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Chatham Park - The proving ground of the republic versus regionalism

By Tom Glendinning
Posted Tuesday, September 17, 2013

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Pittsboro, NC - Last month's installment of "progressive thinking" in the Indy Week contains the article "Chatham Park: jumping the shark?" Panning the planning already invested in the finest and largest development Chatham County will see, the editorial and political views are transparent. The article can be viewed here.

The intricacies of extraterritorial jurisdiction, planning control, type of subdivision, and taxation are modestly explained. Triangle Land Conservancy says plans are inadequate because it does not have the option to control one-third of the total acreage for a natural setting or "wildlands." Mayor Voller, who espouses concepts like Smart Growth, alternative energy, legislative control over private property, supports the development with reservations. Nonetheless, he is publicly for it. The tax issue would require rezoning or a handshake agreement that the property owner(s) would pay property taxes.

Speculations abound from the paper and other sources. I suppose some are the result of project envy or lack of control over minute details of building the world class development. Hint: eight years of prior planning and no building permits is not fast tracking.

The project will more than double the county tax base on build out using today's dollar. It will provide more employment than anything forecast. The financial gain will benefit all individuals, businesses, and institutions, as well as provide more money for non-profits (through individual donation) like a rising tide. If you remember the building boom of the 1980's and 1990's, you can attest to the benefits of the cash flow in those times.

Arguments and evaluations using the vocabulary of environmental justice, social and economic equity (the triumvirate), Smart Growth, sustainability, ecological priorities, mixed use, regionalism, bio-diversity, green, open space, tax base sharing, land management, resource management, among others, are signs of a value set which should raise hackles and red flags. While sounding perfectly reasonable and safe, they represent a system which clambers for control of all resources in the name of all that is in the holy triumvirate. In the main, they are unholy for several reasons.

The level of control of private resources is raised to a level beyond the original design of the republican form of government we are promised. The first party in our government is the citizen. The second party is the elected official or representative. The third party is officially appointed boards with powers of decision, like the Board of Equalization and Review or advisory boards, like planning or solid waste. Fourth party groups are outside of government official jurisdiction by appointment or above the election districts in the case of regional bodies. An example of this is the Councils of Government (COG) regions or ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.)

Fourth party groups take on the mantle of authority while issuing policies often adopted by unwitting elected officials. The officials are relieved to defer the responsibility of decision making, the costs of planning and the blame for bad choices. The groups are populated by official appointment or by self appointment. The decisions are made in groups which draw on a small population of citizens. These groups use techniques which are described as consensus building or other sampling terms, but the participants are limited usually to those who have certain agendas, not the population in general. Some admit to using a technique with prescribed decision points rather than points chosen by the group in session. The control process is called “visioning.” The general population believes that the groups are advisory to the elected officials and, thus, not primary in policy making.

In the 1980's, I participated in water quality committees in Triangle COG as a volunteer from the NC Conservation Council. We met over a two year period on the subject of water pollution from non-point sources. Experts from many agencies presented information for our education. We, as a working group, had a strong grasp of the issues. At the end of the work period, the group met to vote on policies to recommend to the legislature. That day, many new people showed up, none of whom I ever saw at the meetings. The proposed rules were announced, not chosen per se.

The group voted surprisingly for policies, some of which protected a few of the new ersatz members. The recommendations became part of ensuing legislation and environmental rules passed into law in the spate of water quality rules of the early 1980's.

Thus, the groups and their decisions violate the primary premise of the constitution in their ability to promote and install policies governing the citizens, their rights and properties directly.

The environmental values preached for decades by unsuspecting members of society have become the meandering measuring stick by which all development, industry, business and land use are judged. They have become codified in planning and zoning regulations throughout this country, slowly encroaching on private property rights, use and decisions. While there is nothing wrong with protecting water quality, community character and infrastructures in the whole, the decision tree has bypassed the citizen and his right to vote on those matters which directly effect him (her or it.)

Today, the extent of this bypass surgery is ubiquitous and so pervasive that any community has such rules in place. In some districts, an elected board with the priority of installing the values of social, environmental and economic equality (the triumvirate) will adopt measures in whole and at one time. Meanwhile, the general population occupies itself with normal activities like making a living, going to church, contributing to their communities, in the hope that their elected officials are doing what is right for them. That is the model of our democratic republic in the past when policy concerns were not focused on global topics, deemed too important for the locals. The remaking of our county policies is a task which can redefine whether Chatham is business friendly or whether it will remain hostile to those enterprises which pay all the bills. The issues surrounding Chatham Park are no small microcosm of this battlefield.

Now, the stage is set for how Chatham Park will be implemented. The owners are a strong private business. They have the assets to build whatever is designed. They are willing participants in the development of the larger community in that the Park will play such a vital role for the town, the county and the state.

The question is whether the goals for development will be determined by the agenda of fourth party groups or by the real citizen population of Pittsboro and Chatham County, whose rights are directly effected by the policies used to define the Park’s design and construction. Will TLC win their bid for one-third of the total land in its natural wild state? Will setback rules exceed those of the state? Will sustainable standards govern the costs of building to the point residents and citizens pay more? Will the county have any say in the process at all? Will the expense of solar power continue to be supported by federal and state tax breaks and levies or will it have to pay for itself like other sources of energy. Will natural gas be permitted so that local citizens can have a reliable, inexpensive source of heat and fuel? What type of tax base structure will the Park have to benefit Pittsboro?

Let us hope and pray that the power to decide these issues rests with the people and their elected officials, rather than groups outside the jurisdiction of the town and county. Lets hope and pray that policies governing development, land use, resources, energy, costs and taxes are in the hands of voters, not outsiders or a small, vocal minority.

The impact is too large to ignore the consequences. It is too important to defer in trust that the right decisions will be made. The arena should be spectacular enough to draw the attention of the voting public. Unfortunately, the times are hard, the issues of life are many and the confidence in public officials is low. However, since the local voting public was awakened in 2010, I suspect that many more will participate in coming elections, public meetings and issues than we have seen in decades. The time may be right for regaining control of our lives, for trusting our representatives again, as well as our businesses, large and small.

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Chatham Park - The proving ground of the republic versus regionalism