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Developers have a bigger say in Chatham than do the citizens

By Lynn Hayes
Posted Monday, October 24, 2005

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Pittsboro, NC - I just had to write to express my concern about what I feel is the hijacking of the voting by Commissioner Patrick Barnes concerning the addition of more lots to the Homestead neighborhood adjacent to Jordan Lake.

This is part of a larger picture where developers have a bigger say in county government than do the citizens.

Evidently Mr. Barnes was requested by County Attorney Bob Gunn not to vote on this issue because of Mr. Barnes' publicly stated position against development that would drain into Jordan Lake. For those who have not followed this issue, approval of the Homestead neighborhood off Big Woods Road required rezoning from 5-acre minimum lot sizes to RA-40 in order to permit high density development adjacent to the lake. This property has a steep slope running down to the creeks running into the lake and could have serious implications for the quality of Jordan Lake water. Currently the developers of the Homestead are requesting an additional 9 lots and 50 acres be added to the project.

It astounds me that Mr. Barnes was asked not to vote on this project, because Mr. Barnes was elected by the public at large BECAUSE of his views on development adjacent to the lake and he is now being prevented from acting in support of the will of the people who elected him. However, Mr. Morgan, who received a campaign contribution from the Homestead development people, is not required to recuse himself from voting on the Homestead.

This is part of a larger picture where developers have a bigger say in county government than do the citizens. An example of this is that citizens, even those who have expertise in areas that are at issue such as storm water management, are no longer allowed to speak at planning board meetings, but developers are permitted to participate in writing ordinances. We saw this during the Briar Chapel meetings where the developer sat at the table with the planning board, and it is worse today. Now only developers are heard by the planning board and citizens are permitted to speak only at public hearings at commissioners meetings.

Currently the Planning Board and Commissioners are working on the "10/70" rule, a new ordinance where 10% of the land in the Watershed area can have 70% impervious surface, meaning that the other 90% of the landowners do not have access to that option. This rule is needed in order for a Walmart to be built on the parcel at the Orange County line. Why do we suddenly need this ordinance? Clearly the developers of that parcel have put the planning department to work. Who else benefits? Whether you are for or against the Walmart, do we want developers to be writing ordinances that will affect the whole county?

In addition, the Planning Department wants to implement new rules for a Conditional Zoning ordinance where the community at large would not be permitted to speak on a new development, even if that development would affect the entire county. It is difficult not to fear that this rule is to further muzzle the county citizens.

As a real estate professional I am not against development, but I am strongly for the right of the people to have a government that represents the whole county and not just business interests. Chatham County is facing a new breed of development that threatens to turn this beautiful county into another Apex or Asheboro, and the citizens should have the right to express their opinion as to whether this is what they want.

I beg my fellow citizens to stay informed about these issues. This particular issue may not affect you where you live, but we can all agree that we need a more open government that is truly for the people and not run by the development interests. Certainly a publicly elected official should have the right to vote with the voice of his elected constituency. Please write to the commissioners and tell them how you feel about this, their email addresses are below.

best wishes,
Lynn Hayes

Bunkey Morgan, Chairman

Tommy Emerson

Patrick Barnes

Mike Cross

Carl Outz

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