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Growth around Pittsboro will happen with a plan, with multiple small plans, or without any plan at all

By Al Cooke
Posted Thursday, November 7, 2013

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Pittsboro, NC - I have been observing the process of Chatham Park for more than five years, which makes me wonder why all the discussion only now. It seems to bring out more heat than light. Perhaps I've just been in place to have more opportunity to notice what's going on. But I can look at a map of North Carolina and find Raleigh. It's bigger than is used to be. And I can find Apex that was once a small rural town as was Cary before it. The only surprise for me will be if in 30 years Pittsboro and surrounding areas are not similarly developed. As Dr. Dykers suggests, it's a population issue.

At least there is a plan, something a lot of people suggest is good. If some project such as Chatham Park with a plan does not develop the land between Pittsboro and Jordan Lake, other developers likely will. If nothing like that happens, then one property at a time will be sold for someone to build a home, an RV park, a car wash, a gas station, a grocery store, an attorney's office, a hair salon, and all the things that go into life in the 21st century. It likely will happen with a plan, with multiple small plans, or without any plan at all. Take your pick.

How the property is developed is a decision of the property owners. But let's be clear that there is more involved than just the property owner's rights and what he, she, or they can do with their properties. If the property owner can produce everything needed from the property and will not need to dispose of anything off the property, then perhaps we as a community have little to say about it.

But in the 21st century, people usually need to bring in equipment and materials. That means they need roads suitable for handling heavy loads. Sometimes they build roads; sometimes they use existing roads - often both. They usually need other public resources such as water. And they usually have material to remove from the site including stumps, household or business trash, and sewage either before or after treatment.

Property owners need community resources, and protecting those resources is part of the reason behind creating regulations and restrictions on how property can be developed. Just the clearing of land usually impacts the public water resource. We learned the story of erosion in grade school along with the role of trees and vegetation in prevention. Clear the land, and eroded soil makes its way to streams and lakes and is the most significant factor in water pollution in our state. Sedimentation buries aquatic organisms like mussels that participate in cleaning up the water - at no extra charge if we don't bury them in sediment. Sediment also carries nutrients that nourish algae, another big negative impact on our water, making it more expensive to clean up. Development adds expense. It's an environmental issue, and it's an economic issue.

It's most remarkable to me that we still tend to mix our water source and our sewage disposal. Many of us get our water from wells in the ground and dump our sewage into a septic tank in the ground. Others purchase water from a municipal source that gets the water from a stream or lake and dump their treated sewage effluent into a stream or lake. Of course septic tanks are sited some distance from wells. And sewage effluent is deposited downstream from water intake - but upstream from the next town's intake. We all live downstream from somewhere else. Of course as a community we go to some expense to clean up first the sewage and then the water.

We can agree (and disagree) on imposing certain regulations on property owners. And developers will complain about the expense even though they usually pass the expense on to the next purchaser. When a property owner develops property, the community has to deal with the sewage. The community has to repair the roads. he community has to deal with the health impact of people breathing more exhaust fumes. The community has to deal with more people spreading germs or virus that lead to more colds and flu and more lost days at work and higher costs of work. The community has to provide more schools, teachers, and school buses. As John Muir suggested, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." We can nitpick the details. But it's a population issue. People create impacts on resources and on other people. The impact that I always notice is that there will be more traffic and more stoplights to occupy my time.

The role of a developer or business is to make a profit, and that is not a bad thing. The development or business may create jobs and/or offer many other benefits to a community. But these are not the usual objective. These are bargaining points. The goal is to make a profit. That's was businesses do. When there is no profit, business dies.

Likewise, one of the roles of the community is to get what it can from a business or developer in order to continue to provide and protect the assets the community values whether environmental, economic, or aesthetic. These are bargaining points. It's curious to me that regardless of what is promised by a development (or especially an athletic arena), there is seldom any follow-up. The benefits promised may or may not become reality. Why is there no contractual commitment? If X numbers of jobs are promised in Y number of job categories, what is the cost of failure to deliver and who pays? To me it just sounds like good business sense to make sure you get what is promised and agreed.

If Chatham Park can't make a profit, it is not serving the interests of its investors. If the Town of Pittsboro and Chatham County don't exact commitments from Chatham Park, they are not serving their communities as good municipal governors. It comes down to good business decisions on both sides. Everything is negotiable up to a point. After that it needs to be enforceable. And these are the kinds of issues that need to be addressed, discussed, and agreed upon. We need good minds to imagine the questions and realize solutions. Asking the Town of Pittsboro and Chatham Park to consider certain things is not unreasonable.

Something will happen on the Chatham Park properties. Some will profit. Some will find employment, business opportunities, and recreation. Some will lose something. Any good business needs to look after its own interests and those of its investors or citizens. One thing I notice is that if you try to stop a project like Chatham Park and succeed, then while you celebrate, the developer will settle down, regroup, and wait until the time is right to try again. Two years, four years, new board members, new commissioners, new legislators, new laws, and here we go again. We don't stop progress; we negotiate it. With good negotiation, we all benefit from a better community.

As I suggested, I have been observing this one for years. It did not pop up last year. And there is still time for the negotiators to listen to good ideas. If you want to get involved a little earlier in the next such opportunity, watch land sales. You can learn a lot from the comfort of your computer. I don't know how long Chatham Park has been acquiring property in Chatham County. There are nearly a hundred different parcels. And I don't know what other properties they or someone else may be acquiring. But most of that information is available in the tax records and deeds offices.

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Growth around Pittsboro will happen with a plan, with multiple small plans, or without any plan at all