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Consultant critiques Chatham Park's lack of vision

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For months, citizen groups and environmental groups have railed against the plans for Chatham Park, a proposed mixed-use development east of Pittsboro that would increase the population of the rural Chatham County town twelve-fold in the next 30 to 40 years.

During Monday's meeting of the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners, those critics heard many of their biggest concerns—insufficient open space, unclear development plans and staggering infrastructure implications—further legitimized by an outside consultant. Hired by the town, the St. Louis-based Lawrence Group reported "significant deficiencies" in Chatham Park's master plan.

Those shortcomings would "preclude making a well-informed decision about such a significant project," the report said.

The Lawrence Group criticized the project's developer, Cary-based Preston Development—with the financial backing of Research Triangle Park software executives Jim Goodnight and John Sall—for a "lack of clear vision."

The consultants also questioned whether the 7,120-acre development in Pittsboro's extraterritorial jurisdiction area, slated to include about 22,000 residential units and 22 million square feet of nonresidential space, would be effectively "cutting the heart out of" the town by further routing traffic away from Pittsboro's downtown.

Another key recommendation from the consultants was that Preston Development's plan incorporate a 2008 conservation assessment from the Triangle Land Conservancy, a much-cited report by the environmental nonprofit that included numerous safeguards, including 1,000-foot buffers for the nearby Haw River and larger tracts of green space. The TLC report called for 2,400 acres of green space in the Chatham Park area, but Preston's plans presented last year included only 667 acres.

"I would call this a victory for Pittsboro's citizens," said Jeffrey Starkweather, a local attorney who sits on the steering committee for Pittsboro Matters, a group of concerned residents who have criticized Chatham Park's plans.

Town leaders are expected to allow Preston Development time to review the recommendations in the Lawrence Group report and prepare a revised Chatham Park plan. Preston Development executives could not be reached for comment at press time Tuesday.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Blind ambition."

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