Haw River Assembly to rally Friday for more trees in Chatham Park

An environmental group is planning a rally for trees in downtown Pittsboro on Friday afternoon.

Supporters of the Haw River Assembly plan to gather at the Historic Courthouse from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., said director Elaine Chiosso. They’re asking the developers of Chatham Park and the Pittsboro Town Board to protect more trees in the 7,000-acre development coming to town.

“We are urging the Town of Pittsboro to insist that Chatham Park save more of the existing trees,” Chiosso said. “They’re building a new city near Pittsboro, next to the Haw River and Jordan Lake. If you have a lot more trees, it will help with flooding and water quality.”

Some of the land is near the Haw River, which feeds Jordan Lake. Chiosso said extra care should be taken with the forest land in this area.

Pittsboro does not have a tree protection ordinance, said Town Planning Director Jeff Jones. The only trees currently protected are within state-regulated buffer areas, he said.

Development underway

Chatham Park is a megadevelopment on the northeast side of Pittsboro. It is expected to increase the town’s population by more than 60,000 residents during the next 30 years, nearly a 12-fold increase over the current 5,000 who live there.

Some minor commercial development has already occurred in Chatham Park with the opening of businesses in Penguin Place and several UNC Healthcare offices. Grading for the Mosaic, a large mixed-use development across the street is imminent, according to Kirk Bradley of the Eco Group.

The developers of Chatham Park offered an amended tree-protection plan at Monday’s Town Board meeting they say will protect more than enough trees while the property is developed during the next 30 years. It is one of many negotiations happening between town leaders and Chatham Park developers.

Chatham Park’s plan allows for latitude in deciding tree density based on whether the trees are in a residential or commercial area. The developers have said they’ve done an inventory of large trees and will do as much as they can to protect “specimen” or “champion” trees.

David Brown, a landscape architect with WithersRavenel, presented the Chatham Park plan. He said there is a difference between tree coverage and tree canopy that gets confused. Tree coverage refers to the trees in the ground and the area they covers, he said. The canopy area is the leafy part of the trees.

“Tree coverage and tree canopy are different,” he said. “But they tend to be intermingled.”

Tree coverage is the standard Chatham Park is using in its plan.

The Haw River Assembly says the plan does not go far enough.

The Chatham Park plan now only protects 10 percent of existing trees by tree coverage area. That figure does not include what trees may be subsequently planted by homeowners when people start moving in, Brown said.

Chapel Hill’s tree protection ordinance uses canopy coverage for its standard and requires 30 percent to 40 percent canopy coverage for most new development. Charlotte is proposing 50 percent tree canopy coverage by 2050.