the county and from outside of North Carolina. The message was that "growth" (in housing ?) meant economic opportunity for Chatham and this in essence seemed to imply lower taxes. The part on taxes resonated among those who blamed the commissioners then in office for the revaluation of property mandated by the State and the resulting increase in taxes for undervalued properties.

The message was that "growth" meant economic opportunity for Chatham.

Now we have some massive developments on the horizon; between the persistence of Briar Chapel, then Buck Mt, Chatham Downs, Power Place, The Homestead, plus Pittsboro Station South. Briar Chapel was turned down by the public and the voters, plus the County Commissioners then in office. Chatham Downs was turned down by the public and the voters, but approved by the County Commissioners now in office.

According to the numbers available, these developments will increase residential properties in Chatham by 4,777 units, the commercial space by 782,580 sq.ft. and consume 3,071 acres of Chatham County land. 4,777 housing units could yield perhaps 15,000 new residents for Chatham, perhaps more. What is that? A 25% increase in the population of the county over the next five years? Add to this the normal number of homes built in the county by our native home builders, and the number of premanufactured units and trailers that are installed yearly. Is our infrastructure ready for this? Schools, public safety (police/sheriff, fire, EMS), recreation, solid waste removal, water & waste water
treatment disposal.

It seems that the county has been dodging the bullet for years on solid waste removal, on water & sewage treatment because it costs too much. No one wants an increase in property taxes to pay for these critical needs. Therefore nothing was or has been done. At a recent meeting of the Commissioners John McSween spoke eloquently on the continuing work that the committee he heads has done regarding solid waste disposal. As seems to be the case regarding other necessities, this was set aside by the Commissioners and nothing further was done. John was asked what he would do if he was the "solid waste dictator". His reply was that he would know what to do, but, some might not like it. That was it! Next subject!

Property taxes will increase, as the need for services will also increase. Furthermore, Chatham has accomplished little with regard to industrial development because we seem to lack essential components of water & waste water treatment. Not long ago, one school reportedly ran out of water. Some schools depend on wells & waste water treatment that seems marginal. New developments will largely depend on spray fields for waste water dispersal. How much better is this then the waste dispersal from lagoons that have been criticized for pollution of streams & rivers down east. How will this affect our existing sources of fresh water, such as the Haw and Rocky Rivers, and Jordan Lake. Spray fields, in addition to the large amounts of fertilizer needed to keep numerous golf courses lush and verdant will surely add contaminants to our drinking water.

The State DOT, which like the US Corps of Engineers, thrives only when it is building & growing (whether a project make sense or not) has done much for the further development of Chatham. We are now "four laned" from Raleigh to Ashboro via US64. One purpose seems to be for 64 to relieve congestion on I40/85 corridor between Raleigh & Charlotte. We are now in the midst (appears never ending to most who travel this rout) of expansion on 15-501 from the 64 by-pass to CH. And soon to come to a home near you, the N-S 15-501 by pass around Pittsboro ? All of this has turned a winding two lane 15-501 into a winding four lane 15-501 which will soon be "strip malled" with numerous shopping centers, fast food franchises, auto dealerships and traffic lights; just as it is from Chapel Hill through Durham. So where is the progress as far as getting from one place to the other by car is concerned ?

I am not in any way against progress. Our population is growing. Chatham is an attractive place to live. I was certainly attracted some 18 years ago. It continues to attract transplants & retirees from the north east & mid west, those who flee Cary & Wake County and migrants from outside our national borders. It is not a matter of "pull up the ladder, I'm on board", or "I have my piece of the pie, screw the rest". We do STILL have an attractive place. To this point, land values & property taxes have been comparatively cheap. Chatham has to a great extent been the underdeveloped jewel between the Triangle, the Triad & the metro (soon to be megalopolis) of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County. Do we now want to become another paved over traffic stalled area like Atlanta & it's burbs, or like the Richmond-DC-Baltimore corridor ? Will Chatham become part of another great urban eyesore from Garner to Winston Salem? Will Chatham (& perhaps Randolph) County survive?

Chatham can still PLAN to grow WITH an appropriate PLAN that allows growth & also respects & maintains the beauty and serenity that we do have. For over two years I participated on the Strategic Plan Development Comm.(SPDC). Many residents from all over our county carefully reviewed previous studies & plans, interviewed hundreds of residents & labored to put together a PLAN FOR GROWTH. This was followed by LUPIC, then the already watered downed CCO & by concerned citizens who are trying maintain the thread of having a PLAN FOR GROWTH.

Apparently, elements who supported & financed the last Commissioners campaign are now just as actively working to further water down, emasculate, &/or defeat that which so many worked so hard to develop. I applaud groups such as Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities & others who continue to monitor & warn against the machinations of those who want to develop without any restrictions. Remember, these individuals/organizations will leave Chatham once they have made their money. It will be up to us who remain to clean up the mess we are left with, and, to pay for everything that has to be remedied once they are gone. And don't forget PROPERTY TAXES. If you thing they are not going to increase dramatically, you are just whistling Dixie.

Coming back to the subject of County Commissioners; to whom are they accountable? Is it to those who contribute financially to their campaigns and/or personal well being and interests? Or is it to those who cast votes in the election and who live in and love Chatham ? Make the County Commissioners and the County Attorney? Attorneys? (do we have one? or do we have two?) accountable to the TAX PAYERS, to the VOTERS and to the RESIDENTS of Chatham County. Lets make sure that our county remains the attractive place it has been for so long, with clean air & clean water and run by the voters, not by those merely interested in turning a profit at the expense of the voters.

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Concerning Development

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