Chatham commissioners prepare for vote on proposed major development

Jun. 09, 2014 @ 04:18 PM

The Pittsboro Board of Commissioners may make a decision as early as tonight on whether to OK the rezoning of about 7,120 undeveloped acres east of Pittsboro to allow for a development that would triple the town’s land area.

Cary-based Preston Development is proposing to add 22-million-square-feet of non-residential space to the site and 22,000 residential units. The development would be about three times the size of the town’s existing corporate limits.
Three public hearings have already been held on the proposal. At the most recent public hearing in May, people packed the town’s historic courthouse to speak on the project’s potential to create jobs, to ask for more detail on the plan, and others asking for environmental protections or raise concerns about its impact on the community character.
The hearing had followed a meeting held in November in which the commissioners voted 4-1 to table the proposal and hire a consultant to review the plan.
The consultant, The Lawrence Group, said the firm found “significant deficiencies” in the plan that would preclude a well-informed decision about “such a significant project,” along with specific recommendations.
“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 report said. “We have extensive experience with urban and suburban scale planning at a large scale, and we are left challenged to determine how the development can achieve this build-out within this suburban context in the greater Triangle region.”
However, the report also said that not all questions on details, including phasing of public infrastructure including streets and water, need to be answered at this stage. They also suggested a development agreement to fill in the gaps “as one of the next phases” of the project.
Pittsboro Mayor William G. Terry said the commissioners are being asked to make a decision now on the re-zoning with the understanding that the developer would follow within two years with a completed master plan and a development agreement for details about scheduling, phasing and utilities.
Terry said the consultant noted it’s “sort of atypical” to start without a development agreement, but “it’s not a major obstacle.”  He said he’s a little uncomfortable with the timeline.
But in general, while Terry said he’s been characterized as against the project, that’s not necessarily the case. He said he understands the economic development advantages of the project, but also said it has to be done correctly with certain protections in place for current town residents and the environment.
“My emphasis has always been about doing our due diligence and making sure that with a project of this magnitude, we get this right,” he said. “If we get it started out wrong, we’ll be fixing those mistakes for a long time.”
Terry said that whether the board makes a decision tonight depends on how much the commissioners have to discuss. 
“I think every commissioner will have their own list of questions,” Terry said. “Some of the things on my mind are the very high density they’re asking for as compared to the sort of minimalistic treatment of environmental issues. … I think (they) could reduce the density and increase the amount of environmental space and parkland.”