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Grassroots Campaigns Nothing New To Chatham Residents

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CHATHAM COUNTY, N.C. — Chatham County sits on the outskirts of the Triangle, but some people in that area do not sit quietly. They routinely organize grassroots efforts to keep intact their way of life and keep out newcomers. Now, residents are battling a proposed shopping center.

Ray and Karen Dash moved from Manhattan, N.Y., to a 2-acre spread in Chatham County to get away from it all. They worry their new way of life will be lost if Chatham Downs, a proposed strip mall, is built at Highway 15-501 and Lystra Road.

"People are passionate about where they live here. We've seen what development has done to the rest of the Triangle, and we don't want it here," Karen said.

The Dashs are not alone in their opposition to the development. As soon as Chris Brown heard about the proposed Chatham Downs, he printed up petition cards. Once word got out, stores across Chatham County started displaying them. Brown says these little cards give people a voice.

"We've had over 1,200 people sign them already," he said. "They'll fill one out, tell five friends and they will tell five friends. That's what we're seeing."

Grassroots efforts to keep development out are nothing new in Chatham County. Two years ago, residents were angry about a multimillion-dollar landfill. They signed petitions and held rallies and were able to stop the project. Last month, the town of Cary pulled a 14,000-acre land-use plan off the table after Chatham residents made too much noise about it.

"Chatham County has had a history. It's hard to get into Chatham County whether it's residential or commercial," commissioner Bunkey Morgan said.

The planning board will take up the Chatham Downs issue next month. Folks though are gearing up for another fight. Briar Chapel, a proposed residential development, could bring as many as 2,500 homes to the same section of Highway 15-501. That project could be voted on next spring.


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