Third Lawsuit Challenges Third Master Plan Approval
Pittsboro Matters, a community nonprofit organization, filed a third lawsuit Thursday (October 8) challenging the August 10 Pittsboro Town Board 4-1 approval of a third version of a new master plan and rezoning for the proposed 7,100-acre Chatham Park development.
The lawsuit is also challenging a second Planned Development District (PDD) ordinance, approved by the Town on May 11 by a 4-1 vote. The ordinance would govern the master plan for the proposed 55,000- population development, which would become the largest such development in the history of North Carolina.
The lawsuit also challenges a small area plan review and approval process adopted by the Town Board on September 14, and a development agreement ordinance approved on September 28. Both were required by the third master plan.
“I want to again reiterate that Pittsboro Matters is not pursing this legal action to stop Chatham Park,” stated Pittsboro Matters Board Chair Amanda Robertson. “From the start of our public education efforts in the summer of 2013, we have advocated for an open, deliberative citizen input process with all stakeholders to strengthen the master plan for Chatham Park’s future residents and all who already live, work and play in Pittsboro. We support both the recommendations of the Lawrence Group and the Southwest Shore Environmental Assessment to provide measures that would enhance Chatham Park and protect Pittsboro’s environment and way of life. Yet the developers have refused to consider these reasonable recommendations and the citizens’ requests that they put their vague promises in writing.”
The lawsuit’s newest claims allege a clear failure by the Town to properly notify neighboring property owners and the public and to hold a formal public hearing before approving the small area plan review process and the development agreement ordinance. (The development agreement ordinance was presented and rushed to a vote on the same evening, with no public input.) The lawsuit claims that public notices and hearings are required by North Carolina General Statutes and the Pittsboro Zoning Ordinance. Moreover, the lawsuit alleges that the actual small area review and approval process itself fails to meet the clear requirement of the master plan that it be a “legislative process.” Among other deficiencies, neither a public notice nor hearing is required to approve any of Chatham Park’s 27 small area plans, which would be the first opportunity for citizens to see substantive detailed plans concerning this massive development.
The lawsuit retains the previous substantive claims that include: the new master plan violates the requirements of the Planned Development District (PDD) and other Zoning Ordinance requirements and this third master plan is not consistent with the town’s land use plan, is unconstitutionally vague and violates the plaintiff’s equal protection and substantive due process rights under the state and federal constitutions, in part because the Town has been acting for the sole benefit of a single property owner – Chatham Park Investors.
“Hopefully, with our third lawsuit, we can finally get to litigating the substance of our allegations. We are confident that we have a strong legal case that will prevail in court,” Robertson stated. “We are not the party in this lawsuit that has strung out the process for more than a year. We are not the party that continually ignores the procedural and substantial requirements of the law that protect citizens’ rights. “Of course,” Robertson said, “as we have said each time we have updated our claims, that the plaintiffs and more than 200 members we represent would like us to sit down with representative of the Town and Chatham Park Investors to negotiate an effective settlement. All we seek is a more balanced set of plans and ordinances for Chatham Park that not only protect the interests of Chatham Park Investors, but also those of Pittsboro and its residents. All the deficiencies in the current plans could easily be corrected if everyone is willing to negotiate in an open and equal process.”
Chatham Park’s first rezoning and master plan was approved by a 4-1 vote on June 9, 2014, after the town board accepted Chatham Park Investors’ refusal to adopt most of the recommendations for improving the master plan provided to the town by the Lawrence Group planning consultants. Pittsboro Matters filed its first lawsuit on August 6, 2014. Then on December 8, 2014, the Town Board voted 4-1 to approve a new master plan and rezoning for Chatham Park at the request of the developers because Pittsboro Matter’s first lawsuit alleged procedural irregularities and substantive deficiencies in the original master plan. That complaint alleged the approval standard for small area plans was unconstitutionally vague and essentially gave the developers’ veto power over any proposed major revisions or rejection of their plans. As a result, a second master plan was written which gave the Town the authority to develop the process and standards for review and approval of the small area plan.
On December 23, 2014, Pittsboro Matters filed a second lawsuit challenging the new Master Plan and rezoning for Chatham Park. The lawsuit added new claims challenging the procedural process for approval and substance of the Planned Development District, in addition to including all the substantive challenges stated above that are also part of the third lawsuit. This time Chatham Park Investors, citing Pittsboro Matters’ second lawsuit’s allegation of procedural irregularities in PDD approval process, requested the town approve a second identical version of the PDD under revised procedures. The original PDD ordinance that became part of the town’s zoning ordinance was written by attorneys for Chatham Park Investors. The revised PDD was approved May 11, 2015.
A third Master Plan and rezoning request was submitted to the Town by Chatham Park Investors on May 19. At the public hearing held on June 22 virtually every speaker urged the Town Board to use this opportunity to improve the Master Plan to include the recommendations of the Lawrence Group, Pittsboro Matters and other citizens, reflecting similar remarks made by most of the citizens speaking at the November 24, 2014 hearing on the second Master Plan and Rezoning. Again, the Town Board voted 4-1 to ignore the views of those speaking at the public hearing and approve the new Master Plan exactly as submitted by Chatham Park Investors.