Chatham County

Pittsboro adopts downtown protections. What's next?

The Historic Courthouse in Pittsboro is the centerpiece of downtown.
The Historic Courthouse in Pittsboro is the centerpiece of downtown.

The Pittsboro Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an overlay district Monday night that restricts the types of businesses that can locate downtown.

It is a step other towns like Hillsborough and Apex have taken to protect the character of their downtowns. Both have an attractive mix of local businesses and restaurants that make them a destination for visitors. Pittsboro has a similar collection, including the rise of Postal Fish restaurant to go along with downtown staples like Virlie's Grill, S&T's Soda Shoppe and the eclectic mix of antique shops along Hillsboro Street.

Monday's vote ended months of work to establish protections for downtown. The town is on the cusp of a massive change because of the development of Chatham Park The town's population is about 5,000 but it is expected to grow more than ten-fold during the next 25 years.

Current businesses are unaffected by the overlay district. They can continue operating as they have.

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The overlay district is an interim step for the town, which also is updating its zoning townwide.

"I'm thrilled," Mayor Cindy Perry said. "I really am. I think we were able to show what we can do when we set our minds to it. I think it was important for the protection of the downtown historic district."

The types of businesses that can locate downtown in the future will be limited. Some of the prohibited businesses include automobile body shops, car washes, gunsmiths, adult bookstores, tattoo parlors, pawn shops and restaurants with drive-thru windows.


Commissioner Jay Farrell asked what would happen if the Hardee's, which has a drive-thru window, was damaged by fire. Commissioner Michael Fiocco said it could be rebuilt even with the new restrictions because it is an existing business.

"I think the uses were chosen by whether or not they met our purpose statement," Fiocco said. "And that was really I think the guiding principle in choosing which businesses are allowed or not allowed. The only thing that we did was limit some of the uses in the overlay. We didn't apply any other regulatory requirements."

Preventing undesirable businesses from locating downtown spurred the need for the overlay district, commissioners said. Pittsboro's zoning ordinances are insufficient in their present form to prevent certain types of businesses from locating downtown Town Planner Jeff Jones said.

The overlay district will stretch roughly a quarter-mile from the Historic Courthouse. It will have the same boundaries as the Main Street District.

A public hearing was held on May 29. Numerous people and property owners spoke at the hearing. They highlighted the types of businesses they wanted downtown.

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One proposed business, a new Eagles gas station at 165 East St., is not covered by the new rules despite public outcry. It was submitted into the town's approval process last fall before the overlay district was adopted.

A developer wants to put a new gas station on this property at 165 East St., near downtown Pittsboro. Joe Johnson

The commissioners rejected the site plan last month. But Eagles corrected a technical error and resubmitted its plan as allowed by state law. It could be up for approval again as early as August.