Pittsboro board approves re-zoning for large-scale Chatham Park project

Jun. 09, 2014 @ 10:46 PM

After debating greater protections for the Haw River and less density for the project overall, Pittsboro leaders voted 4-1 Tuesday to OK the re-zoning of 7,120 acres to allow the large-scale Chatham Park development to move forward.

Cary-based Preston Development has proposed 22 million square feet of non-residential space and 22,000 residential units on the rezoned land east of Pittsboro. As proposed, the project will triple the land size of the town.

Commissioner Bett Wilson Foley was the sole vote against the rezoning and project master plan. She said she didn’t think the town put enough protections in place to protect drinking water, although she also spoke up in support of the project’s economic development benefits.

“I think this is one of those things where time will only tell whether we were visionaries who saw a unique opportunity to jump in on a development that will (transform) Pittsboro … or whether we were short-sighted opportunists who gave away the store for not much in return,” said Pittsboro Mayor Bill Terry, who was not part of the vote.

Receiving applause from the audience in the courthouse on Tuesday, Terry had asked during the meeting if the developer would consider reducing the development size or increasing the amount of land allocated for parks and open space.

He said that would give the town the ability to negotiate the project’s density in the future. But the proposal didn’t get enough support from the board in a show of hands.

“Once we say they get 22 million and 22,000, then they’ve got it forever, essentially,” he said. “But if we arrive at some other solution that was some combination of more parks and open space and less density in the future, there could be trade-offs that would move that density back up toward the larger number.”

Commissioner Michael Fiocco said the master plan doesn’t include as much density as he’d like.

“More and more communities are … recognizing that density is a good thing for an economic perspective,” he said. “You need density to make your infrastructure cost effective. You need density to make transit work. This project is coming in the door, and…is not as dense as I’d like them to be, quite frankly.”

Fiocco also detailed at the meeting greater environmental protections that the developer had added to the master plan.

At a public hearing in May, the third public by the town on the proposal, it was standing room only. Some speakers had asked the town to require written environmental protection commitments from the developer.

Fiocco said changes to the plan included an increase in one of the buffers in two areas where the project nears the Haw from 250 feet to 300 feet. The other buffer was set at 500.

Foley also asked why the developer wasn’t held to a lower-density standard in part of a 2,000-foot area near the Haw that was set up in a town’s land-use plan. She asked based on recommendations of a town’s Park and Recreation Advisory Board, but the request didn’t get support from the board.

Terry  also asked whether the developer would be willing to consider committing to a buffer of 500 feet in both areas, rather than in just one.

“I’m asking if you’re willing to rethink that,” he said.

“No sir,” said Philip Culpepper, a planning consultant for Preston Development.

Terry also asked at the meeting for the town to be involved from the beginning in the drafting of a legal agreement with the developer that he said would lay out the details for such as payment for utilities.

“I want a developer representative and a town representative at the starting gate, (working on) the development agreement that protects the interests of both parties,” he said. “I don’t want to have to nitpick the changes that are written from the viewpoint of the developer.”

Culpepper said the developer will keep the town staff or whoever is representing the town in the agreement process “from the beginning to the end.” After debate, the board agreed to language that would require the agreement to be developed cooperatively.

The developer has two years to complete the development agreement, said Pittsboro Town Manager Bryan Gruesbeck. And in that two-year period, Gruesbeck said, the plan doesn’t allow the developer to begin more than 5 percent of the residential construction or 15 percent non-residential construction.

Terry said the company also has a two-year window to fill in details of the master plan such as for public lighting and water treatment. The master plan approved on Tuesday was a “broad-brushed” plan, said Preston Development co-owner Tim Smith in an interview.

“It’s a very broad brush stroke of what’s allowed some of the uses in certain areas, it has areas laid out of the number of units and the uses,” he said. “That’s basically it.”

Smith said they need less detail in the master plan now to allow for flexibility. The development will be built out across 20 to 40 years, he said, so they need to be able to change aspects of the project in order to meet market demand.

During the meeting, several board members spoke explicitly in support of the project’s economic development potential.

“I think the revisions to the master plan per the consultant have been good,” said Commissioner Beth Turner. “Not everything’s going to be perfect all the time. Unfortunately it may sound trite to say that. I absolutely support economic development.”

Pamela Baldwin said she ran on a platform of economic development and planned growth.

“This is a prime example of planned growth,” she said.