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Chatham Park breaks ground as developer, citizen group battle

Posted December 2, 2014
Updated December 4, 2014

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— Officials broke ground Tuesday on the first phase of the massive Chatham Park project as a court battle by a citizens group aimed at stopping the mixed-use development waged on.

Chatham Park Investors LLC recently filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit by Pittsboro Matters and 15 citizens to stop the project. The citizen group claims the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners violated state and local zoning rules, including a lack of proper meeting notices, and wants a judge to overturn Chatham Park’s rezoning and master plans and block town leaders from issuing development permits.

The developers claim Pittsboro Matters is influencing legislation, which they say is against the group’s articles of incorporation.

“Pittsboro Matters' Chair Amanda Robertson has sworn under penalty of perjury to the Internal Revenue Service that Pittsboro Matters will ‘not devote more than an insubstantial part of its activities attempting to influence legislation,’ which under oath affirmation is a requirement for obtaining tax exempt status,” the developers said in their motion. “Pittsboro Matters' Chair Amanda Robertson also answered the question, ‘Do you or will you attempt to influence legislation?’ by marking the box ‘No.’ And yet Pittsboro Matters' entire reason for being is to influence zoning legislation in the Town of Pittsboro.”

Chatham Park Investors also claim that funds collected by Pittsboro Matters as tax-deductible charitable contributions have been improperly spent on attorney fees related to the case.

According to the IRS, an organization cannot quality for tax-exempt status if “a substantial part” of its activities are for lobbying. The IRS determines whether a nonprofit’s lobbying efforts are substantial by examining factors that include the amount of time and money spent on lobbying.

Jeffrey Starkweather, a Pittsboro Matters co-founder who is named in the suit, said the organization’s tax status isn’t relevant.

“That is a complete red herring,” he said. “It has zero relevance to this lawsuit. It wouldn't matter if we were tax exempt, non-tax exempt or just a group of people coming together. You can't have a substantial amount of your revenue be spent on lobbying legislation. We are a nonprofit. Like all nonprofits, we can expend 20 percent of money (we) receive on trying to influence legislation.”

Starkweather added that he believes the developers are trying to bully his group into giving up.

“We are proceeding with the lawsuit,” he continued. “We expect to prevail. Our purpose is to settle this thing. This is about improving the development, not stopping this thing. These are things that need to be decided in court, not in the press.”

Meanwhile, Preston Development Co., the Cary-based developer in charge of the project, broke ground on Chatham Park’s first building Tuesday afternoon – a 25,000-square-foot medical office that will be occupied by UNC Health Care specialists.

The building, which will be an outpatient facility, is expected to be occupied by August 2015, said Tim Smith, a Preston Development partner. Specialty services will include opthamology, general surgery, ear, nose and throat, and rheumatology.

“We have a lot of interest from doctors and dentists who want to locate in some of our rental facilities here,” Smith said. “We have homebuilders that want to build with us, schools, YMCA, retail. So, it’s a lot of people who are interested in coming here and joining with us at Chatham Park, so we are excited.”

Chatham Park, a multi-use development of homes, businesses, research space and parks that would encompass more than 7,000 acres between the east side of Pittsboro and Jordan Lake, is expected to be completed in phases over 30 years.

The development, which is three times Pittsboro’s current area and equivalent to the size of Research Triangle Park, is expected to increase the town’s population from 3,000 to more than 60,000 residents – or by more than 2,000 percent.

The project’s initial approval came after months of public hearings and debates, where residents expressed their support and opposition in meetings lasting long into the night. Proponents say the project, which has been in the works for years, would boost the local economy and bring more jobs to the area. Opponents believe the development would strain local resources and eradicate Pittsboro’s small town feel.

On Monday, the Pittsboro Planning Department approved the developers' request to add an additional 46.6 acres to the project.

Pittsboro commissioners will now have to re-approve the entire proposal to grant the additional acreage. A vote could come as early as next week. If the additional land is denied, the original master plan’s approval would still stand.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Eq Videri Dec 3, 2014
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    Hmm. Seems like NobodyInPittsboroButUs Matters is using unfair tactics to sue the town board.

  • jayinral Dec 2, 2014

    Between this and fracking, where is all the water going to come from?

  • davidhartman Dec 2, 2014

    Hipsters suck. They bring ruination & ultra-liberal puke-think to wherever they decide the next 'hip' locale is. As someone said, they are like locusts. When they inevitably get priced out and their hip local becomes urbanized & tainted, they move on to another yet-to-be spoiled place.

  • Trevor Dec 2, 2014

    This is good news for Chatham. The County needs jobs and industry and as a Chatham resident I am glad to see the growth. Many of those that don't want the Park moved into the county to escape growth. But wait, they are part of the problem. NE Chatham is already Chapel Hill South and Cary's boundaries extend into Chatham so the next step is for PBO to grow. Chatham can no longer hide.

  • disgusted2010 Dec 2, 2014

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    Really surprised that the transplanted censors would allow such a truthful post.

  • Red Sox Nation Dec 2, 2014

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    Learn what a "hipster" is. You clearly do not have a clue which throws out your whole argument.

  • Christopher Rose Dec 2, 2014
    user avatar

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    yeah it is the hipsters. Because when they show up whatever is local is usually not good enough. And that whole walk to work thing is a big lie. Most hipstery places such as Carboro and Saxapahaw are so expensive to live in that you have to work a job many miles away in RTP to afford to live there. Carborro is a prime example. Name one job in the city limits of Carborro that would pay enough to support the average 285K house price in Carborro? Hipsters like to think of themselves as environmentaly sound and economicly merciful. But in reality they drive up house prices, taxes, and gentrify formerly affordable neighborhoods with little regards to what happens to long time residents. Just talk to some of the folks in Durham about this who had to move or are now homeless due to gentrification. Forced to live in suburbs now where it's cheaper with poorer public transit options and no proximity to the jobs they have serving hipsters now.

  • Matt Wood Dec 2, 2014
    user avatar

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    Hmmm I wonder if these developers were perhaps behind eliminating the Jordan Lake rules? Now they don't have any rules to worry about regarding run off.

  • TJPC Dec 2, 2014

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    Yes, its the "hipsters" who are driving the development in these areas...geez, really? Did you ever think that the "hipsters"(as you call them) enjoy the small town living and the benefits of walking to places instead of driving? There is no tie, however, between hipsters and developers. The developers are money grubbing real estate people trying to make a dollar and disguise these massive developments as "environmentally friendly". Look at Southern Village in Chapel Hill as a prime example - what a mess...

  • Jim Frei Dec 2, 2014
    user avatar

    As long as they follow through with the new marina at the south end of the lake, I'm all for this project.