Letter to Planning Board, May 5, 2014
May 5, 2014
Re: Chatham Park LCC – Consistency with Land Use Plan
Dear Planning Board members:
You have been asked to make a specific determination whether the most recent revised Chatham Park master plan is consistent with the Town of Pittsboro Land Use Plan. State statutes require that a rezoning must “be in accordance” with the town’s comprehensive plan (NCGS 160A-383). The burden is on the applicant seeking a rezoning to show that their proposal is consistent with the land use plan.
We do not believe Chatham Park Investors have met their burden. The most recent proposed revised master plan for Chatham Park that is before you at this time is clearly inconsistent with Pittsboro’s Land Use Plan. The Chatham Park master plan ignores or violates provisions of the land use plan, as well as more general but critically important principles and expectations for future development that are contained in the land use plan.
The current land use plan was unanimously adopted in October 2012, before Chatham Park presented its master plan. The Pittsboro Land Use Plan reflects and incorporates the 2008 Southwest Shore Assessment and Recommended Conservation Areas, which was specifically referenced as part of the land use plan implementation guide concerning Chatham Park. Thus, Chatham Park Investors cannot claim that there has been a change in any circumstances that would justify not following the Pittsboro land use plan.
While we have a number of areas where we believe the master plan does not meet the requirements, needs and expectations of the Planned Development District (PDD), the town board and staff and Pittsboro area residents, below we only address specific aspects of the plan that we believe are not in accordance, and hence inconsistent with Pittsboro’s Land Use Plan. We will address our specific recommended changes to the master plan shortly after the planning board has completed its review.
Immediately below is an outline of what we consider the areas of the Chatham Park master plan that are not compatible with the Pittsboro Land Use Plan. After that outline, we provide some additional detailed explanation of our position concerning conservation areas, river and lake buffers and the Southwestern Shore Environmental Assessment. Finally, we have provided some suggested ways in which each of these areas of incompatibility of revised master plan for Chatham Park with the town’s land use plan could be revised by the Town Board to remedy these incompatibility issues. All of these proposed remedies would not only improve the economic attractiveness of Chatham Park, they would not delay the development or have any negative impact on the developer’s profits.
Of course, the planning board determination concerning the compatibility of the proposed Chatham Park to the town’s land use plan, is only a recommendation to the Town Board. It will be their responsibility to make the final determination on this issue, as well as the proposed remedies we outline below.
- Chatham Park Haw River residential areas incompatible with proposed future development pattern
Proposed residential development outlined in land use sections 1.1 and 1.3 of the proposed land use map for the Chatham Park master plan is not compatible with the Pittsboro Land Use Plan’s specific provisions for future development patterns along the Haw River. Even though the number of residential units designated for these areas were reduced slightly in response to recommendations of the Lawrence Group land use consultant, and statements by Mayor Bill Terry and town board members, the revised land use proposed for these two areas next to the Haw River clearly violated the intent and specific requirements of the Section 5.11 of the Pittsboro land use plan.
[NOTE: Eliminating residential development in land use sections 1.1 and 1.3 will have no overall negative economic impact on Chatham Park Investors since their proposed land use map allocated approximately 5,500 more residential units than the total they are allowed (e.g. the master plan requests that development contain a maximum of 22,000 total residential units while the land use map and table in the master plan has laid out 27,570 residential unit). Thus, eliminating every single one the proposed 1,450 residential unit for section 1.1 and 1.3 combined and leaving those sections as Natural Heritage areas for the benefit of all the residents of Chatham Park and the town still leaves Chatham Park Investors with 4,000 extra residential units above the total they’ve said they need, all of which could be removed from other areas of Chatham Park that the land use plan calls for preserving as natural conservation areas. These natural heritage areas, along with other natural heritage areas, should be included in a “Conservation Plan” element for the entire development that is approved as part of final master plan for Chatham Park, following review and revisions by the Town Board on a basis of a comprehensive environmental impact assessment. See number three below for a similar potential for preserving conservation areas near Jordan Lake and Robeson Creek designated in the land use plan without requiring Chatham Park Investors to reduce the total number of residential units.]
- Chatham Park Master plan incompatible with implementation action section of the Pittsboro land use plan
The development and review of the master plan is both procedurally and substantively inconsistent with the action step related to Chatham Park that is part of the implementation guide for the land use plan (Section 6). Specifically, this section states that the town will “work with the developers of Chatham Park to develop an area plan with a public process and design charrette that builds on the Southwestern Shore Assessment.” None of these action steps have occurred, nor are they even proposed for the overall plan for the development during the period of up to two years that Chatham Park Investors and the town have to work out the required plan elements for approval of a final master plan and development agreement. Substantively, the Southwestern Shore assessment has been ignored with the Chatham Park master plan allowing the developer to ignore comprehensive planning for conservation areas. Instead, all specific conservation planning would be left to individual small area plans for the development. Waiting to address environmental protection during the development of five or more small areas plan for 30 year life of the project prevents comprehensive protection of the environmental, including addressing cumulative impacts of all areas of development in this already impaired and environmental sensitive watershed.
- Chatham Park Master plan incompatible for conservation protection strategy of land use plan
As referenced in number two above, Chatham Park Investors have specifically rejected the recommendations of the Lawrence Group consultant that they be required to set aside at the master plan stage at least 30% of the total land for conservation, “including steep slopes, riparian buffers, natural heritage areas, and otherwise ecologically sensitive areas.” As related to the proposed future development pattern section of the land use plan (5.11) as outlined in Map 9 (Future Land Use) of that plan, there are other proposed residential sections of Chatham Park that are incompatible with the recommendations of Southwestern Shore Assessment and/or the provisions of the future development pattern map. Specifically, we are referring to Chatham Park residential sections 2.2, 2.3, 3.4, 3.5 and 3.7.
- Chatham Park Master Plan transportation plans incompatible with connectivity and grid requirements
The Pittsboro land use plan calls for a comprehensive multi-modal transportation system that focuses on connectivity of neighborhood, collector, and arterial streets, as well developing a transit system. It specifically refers to developing an “extensive set of east-west and north-south arterial streets on the east side of Pittsboro – these would create a grid of major streets to serve future growth on the east side of town…” Also, as part of the implementation action step of the land use plan related to Chatham Park, the board stated that during the above-cited charrette and citizen input process, the town and developers would “determine specific alignment of the proposed roadway improvements within Chatham Park.” As the Lawrence Group report pointed out, the current north-south oriented planned road infrastructure for Chatham Park “will have the effect of that cutting the heart out of the community” (i.e. downtown Pittsboro). Specifically, they failed to provide east-west road connections from the Bypass serving Chatham Park and the rest of their road infrastructure with the rest of Pittsboro, specifically downtown. Additionally, Chatham Park’s proposed spread out land use plan would preclude the creation of a grid road infrastructure. Moreover, Chatham Park Investors specifically rejected the goal of creating a grid infrastructure.
More importantly, none of these objectives are stated or required in the current Chatham Park master plan. Most importantly, the Chatham Park master plan would not require developers to undertake a traffic impact assessment at the master plan stage, but only when designing small area plans. Without such a comprehensive assessment of the cumulative effect of the multi-modal strategy and design for the entire community and provision of specific strategies to mitigate likely transportation problems and pollution, then this master plan is incapable of demonstrating this development can fulfill the principles set out in the transportation section of the land use plan.
Chatham Park Master Plan ignores intent and specific provisions of future development pattern requirements by locating residences in designated conservation areas
Items one (1) and three (3) above address issue related to the compatibility of the proposed residential developments in the Chatham Park master plan with the specific and general environmental protection and conversation principles for future development contained the land use plan. Below, we explain in more detail why residential development along the Haw River and in areas adjacent to Jordan Lake and in other environmental sensitive areas is incompatible with the master plan. Keep in mind that there are many more environmental, economic and quality of life reasons for setting aside these areas for conservation. But those will be addressed to the board later, here we are focusing solely on the narrow question of compatibility with the land use plan.
The future development pattern section of the Pittsboro land use plan contains a future land use map that designates the areas adjacent to the Haw River above US 64 (master plan areas 1.1 and 1.3) for Open Space and Conservation immediately adjacent to the Haw River, and calls for a 2,000 foot buffer along the river. Moreover, the area inland from the buffer zone is designated as Rural Residential/Agriculture.
The Chatham Park Master Plan completely ignores these restrictions. The most recent version of the Chatham Park master plan calls for only a 250 foot buffer along the Haw. They then propose that development for the parallel area covering the next 250 feet allow one dwelling unit per acre. The next 250 feet would be limited to two dwelling units per acre and then a fourth area of 250 feet inland would allow 2.5 dwelling units per acre. The area inland from what they are describing as a “River Transition Zone” of 1,000 feet would contain more densely clustered residences. This would reduce the number of residential units located in Section 1.1 to 1,175 units, or a reduction of 400 units.
Proposed residential section 1 .3 to the south of the above section along the Haw, would have a 500 foot river buffer with the next 500 feet inland allowed to contain one dwelling unit per acre.
Also, in the remainder of these areas in what has been designated in the land use plan as rural residential/agriculture development, Chatham Park wants to extend utilities to develop densely clustered residential areas.
All the above proposals by Chatham Park Investors for land use areas 1.1 and 1.3 are in direct conflict with the land use plan’s future development patterns. The Open Space and Conservation land use proposed along the Haw River and adjacent to Jordan Lake clearly states there should be a 2,000 foot-wide buffer along the Haw River. Consistent with Chatham County’s low-density stream buffer strategy, development is generally discouraged, but where allowed should be limited to one dwelling per five acres. Moreover, the Southwestern Assessment indicated these were conservation areas that needed protection from development.
Also, the more inland rural residential/agricultural future land use category calls for encouraging large lot development to maintain rural character. Specifically, this is to be encouraged by requiring such development to be limited to support by on-site well and septic systems.
Thus, the proposed residential land use sections 1.1 and 1.3 put forward in the Chatham Park master plan are clearly incompatible with Pittsboro’s Land Use Plan.
For similar reasons connected to either their location adjacent to Jordan Lake or part of conservation areas recommended in the Southwestern Assessment, portions of the proposed residential land use sections 2.2, 2.3, 3.4, 3.5 and 3.7 of the Chatham Park master plan are incompatible with the Pittsboro Land Use Plan. In these latter areas, the best way to meet the requirements of future development patterns described in Pittsboro’s Land Use Plan would be for the developers to follow the recommendations of the Lawrence Group and designate portions of these areas either adjacent to Jordan Lake or in conservation areas designated by the Southwestern Shore Assessment as part of the 30% of total land area that the developers will leave as conservation protection land.
Four possible remedies for the deficiencies in Chatham Park master plan that make it incompatible to the Pittsboro land use plan
It is our view that there are, for example, at least four straightforward revisions to the master plan could make it compatible with the land use plan.
- 2,000 foot buffer along the Haw River: Revise areas 1.1 and 1.3 to include a 2,000 foot-wide buffer of conservation land (with no development) along the Haw River and leave any remaining portions of those areas as low density residential/agriculture with an average of one residential unit per five acres. These land use areas would not be served by municipal water or sewer services. Better yet, leave both these areas as natural conservation areas for use by all residents of Chatham Park and Pittsboro, and, thus increase the economic attractiveness of the development.
- Design charrette before final master plan approval: The Town Board and developers should conduct a public input process and design charrette to determine the design and overall layout of Chatham Park, which would help to implement the recommendations of the Southwestern Shore Assessment. This should be done during the up-to-two year period during which the various plan elements are developed, and prior to approval of the master plan. This would allow the master plan to become compatible with the implementation action step for Chatham Park provided in the land use plan.
- Conservation Master Plan: The Pittsboro Planning Board and Board of Commissioners should require Chatham Park Investors to follow the recommendations of the Lawrence Group consultants and to either (a) set aside a minimum of 30% of the total land including all “ecologically sensitive” lands such as riparian buffers, steep slopes, Natural Heritage Areas, critical habitat, 100 year floodplains and wetlands for protection as conservation areas and/or (b) use GIS maps to determine how to protect all ecologically sensitive areas and, as recommended by the Lawrence Group, add 5-10% added protection areas, whichever is greater. In this regard, please see the attached four GIS tables and maps of “critical environmental resources” in Chatham Park. These highly accurate maps prepared by professionals for Pittsboro Matters can serve as guides for conservation mapping throughout Chatham Park.
These maps can facilitate identification of “critical environmental resources” to be included in Chatham Park Master Plan. This Conservation Plan element should be added to the revised master plan before a vote is taken on the PDD rezoning request. Elements of the Master Conservation Plan can be revised following development of an environmental impact assessment of the entire development as will be required by the National Environmental Policy Act. While mapping should include all of Chatham Park, areas adjacent to Jordan Lake and the Haw River such as residential sections 1.1, 1.3, 2.2, 2.3, 3.4, 3.5 and 3.7 should be given special attention.
- Traffic impact assessment before final master plan approval: As part of the final master plan and development agreement for Chatham Park, require that a traffic impact assessment be completed, have it peer reviewed and require the developer to adequately mitigate all traffic problems and concerns identified in the assessment, including mitigation strategies for traffic infrastructure needs beyond the boundaries of Chatham Park. This should be done as part of the up to two-year process of developing the multi-modal transportation plan element, including transit.
We are not asking Town Board to reject this development outright due to these above-stated incompatibilities with the town land use plan. Instead, we are asking the Town Board to make changes in the proposed master plan for Chatham Park that will not only remedy these incompatibilities, but will bring the proposal in line with recommendations of the Lawrence Groups consultants, and with the desires of the majority of the residents of the Pittsboro. Also, the changes we have proposed will actually make Chatham Park a more desirable place to live, work, and recreate, as well as make it more economically marketable to perspective high tech and clear tech employers. Moreover, none of these proposed remedies would cause any appreciable delay in approval or development of Chatham Park. Most importantly, all of these suggested remedies are what would normally be required by any municipality in North Carolina for a mega-project of this size and impact on the future prosperity of Pittsboro.
Pittsboro Matters Steering Committee Members