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Moratorium will give us breathing room

By Jeffrey Starkweather
Posted Tuesday, May 22, 2007

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Pittsboro, NC - Actions speak louder than words. When our descendants look back on what occurred in this time, what we say tonight will be little remembered. But when you pass this residential development moratorium your actions will never be forgotten.

This will not be just because this moratorium is an important step toward carrying out principles you were all elected upon: environmental and fiscal stewardship; planned, equitable and smart growth; and promotion of sustainable economic development.

More importantly, it will be because you have fulfilled by your action the promise of what the citizens who supported you have sought for the past four years: “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

During the past two elections, an overwhelming majority of the voters in Chatham County have underscored these principles. They elected you because they believed you are committed to planned and sustainable development. If democracy is about anything, it is about elected public servants living up to their campaign promises. And tonight’s hearing is another example where you, our county commissioners are living up to your commitment to true government by the citizens.

In 2001, The Governor’s Commission on Smart Growth, Growth Management and Development, co-chaired by two distinguished Chatham County state legislators -- Rep. Joe Hackney (now our Speaker of the House) and then Senator Howard Lee (now chair of the State Board of Education), made the following finding of core principles:

● citizens and government should articulate the sort of growth they want rather than leave choices to chance;

● growth can be managed while being encouraged;

● smart growth is preferable because it makes efficient use of public resources such as infrastructure, taxes and the environment;

● public participation and property rights are key elements of growth management

That same year Chatham County commissioners unanimously approved the county’s Land Conservation and Development Plan. That plan clearly carried out the “smart and sustainable growth” concepts proposed by the Governor’s Smart Growth Commission. It specifically called for balanced growth where the benefits and burdens would be shared, natural resources and rural character would be protected and promoted, and development would be guided to suitable locations and designed appropriately.

Unfortunately, the land use map referred to in the plan was never adopted, nor were most of the land use tools required to carry out this vision. Meanwhile, since 2001 we have increased our population by 25% and the county has approved somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 new residential units. And the most recent Cost of Community Services report from NC State shows that the county continues to spend more of its tax revenues for services to residential developments than it collects from those developments.

Since the new majority has come into office in December the entire board has worked together diligently in setting up subcommittees of the planning board, various task forces and advisory boards to develop tools called for in the land use plan and needed for planned growth. But it has become clear that we do not have the financial, personnel or volunteer resources to develop those planning tools while spending an enormous amount of time reviewing a flood of development requests. For example, just since Janaury the county has received sketch design requests totally 640 residential units.

Other speakers will address some of the following that necessitate a 12-month moratorium on large subdivision at this time, including: unmanaged population and residential development pressures; unplanned major highway corridor development; public school overcrowding and lack of coordination between school location needs and planning decisions; growing backlog of costly infrastructure needs, including new schools, water and sewer, recreation, law enforcement, judicial and administrative; increasing threats to our rivers, streams, watershed and lakes from uncontrolled residential sprawl; development encroachment on our farm economy and farmland particularly in the unzoned townships; Town of Cary’s annexation threats to rural eastern Chatham; a subdivision and conditional use review and hearing process that does not allow adequate time for informed public input; lack of planning and environmental review staff resources; lack of affordable housing needed for economic development; and lack of a comprehensive plan for public transportation for the nearly 60% of our workers who must commute out of the county for decent-paying jobs.

It is clear also, that there is no practical alternative to achieving the sustainable growth planning principles of our land use plan without enacting this moratorium to give us the breathing room required to properly plan for the future. Moreover, this will not negative impact economic development. In fact, the Governor’s Smart Growth Commission found that enacting smart growth policies will enhance economic development.

While there are many critical sustainable development tools that we may not be able to complete during the moratorium period, the tasks you have set forth to complete are practical and achievable: land use plan update and map development; subdivision and zoning ordinance revisions; affordable housing plan; environmental impact statement triggers and stream buffers; zoning the major corridors and developing a major corridor ordinance plan and map; and revising the public hearing and review processes.

The majority of Chatham residents welcome your anticipated action in approving this much needed moratorium ordinance, because actions do speaker louder than words. I taking this action you will have again proven that in Chatham we now have “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Thank you.


Above text was read during moratorium hearing.

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