Pittsboro Matters lawsuit forces Chatham Park Investors to seek new re-zoning request; public hearing Nov. 24
As a direct result of Pittsboro Matter’s lawsuit challenging significant deficiencies in the June re-zoning approval for Chatham Park, the developers have been forced to seek a completely new re-zoning authorization. This action requires a new series of reviews, starting with a public hearing set for November 24 at 7 p.m. in Pittsboro’s historic county courthouse. Though Chatham Park Investors (CPI) attorneys admitted in court last week that it was Pittsboro Matters’ legal claims that necessitated significant revisions to the development master plan, they mistakenly implied to the news media and adjacent property owners that the revisions addressed only their recent acquisition of several small additional parcels near the borders of the 7,100 acre proposed development and minor text corrections.
Following the Nov. 24 public hearing, the revised plan will be subject to reviews by the Town Planning Board (which meets again on December 1) and Town Board of Commissioners (which meets again on December 8). The Town Board may make additional substantive changes to the revised plan before proceeding with any new re-zoning authorization.
“This is a chance for the Town Board to get it right this time,” said Pittsboro Matters chair Amanda Robertson. “We view this new application and review process as an opportunity for the Town, CPI and citizens to engage in a real discussion of issues related to the Master Plan, in order to address any concerns now before it is too late. We know that if the standards adopted now for the development are inadequate, the Town will be unable to change them later. “
Attorneys on both sides of the lawsuit acknowledge that the new re-zoning application re-opens the Town Board’s previous rezoning authorization for the entire proposed development.
“Now is the time to share comments about the need for vital information from CPI concerning potential development impacts, and how they plan to address them,” Robertson said. “Citizens are encouraged to speak at the public hearing in support of the improvements to the master plan that were previously recommended by Pittsboro Matters, the Lawrence Group planning consultants, planning board members, the town’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Chatham Habitat for Humanity, Haw River Assembly and others.”
The Town Board has the authority to require additional substantial changes to the master plan. They could reconsider previous recommendations to designate 30% of the development as natural areas, and impose a 2000-foot buffer along the Haw River as the town’s land use plan recommends.
Developers of much smaller master-planned communities in the region typically have been required to specify in advance how they plan to mitigate potential impacts to the local environment, economy, and educational system. Such developments throughout the Triangle have been required to provide environmental impact studies, traffic assessments, affordable housing plans, support for new school sites and construction, and the identification of major tracts for conservation, parks and recreation. Even Pittsboro’s current subdivision ordinance allows for the town to require environmental and economic impact assessment and mitigation plans for developments of more than 50 dwelling units. Chatham Park’s proposed master plan allows for 22,000 dwelling units with no impact assessments required for the overall development plan.
The revised master plan and new re-zoning request stemmed from an Oct. 23 legal deposition when Pittsboro Matters Vice-Chair Jeffrey Starkweather had the opportunity to underscore deficiencies in CPI’s previous re-zoning application and master plan, which had been approved by the Town of Pittsboro on June 9.
“During approximately six hours of deposition testimony,” CPI’s attorneys wrote in a subsequent legal document, “[Pittsboro Matters] clarified the alleged deficiencies in the zoning map amendment and Master Plan, provided a greater level of specificity as to those alleged deficiencies, and identified new deficiencies not raised in the complaint.” As a result, CPI “took the testimony into account when drafting, and ultimately submitting, the Oct. 31, 2014 rezoning application.”
CPI’s recent attempts to address deficiencies include the following: a two-page public notice in the Chatham Record (compared to a two-inch ad used previously) and 30 small public notice signs near the adjacent property owners (compared to no signs used previously). CPI also strengthened the town’s hand in the future review process by including more specific language concerning standards for approving or denying proposed plans in future sections of the development.
“We’re pleased that Chatham Park Investors has attempted to address several of our legal claims through its new re-zoning request,” said Robertson, the Pittsboro Matters chair. “However, there are still significant deficiencies which we will continue to address through the legal process, if necessary. And there remain major potential development impacts that should be addressed by the Town Board before authorizing the new re-zoning for what will become the largest mixed-use community in the state of North Carolina.”
CPI is seeking authorization for a massive development on the edge of Pittsboro and adjacent to the Haw River and Jordan Lake, which supply drinking water to Pittsboro and the Triangle. Current plans call for up to 22,000 homes (to house 55,000 people) and 22 million square feet of commercial space. Chatham Park would increase Pittsboro’s population 15-fold, transforming it into a new city the size of Chapel Hill. The proposed commercial space alone is 16 times greater than the shopping space of South Point Mall.
During the Nov. 24 public hearing, anyone may present oral comments on any aspect of the revised Chatham Park master plan including information omitted from the plan that commenters wish to see included before the new re-zoning is authorized, even if such information has already been requested and rejected in the past. (The revised master plan is available on the Town website at the bottom of this page.)Written comments may also be sent to the Town Board of Commissioners and Planning Board Members via email.