by Billy Ball
The Pittsboro Board of Commissioners made history Monday night.
They voted 4-1 to approve Chatham Park, which, at more than 7,000 acres is believed to be the largest development plan in North Carolina history. Bett Wilson Foley was the lone dissenter. Pittsboro Mayor Bill Terry also opposed it, but he does not have a vote.
The project, which will create dense residential development clustered around five “village centers” in the largely undeveloped tracts of eastern Chatham County, is expected to increase the small Chatham County town’s population from 4,000 to 60,000 people by 2050.
Commissioners approved a master plan Monday that survived changes in town leadership, multiple rewrites and a blistering consultant’s evaluation. Its last hurdle Monday was a determined band of protesters, who gathered early at the Historic Chatham County Courthouse to denounce the massive development. Many wore shirts with the sarcastic motto “Pave Chatham” and carried signs reading “Table the vote.”
They distributed a cartoon depicting Chatham Park developer Tim Smith at the wheel of a speeding car while complicit town officials, with the exception of Foley, seem to sit willingly in the rear. Angry Pittsboro residents are crammed rudely in the trunk. “Who’s in the driver’s seat?” reads the caption.
Smith is with the Cary-based Preston Development, which, with the financial backing of software executives Jim Goodnight and John Sall of S.A.S. Institute, envision the vast mixed-use Chatham Park as a sequel to Research Triangle Park. When fully built, it would include 22,000 homes, plus office and retail space.
Developers made several concessions with Monday’s final master plan, agreeing to increase the minimum amount of open space to 1,320 acres. Earlier versions of the plan called for as little as 667 acres, despite a 2008 conservation report from the Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC) that recommended town officials set aside at least 2,400 acres.
Builders also agreed to buffers of 500 feet and 300 feet near two portions of the development abutting the Haw River. An earlier draft maintained an average buffer of 200 feet, although TLC called for buffers of at least 1,000 feet.
The master plan also included a stipulation that the developer will “help defray” the town’s additional costs associated with the growth, which would require massive infrastructure investments in Pittsboro, including more schools, police officers and fire departments.
Town commissioners tabled the plan in November following a heated public hearing. In February, an outside consultant panned the development for lacking sufficient detail and failing to provide sufficient open space. Meanwhile, the builders have been assembling the land for the project for most of the last decade.