Planned Development District Ordinance

What is a planned development district?

Was a PDD ordinance designed for a massive development like Chatham Park?

History of the PDD ordinance for Chatham Park?

What does the PDD ordinance provide?

What we see as deficiencies of the PDD?

What is a planned development district?

A planned development district (PDD) is designed for a parcel or group of parcels be developed as part of a unified plan where local jurisdiction gives them the flexibility to combine commercial and residential uses in a manner not normally allowed under existing zoning districts.  Often standards subdivision, zoning and other land use regulations of the town are replaced by requirements to an approved PDD master development plan.  Normally, an overall master plan is approved along with the rezoning of the property to a PDD district and specific site plans for each phase or stage are reviewed and approved over time as presented by the developer.

Was a PDD ordinance designed for a massive development like Chatham Park?

No.  The planning tool of choice of local government for a massive development project that will be built over man years, such as Chatham Park, would instead be a development agreement.  In 2005 the NC General Assembly authorized development agreement by local governments with developers for up to 20 years.  As School of Government land use legal expert David Owens has written: “Such agreement have been particularly useful when there is commitment from both the government and the landowner for substantial, long-term infrastructure investments associated with the planned development.”  Clearly providing water, sewer, storm water, recreation and open space and transportation infrastructure for a town of 55,000 people on 7,100 + acres would qualify.

Development Agreement defined

Essentially a development agreement is a contract between the town and the landowner that provides maximum flexibility and creative solutions to unique development needs and impacts. It also provides greater protection for the town and landowner since its avoids the legal problem of vested rights, where the landowner can develop continue developing for the length of the agreement as long as they meet the requirements of the agreement and it takes the agreement of both parties to modify the agreement.

Pittsboro Matters see development agreement process as better alternative

Pittsboro Matters has lobbied the Town Board to either rescind the PDD ordinance and move to a development agreement ordinance or substantially modify the existing PDD to essentially make it into an explicit development agreement ordinance. For more information on a workable development agreement ordinance and process, go to the Town of Chapel development agreement webpage at

History of the PDD ordinance for Chatham Park?

In October 2012 the Town Board of Pittsboro unanimously approved its comprehensive land use plan.  State statutes require that any rezoning must be “consistent” with a town’s comprehensive land use plan.  That plan the town would: “Work with the developers of Chatham Park to develop an area plan with public process and design charrette that builds on the Southwest Shore Assessment.”

[NOTE: Charrette defined:  A charrette is single or multi-day design workshop facilitated by professional planners, engineers, architects, etc. that includes the representatives of the developer, town board and staff, citizens and representatives of stakeholder groups who work collaborative to produce a design for a community. Pittsboro hosted a several day charrette in 2007 to generate ideas for its land use plan. 

Southwest Shore Assessment: The Southwest Shore Conservation Assessment was prepared by the Triangle Land Conservancy and the Center for Sustainable Community Development, Institute for the Environment, UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008. The study, originally requested by Preston Development Company (landowner is now Chatham Park Investors), for the Chatham Park land.  The detailed environment study and recommendations of this conservation assessment have been ignored by Chatham Park Investors in their proposed master plan. (Link to that page).]

Developer ignores land use requirement in presenting PDD

Ignoring this requirement of the land use plan, Chatham Park Investors presented their proposed Planned Development Ordinance to the town staff on January 2, 2013.  The proposed PDD ordinance was presented and defended before the Town planning board on March 4. The ordinance was hotly debated by the planning board, with board member Karl Shaffer claiming it was “too loose, open ended, lack of control, too board. The PDD was recommended by a 4-2 vote, Shaffer and Bob McConnaughey voting against it.

Citizens left of out the PDD review

A March 25 public hearing was set for this PDD ordinance. There was no press release from the town or news article in the local newspaper announcing this public hearing in advance. The legal notice and agenda item just listed public hearing on the Planned Development Ordinance, without any reference that it had anything to do with Chatham. Only Chatham Park Investors’ lobbyist/planner Phillip Culpepper testified. He falsely assured the board the ordinance provided the board the same flexibility it provided the developer.

On April 8 the board unanimously approved the PDD ordinance without amendment or discussion. It had not been listed as an agenda item on the agenda posted on the town’s website in advance of the meeting.

What does the PDD ordinance provide?

This is ordinance is both vague and complicated and difficult to interpret.  It essentially provides the develop extreme flexibility to develop a master plan for the community that is at variance with many of the land use regulations of the town.

It is not like a normal land use district, since it includes both standards for the district but also a process for reviewing, approving and implementing as master planned community in phases. Unfortunately, that process itself in somewhat vague and unclear in terms of the steps required and the final approval rights of the parties.

It starts by claiming that “[i]n return for greater flexibility, planned developments in this district are expected to deliver communities of exceptional design, character and quality that preserve critical environmental resources…and open space amenities.” It does not define the vague benefits to the town or provide objective standards to judge whether the developer met those standards.

Plan elements required

In order to rezone a property to the district, the landowner must obtain an approved master plan. That plan must include general location and density of proposed uses and utility, storm water, public service, multi-modal transportation, boundary buffer, greenways, recreation and open space, conservation area and development phasing plans, as well as land development and landscaping standards/regulations.  While it requires such plans, the requirement for these plans as elements of the master plan are extremely imprecise and general.

Items specifically limiting what is required

The PDD surprisingly states that a “traffic impact analysis (TIA) is not required for approval of the PDD.”  It also gives the developer unchecked authority to determine which greenway, recreation and open space areas will be public and which private. The PDD does not prohibit gated communities.

The only reference to the size of the development is a minimum of 100 acres. They is not size or population limitation.

Both the PDD ordinance and master plan can be amended by the Town Board.  The town manager, however, has authority without town board approval, to amend the utility, storm water, circulation or phasing plans.

There are no specific requirements in the ordinance concerning review and approval of the various phases, stages and small area plans in the development once the master plan has been approved. It leaves it up the landowner to present as phasing plan as part of the master plan. Moreover, the ordinance fails to provide a standard or burden of proof the landowner or town would have to demonstrate in order to have a subsequent stage or phase plan approved or denied.

Finally, there is no mention of vested rights obtain by the developer with the approval of the master plan, nor does a development agreement at any point the approval or rezoning process for the development.

What we see as deficiencies of the PDD?

No impact studies required

Several are mentioned above, including traffic impact studies required of virtually any large development proposal. Likewise, the PDD ordinance, in contrast to the county Compact Communities Ordinances that governed approval of the much, much smaller Briar Chapel development, also does not require a fiscal or environmental impact study. Moreover, given the size of the development and the 30 year development period, the PDD ordinance should require a marketing study and financial analysis.  Finally, given its potential for significant positive and negative impacts on existing populations, there should be a   socio-economic impact study that looks at housing affordability, demographics changes, retail/service and downtown business, employment and wage levels and aesthetic qualities of the existing town and the development.

There is no provision for a development agreement, which prevents the town and its citizens from bargaining for community benefits.

One-sided flexibility in favor of the developer

Specific provisions appear to be one-sided. The section requiring plan elements allows the landowner to choose additional plan elements not specifically required but does not give the same right to the town.  Likewise, the landowner is given complete authority to determine which recreation and open areas shall be public and which private. This should be a joint decision if this is to be a true partnership.

Appointed manager should not have authority to approve major plan changes

We seriously question giving an appointed manager the authority to approve changes in the master plan in such important areas utilities, storm water, circulation and phasing.  These should be required to be approved by the elected town board, the only officials accountable to the citizens of Pittsboro and its extra territorial planning jurisdiction.