Pittsboro Matters Files Second Lawsuit!
Pittsboro Matters, a grass roots non-profit sustainable community advocacy organization, filed a second lawsuit Tuesday (Dec. 23) challenging the December 8 new master plan and rezoning for the 7,100-acre Chatham Park development. The recently approved new master plan and rezoning was submitted by Chatham Park Investors (CPI) in response to Pittsboro Matters initial August 6 lawsuit challenging a June 9 approval of Chatham Park by the Town of Pittsboro.
Six adjacent property owners who are members of Pittsboro Matters also signed on as plaintiffs to this new lawsuit. “All six were deposed by CPI’s attorney during proceedings with the first lawsuit,” stated Pittsboro Matters Vice-Chair Jeffrey Starkweather. “All six provided overwhelming evidence that they will suffer unique and substantial harm in terms of loss of value and quiet enjoyment of properties if Chatham Park is allowed to proceed under the current undefined master plan that fails to protect the community and the environment.”
The new lawsuit includes ten claims, including all the previous substantive claims as well as new concerns involving the recently approved master plan: that the new master plan violates the requirements of the Planned Development District (PDD), set up to allow for and govern this development; that the new master plan is not consistent with the town’s land use plan; that the master plan is unconstitutionally vague; that the master plan and rezoning violated the plaintiff’s equal protection and substantive due process rights under the North Carolina Constitution, as well as the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by acting for the sole benefit of CPI. The lawsuit again challenges the approval process. The lawsuit brings three new claims concerning the substance and approval process of the Planned Development District, a new Planned Development District that was written and proposed by Chatham Park Investors to guide its development, and approved by the Pittsboro Town Board on April 8, 2013. The lawsuit asserts that public hearing notices failed to follow the requirements of the zoning ordinance.
Although it is not alleged in the lawsuit, the town also failed to even put out a press release announcing this public hearing or setting out the details required to be included in the master plan before it can be approved by the town board, as well as the procedures for implementation of the development. Lacking clear information, it is not surprising that no citizens showed up to speak at the March 25, 2013 public hearing for the PDD, where only the developer turned up to testify.
Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that the process for approving the rezoning by the Town Board was deficient. Finally, the lawsuit claims that the PDD ordinance is unconstitutionally vague.
“This second lawsuit is even stronger than the first,” stated Pittsboro Matters Chair and individual plaintiff Amanda Robertson, an adjacent property owner. “We are in this battle for the long haul because we know that we represent the interests of the residents of Pittsboro and Chatham County who came out unanimously at the November 24 public hearing to raise significant concerns about Chatham Park and the inadequacies of the master plan. The Town Board has repeatedly ignored the best advice of their professional staff and consultants, a majority of local citizens and Pittsboro Matters, while catering to the financial interests of CPI.”
The Town Board approved the new Chatham Park master plan and rezoning on a 4-1 vote on December 8 with Commissioner Bett Wilson Foley again opposing the rezoning. Mayor Bill Terry spoke out forcefully against the latest version of the CPI master plan. He said there was insufficient information in the master plan to determine it was consistent with the town’s land use plan. He said that the assertion stated in the approval motion that the rezoning shows sensitivity to the environment “borders on the ridiculous.” For these reasons, he refused to put the Mayor’s official signature on the approval resolution.
“Again, I want to stress that we are not trying to stop Chatham Park,” Robertson said. “We are pursuing legal action because we want to eventually sit down with the Town Board, staff, consultants, and CPI to develop a reasonable plan that truly protects our environment and quality of life for the broader community. At a minimum, this would include a comprehensive plan and design for the entire development; environmental, socio-economic, transportation and fiscal impact assessments and mitigation plan for the overall plan; donated land for the necessary new public schools; affordable housing; robust citizen input and engagement into the overall design and plan elements required; small area plans, true buffer protections, more parks and recreation land; setting aside at least 30% of the areas near the Haw River and Jordan Lake as natural areas; and robust citizen engagement in the overall design and in the small area plans.”
This new lawsuit is not the only legal avenue Pittsboro Matters and several local environmental organizations are exploring to have an impact of improving the master plan for Chatham Park. They believe that the Pittsboro Town Board is not the only governing body that could affect Chatham Park. These groups have notified the newly elected progressive majority on the County Board of Commissioners that the county also can have leverage on what occurs in Chatham Park, especially when it concerns impacts on the county’s public schools and drinking water.
As these groups and others have informed the county board in writing and during public input, the County Commissioners have the power to take back under county control a large portion of Pittsboro’s extra-territorial planning jurisdiction including critical areas of the Haw River and Jordan Lake watershed where Chatham Park is planning its most intensive residential and mixed-use development. This is the area of Chatham Park where the Lawrence Group consultants, the Southwest Shore Environmental Assessment, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Pittsboro Matters and the majority of citizens providing input to the town on this development recommended that CPI be required to set aside over 2,000 acres (not less than 30% of its total area) as a contiguous natural area. CPI has adamantly refused to consider this, and the town board has twice caved, on both June 9 and December 8 approving new master plans 4-1.
Read the full complaint: pmvtownofpittsborosecondcomplait.pdf