Twice now, Pittsboro leaders have approved master plans for the mammoth Chatham Park project. And twice now, they've been sued for their actions.
Last week, citizen group Pittsboro Matters filed a lawsuit against the town, asking a Superior Court judge to invalidate the Chatham County municipality's most recent approval of a master plan for the 7,200-acre project.
Pittsboro Matters includes residents who have frequently criticized the town and developers for its handling of the mixed-use project, thought to be the largest ever proposed in North Carolina.
"The developers want to have it all. They want to have as much flexibility as possible and to hell with the residents and the adjacent property owners," says Amanda Robertson, chairwoman of Pittsboro Matters. Robertson and five other landowners who live near the planned development west of Pittsboro are plaintiffs in the suit.
Neither Preston Development Company—the Cary builder heading up the project—nor any investors for Chatham Park are named in the suit. As of this week, the town has not filed any official legal response.
Last week's legal filing claims the Chatham Park plan approved by town commissioners is inconsistent with local land-use plans and "unconstitutionally vague." Pittsboro Matters also argues that the town failed to issue proper public hearing notices when it approved a new zoning district for Chatham Park in 2013.
The suit is similar to one Pittsboro Matters filed in August, weeks after town commissioners, with the exception of Bett Wilson Foley, first approved the Chatham Park plan despite widespread disapproval from concerned residents. This month, commissioners—with Foley again dissenting—approved a revised plan adding 46 acres to the project.
Pittsboro Town Commissioner Michael Fiocco called the plan "a good document to allow the town to partner with a developer in bringing in some of the much-needed amenities and economic development to the town."
Chatham Park has followed a tortuous path to approval since investors began scooping up large swaths of land near the Haw River and Jordan Lake watersheds in the last decade.
Chatham Park is expected to include more than 20,000 homes and about 13 million square feet for research and development, part of a plan viewed as a sequel to Cary's Research Triangle Park. It's projected to increase the rural county's population twelvefold in the next three to four decades.
Pittsboro Mayor Bill Terry opposes the passed Chatham Park plans, but would only vote to break a tie on the town board. This week, Terry said the developer's proposal is environmentally insensitive, noting it sets aside about 1,320 acres of open space.
The nonprofit Triangle Land Conservancy recommended the county conserve about 2,400 acres of open space in a 2008 report on the watershed, which provides drinking water for the region and portions of the Triangle.
The builders' plan also calls for buffers of 500 feet and 300 feet near two key portions of the development abutting the Haw River. TLC recommended 1,000-foot buffers in its report.
When town commissioners agreed to pass Chatham Park's plan this month, Terry broke with standard procedure by refusing to sign the board's approval motion.
Terry, the former town manager in Pittsboro prior to his election as mayor last year, bristled over the motion's statement that the Chatham Park plan is consistent with the town's "approved comprehensive plan." While the town has local land use plans, it does not have a comprehensive plan, Terry said.
"It seemed like a contrived document written with the intent to deceive," Terry said. "I strongly suspect the author of that was not on the town staff. I was town manager for five years. I know what town work looks like and that's not it."
Representatives for Chatham Park did not return a phone call from the INDY on Monday.
Robertson said Pittsboro Matters wants to meet with developers and the town to settle their differences. "But I'm not sure how long that's going to take," she said. "Right now, their strategy is to cost us as much money as they can, slander us and sweep it under the rug."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Second time a charm?"