Pittsboro still undecided on Chatham Park
Posted March 10
Pittsboro, N.C. — Residents packed the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night to hear the body review recommendations from an independent consultant regarding a controversial development project that would change the face of the small Chatham County town.
Recommendations from The Lawrence Group, a St. Louis-based consultant firm retained by the town, call for more detail in plans for Chatham Park. Concerns revolve around the lack of detail regarding land use, utilities, schools, transportation, open space and development.
If approved, 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 by Cary-based Preston Development.
The massive development, three times Pittsboro’s current size and equivalent to the size of Research Triangle Park, is expected to increase the town’s population by over 1900 percent, from 3,000 to more than 60,000 residents.
The project, which has been in the works for years, was put on hold in November after the board tabled a vote to approve a rezoning recommendation from the town’s planning department.
In a presentation to the board in February, The Lawrence Group said the plan “lacks a coherent vision and the necessary performance standards to implement that vision,” but added that, in general, projects of this size can be well designed.
“Unfortunately, because of a lack of a clear vision, we found it very difficult to visualize how they intend to achieve both 22,000 residential units and 22 million square feet of non-residential space,” the group said in its report. “At best, we believe that there is a hybrid or overlay (either/or) plan that can maximize this for a truly mixed-use project that also accommodates the significant environmental features in the area.”
The group offered a number of recommendations, including:
- More details regarding design standards and imagery
- Technical site standards for utility use should be uniform across the town
- Commit to provide fire stations and schools in the development
- Include east-west roads to connect the development to the rest of Pittsboro
- Strive for 40 percent open space
- Cap building heights at 4 stories with certain exceptions
Preston Development, the builder behind the project, said they will respond to the recommendations in writing.
Increasing public services
Chatham Park will consist of 27 sections with five activity centers “that serve as convenient, accessible service and retail destinations for surrounding neighborhoods,” according to the development’s master plan.
The effort, according to the plan, would require significant investment from the town and county, from expanding water and sewer service to possibly:
- Increasing the police department to 168 employees
- Turning the Pittsboro Volunteer Fire Rescue Department into a full-time agency
- Building 12 new schools (eight elementary, two middle and two high schools) to handle an increase of nearly 10,000 students
- Improving road and highway infrastructure, including building new roadways
Western Triangle growth
Chatham Park is the latest effort to bring large scale development projects to the western part of the Triangle.
After a five year battle, construction is expected to begin this year on 751 South - thanks to action from state lawmakers. The General Assembly approved a bill last year forcing Durham to annex the development. The legislation allows the city to wait 10 years before annexation and requires the developer to pay to widen N.C. Highway 751 and abide by environmental rules protecting Jordan Lake.
The project, located in southern Durham County along N.C. Highway 751 near Chatham County, would include about 1,300 homes and 600,000 square feet of office and retail space.
Battle lines drawn
Just like 751 South, Chatham Park has not been without opposition.
Pittsboro Matters, a grassroots group committed “to the preservation of the local economy, environment and culture” of the town, claims the project will result in an influx of “big box retail” stores and chain restaurants, among other issues.
Proponents believe the effort would boost the local economy and bring more jobs to the area.
It is unknown when town leaders will decide whether to approve or reject the project.