Chatham County

Which businesses to keep, which to ban? Pittsboro ponders its future

Hillsboro Street  is one gateway into the Pittsboro's historic district.
Hillsboro Street is one gateway into the Pittsboro's historic district.

Bakeries? Yes. Churches? Definitely. Gyms? If they're sized right for downtown.

Adult bookstores? No way.

More than 75 people crammed into Town Hall Tuesday night for a public hearing about the future of downtown Pittsboro. They listened, some standing, for more than an hour as speakers called on commissioners to make sure a proposed Downtown Overlay District maintains the town's character.

Liz Cullington said shops need to stay open later.

"This town could use a little more nightlife," she said. "We're going to have to fix more than awnings if this is going to work."

The town's current zoning is not sufficient to prevent undesirable businesses from locating in the historic district, Town Planner Jeff Jones said.

So the commissioners have worked for several months on the overlay, which will restrict what can locate downtown. An initial list released at their last meeting included everything from bakeries, churches, and bicycle repair shops that will likely be taken off the list to establishments like adult bookstores, pawn shops and massage parlors that will likely be prohibited.

"We want the types of businesses we already have," Commissioner John Bonitz said.

The overlay district will stretch roughly a quarter-mile in all directions from the Historic Courthouse. The commissioners began with a circle to define the overlay, but they said the district's borders will likely follow existing streets and property lines in the plan's final form. They want to adopt the plan at their next meeting June 11.

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What else folks want

Chris Lee, an attorney with a Hillsboro Street office, wants downtown to be more walkable.

"We need to keep it pedestrian friendly," he said, proposing better handrails where there are steps leading to the street.

Others came looking for answers from the commissioners that were unrelated to the zoning changes but still affect the enjoyment of downtown.

"Are you working on getting the big trucks out of town?" asked John Justice.

A longer-range plan calls for a truck route for N.C. 87 to bypass downtown on the west side of town and for Chatham Parkway to ease traffic around the east side of town from U.S. 64 to U.S. 15-501, commissioners said.

Why the rush?

Billy Hughes struck a sour note with commissioners when he asked if they were rushing to enact the overlay ordinance in response to a new gas station destined for the historic district.

Developers initiated plans last fall to build a new Eagles gas station at 165 East St.. The former car dealership lot is now rented to Noel's Vegetable Stand, but the owners want to sell.

"If you're changing everything because of a new gas station, you're messing with people's property rights," Hughes said. "I don't want a gas station, but you're going to get the town of Pittsboro sued."

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Gas stations are on the list and could be prohibited in the future, but the Eagles would not be affected because the plan is already under consideration.

The commissioners rejected the site plan last month. but Eagles corrected a technical error and resubmitted its plan as allowed by state law.

Commissioner Bett Wilson Foley tried to prepare the crowd for the station's ultimate approval.

"They reapplied and fixed the problem," Foley said.. "So we might be able to say 'No' the next time."

State law requires town boards to adopt the recommendations of their planning boards when site plans meet their current planning and zoning requirements. The Eagles site plan is back in the review process with the planning office. It could be back before the town board as soon as August, planning staff said.

If the overlay district is adopted, the Eagles station might be the last gas station allowed in the historic district.

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