Historical Background

History of Chatham Park Investors actions in Pittsboro

Preston Development purchases first 1,800 from Wade Barber and family

Chatham Park did not start out to be a new city or master planned research park and new urbanist development as currently proposed. In fact, when retired Superior Court Wade Barber and his family began purchasing land southeast of Pittsboro it designed to be another Governor’s Club gated golf course community. However, those plans were apparently abandoned with the death of Governor’s Club developer Trudy Proctor.

Instead, in February 2006, the Barber family sold the 1,800 acres the had assembled for $17.4 million dollars to Preston Development Company of Cary. Newspaper articles at the time indicated SAS billionaire Jim Goodnight was the company’s financial backer. Recall that 2006 was the peak of the housing and land price bubble.

In 1991, Present Development Co. had built Preston, a 2,000 acre McMansion residential and golf course Greenfield community in Cary, primarily to serve executive and professionals from SAS. In 1995 Preston Development partners Tim Smith and Julian “Bubba” Rawl purchased the bankrupt 4,000 home Wakefield Planation mixed-use community but sold it to another development company within a year.

Smith said at the time of this purchase that Preston Development planned to hold the land for three to four years. Once its value has increased enough to make a tidy profit, Smith said his group would sell it to a developer.

Purchasing land in 2006-07 without a plan

The land was not actually purchased by Preston Development, but by Chatham Park Investors, formed in 2004 by Preston Partner Tim Smith, Julian “Bubba” Rawl, and two SAS executives.  By the end of 2006 they had purchased a total of nearly 2,000 acres, mostly by adjacent to their original purchase from Wade Barber. In 2007 they purchased an additional 1,454 acres, including two parcels totally 78 acres off Eubanks Road just east of Pittsboro that was rezoned small commercial developed that has yet to be built.  During the same year, the Town of Pittsboro held a community design charrette to obtain input for a land use plan for the town.  Potential developers, including Present Development lobbyist/planner Phillip Culpepper, participated in a focus groups to give input on the plan, which ended up not being approved until October 2012.  Culpepper could not provide any details about his company’s plans for the development at that time.

Land purchases north of US 64 and first “sustainable” master plan community concept

In 2008 purchased another 1,541 acres of land, much of that on the northern side of 15/501.  Many of these properties had initially been planned for residential or commercial development when the housing bubble was at its peak.  When the bottom dropped out the market that year a number of developers had given up on previous planned project and Preston Development was there to purchase those distressed properties.  Purchasing this land made a western bypass/parkway that would connect the Preston development directly to a separate interchange with US 64 bypass possible.  Among those who sold land to Preston Development was Pittsboro developer and Mayor Randy Voller. Voller sold approximately 220 acres just east of Fire Tower Road off Thompson Street that he had plan to use as Phase II of  his Chatham Forest subdivision that is located just west of Fire Tower Rd.

In May of that year Preston Development’s lobbyist/ planner Phillip Culpepper (e.g. describe himself at project manager) brought before the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) board the first specific concept for the proposed development. He indicated they had closed on 90% of 6,500 acres of property east and south of Pittsboro. He claimed they were meeting with community groups. He said the Present Development is no longer a “vertical builder,” which we take to mean low density residential sprawl. He said they were working with the town to solve the sewer, something that clearly has not yet occurred, since their master plan indicated this element is yet to be decided.  He also said there was a national move from green to sustainability and they were considering the concept of a sustainable community. He said were discussing a bypass with NCDOT and that the project would include an emerging businesses park as a central component. Finally, he assured the EDC they were doing environmental studies that would be used as guide the design of their development.

[Note. They were not actually doing these studies. They original commissioned the Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC) to do these studies but TLC wanted to remain independent. Thus, they raised the funds and collaborated with the Center for Sustainable Community Design, Institute for the Environment, UNC-CH, to this assessment. The assessment and recommendations were completed in October of that year.  After the study was completed, Preston Development declined to confer with is authors.  They ignored the studies’ recommendation in land use plan they developed for the property.]

In 2008 the EDC presented an Economic Development Strategic Plan that was approved unanimously by the County Commissioners and Town of Pittsboro. It states that Northeast Chatham’s proximity to RTP and available high-skilled workforce made it an ideal location for an emerging technologies park. It specifically mentioned that such a park should designed to attract “footloose, mid-tech companies desiring a location in the Research Triangle area.  This was not meant to compete with RTP but attract start-ups who might be attracted to less expensive park. In did not specifically mention the Preston Development site. In a related part of the industry attraction strategy included focusing on a cluster of industries, including architectural and engineering services, technical and research services, basic health services and hospital, pharmaceutical, information services, higher education, and renewable energy.  However, this cluster strategy was abandoned when a new county board majority came into office in 2011.

Representatives from Preston Development did not appear before the EDC board to present further developments of their plans for Chatham Park May 2012.

Little accomplished in moving forward with Chatham Park in 2009-2010

By the start of 2009, Preston Development 5,893 acres. Over the next two years they only purchased an additional 150 acres that consisted of filling in gaps in their land owners southeast of Pittsboro.  In 2009 they started negotiations with Strata Solar to build a 20-megawatt solar farm in the southern part of the development.  The lease for this solar had not been completed with Chatham Park and Strata Solar by the end of 2013.

In this period, Chatham Park lobbyist/planner Phillip Culpepper attempted to work with the town’s planning board to write a land use plan for the town that was ultimately rejected by the town board.

In 2010, Chatham Park Investors announced they were negotiations with UNC Hospitals about locating a major medical facility. (NOTE:  At the November 25, 2013 town board meeting, Tommy Drake said he was a real estate agent representing UNC Hospitals that wanted to locate three medical facilities in Chatham: a) a 25,000 square good medical office building; b) hospice facility – submitted application with the State of North Carolina but not yet approved; and c) submitted application for certificate of need for a 90-bed skilled nursing facility that would provide what is known as ventilator services for patients that require ventilator rehabilitation.  Drake and the Chatham Park Investors claim that UNC will only locate in Pittsboro if the master plan has been approved and the property rezoned.  New Mayor Bill Terry challenged that, saying he did not see why if any of these facilities are approved by the state, their facilities could not be approved as separate special use permits.  UNC representative have not spoken directly to the town on this issue.]

Transportation plan approved and key residential, Haw River access area purchased in 2011

In 2011 Chatham Park purchased 596 acres from the planned Indian Trace development. With an additional 44.5 adjacent acre purchased from developer Ricky Spoon the following years, these parcels run north almost directly across the Haw River from Bynum. This parcel stretches for two miles adjacent to the Haw River State Park, which is a narrow preserved strip of land directly fronting the Haw.  Chatham Park plans to locate 2,360 dwelling units in this area, which is now a pristine forest.

Also in in August 2011, the Pittsboro Town Board recommended approval a NC Department Transportation. This called for a Bypass Express or “High Level Boulevard” on the east side of Pittsboro to be paid by the developers and essentially serve as the principle access to the development.  This road connects south of Pittsboro on 15/501 where the Old Sanford Road intersection from the west, run northeast and cross over the Moncure Road between Mr. Zion and Bill Thompson road. At that point this boulevard  turns directly north through Chatham Park and crosses over East Road just west of the [w]out on 15/501 across the road from Russell Chapel Road to the west.  (See recommended DOT map and road design).

This high level boulevard is designed to have minimum access, not driveway, limited signaling, and speed between 30 and 55 MPH. It will be signed for four lanes and a landscaped median, but will be expandable to six lanes.  There master plan drawing showed right in/right out driveways, with three located south of East Road. There is also one right-out only driveway connecting a research and development, urban mixed-use center between East Street and the US 64 interchanged to Thompson street and downtown Pittsboro and two more north of US 64 bypass, one of which connect east to Eubanks Road.

The Pittsboro DOT transportation also calls for a express bypass west of town that would connect with the current US 64/East Street.  This expressway would be a high mobility, low access minimum four land highway with speeds between 45 and 60 MPH. It is unlikely this bypass will have state funds to build in less than 30 years.

 

Land use plan approved in 2012 calling for citizen and environmental guidance for Chatham Park

In October 2012, the Town of Pittsboro unanimously approved its land use plan that called for the town to “[w]ork with developers of Chatham Park to develop an area plan with a public process and design charrette that builds on the Southwest Shore Assessment.”  [click above and to page on this assessment].

Planned Development District ordinance approved on April 8, 2013

A planned development district ordinance (PDD) presented to the town by Chatham Park Investors that set out the requirements and review, approval and implementation process for Chatham Park was approved by the town without any discussion or public input on April 8, 2013.  This plan was submitted on January. The planning board recommended approving it on a 4-2 vote on March 4. A public hearing was held on March 25, where the only witness was Chatham Park lobbyist/planning Phillip Culpepper. Beyond as required legal advertisement, the public was not notified about the public hearing.[See PDD ordinance details here].

Later in April Chatham Park Investors held two public relations forum where several of their planning consultants presented a slide show outlining the general concepts and some photographic renderings of what it might look like.  No questions were allowed. They also passed out a survey the listed a series of athletic activities and venue and technologies and asked for to check one of three responses to each: must have, nice to have, and not worth it.

PDD application for rezoning and master plan submitted on May 3

The Town Board received the master plan and PDD application on May 13.

Planning Board reviews and send back to board for recommended public hearing

The planning board first reviewed the master plan on May 6.  On June 3 the planning board recommended sending it back to the Town Board for a public hearing and agreed that after the public hearing they would continue their review.

First Public Hearing held on June 24

The first public hearing was held by the Pittsboro Town Board on Chatham Park on June 24. Seventeen speakers spoke against the proposal or raised questions about the proposed master plan. Two citizens spoke in favor as did two officials of the EDC.  Citizens opposed to the proposal submitted 30 pages of letters.

Planning Board recommends Chatham Park for approval

On July 1, 2013 the planning recommended approval of the master plan by a 4-1 vote.

Hundreds attend second public a community college on July 22

There was a packed house July 22 at the Pittsboro community college auditorium for a second public hearing on the Chatham Park proposal. Three-three speakers opposed the proposed master plan. Only one speaker from the EDC supported it.  The minutes of this meeting included over 100 pages of comments and letters from citizens that were highly critical of the master plan.

Chatham Park Investors present and defend their project to the town board

On August 12, Chatham Park made their first public presented of their proposed master plan to the Pittsboro Town Board.  Presenting a slide show in support of the concept proposed development was business consultant Tom D’Alesandro, who has is not a planner or urban designer but someone who has been a business manager with already built master planned  communities such as Reston, Virginia and the Woodlands, Texas.  All of the photos from the slide show were carefully chosen, idealized views of section of Reston, the Woodlands, Smmertin, Nevada and Bridgeland, Texas. Charles Hayes,  president & CEO of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP), spoke about how Chatham Park would be a testing group for region’s clean tech cluster’s manufacturers and innovators.  There was not about locating those businesses in the park, just utilizing their energy saving products.  There was a short discussion with the board at the conclusion of their presentation.

At that meeting the board also received a letter from four local environmental and smart growth advocacy non-profits (Haw River Assembly, Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities, Friends of the Rocky River and Orange-Chatham Sierra Club working together under the local environmental education alliance, Connect) that called for environmental impact assessment and thorough analysis of other impacts on the areas and its people and that the Town Board’s decisions about Chatham Park should reflect the preferences of the residents.

 

Below is a visual map that displays the land acquisition by Chatham Park LLC from 2005 through 2013. To stop the slideshow just hover your mouse over the image you’d like to view.

 

2006 = 2,897.76 acres
2007 = 1,454.13 acres
2008 = 1,541.13 acres
2009 = 140.29 acres
2010 = 9.15 acres
2011 = 659.67 acres
2012 = 226.15 acres
2013 = 582.64 acres

Total: 7510.92