Consultant Recommendations Calms Some Residents’ Worries About “Chatham Park”

By Rachel Nash Posted March 11, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Now that a recently-hired consulting firm has made suggestions calling for a more detailed project plan for the proposed Chatham Park, Pittsboro residents said they are feeling more comfortable with the major development that would dramatically change the make-up of the small town.

“And so, in general, yes, we like the direction that it is going. We still have some issue with some of the things, but as a general rule, we favored it,” said Jeffrey Starkweather of the “Pittsboro Matters” steering committee, a grassroots group advocating for citizen input during the design of the development.

Starkweather, a retired attorney, sat in on the packed Pittsboro Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night to hear Town leaders review recommendations from The Lawrence Group, a St. Louis-based consultanting firm, regarding the development.

Chatham Park is a more than 7,000 acre mixed-use project planned for the east side of Pittsboro, spearheaded by Preston Development, INC. It is designed to be completed in several phases and could bring development to the town in the form of medical facilities, parks, trails, and retail and residential options.

It’s been projected that this could increase the population of Pittsboro from 3,000 to 60,000 over a 30-40 year period

Commissioner Beth Turner said that if the planning process is “done right,” Chatham Park which has been in the works for year, could benefit Pittsboro in many ways.

Following discussion, the Board approved the consultant’s recommendations and sent them on to the developer.

“I think the consultant did a really good job at addressing a lot of those concerns. They were very forthcoming at listening to the citizens, town staff, and the developer. I feel like it was a good process,” Turner said.

Progress was halted in November after the Board denied a rezoning application for the project following hours of heated public debate.

Starkweather said that he and others never opposed the idea of Chatham Park outright, but rather they wanted a more detailed plan to include a look at what the project would entail, including studies about how density would affect transit operations and traffic in the area.

He said he supported the “smart growth” model where people live near where they work and recreate.

“I think the citizens have been heard to some extent in the sense that we needed some expert outside consultants that would represent the Town’s point of view. Yes, I think they have made a lot of improvements,” Starkweather said.

A recommendation from the consultant included that 30 percent of the total land area should be set aside as conservation areas, given that the Chatham Park site would be located within a protected watershed. It was also suggested to dedicate 10 percent of the total land area to park space.

Starkweather said he favored those suggestions, but believed that Town leaders should continue to work toward maintaining open communication lines between residents and town leaders and the developer.

“My feeling is that this has been mostly sort of a technocratic, land use, physical, engineering, planning, formal process, but the people that are going to make up the Town in a sense have been left out,” he said.

Both Starkweather and Turner agreed that development in Pittsboro is inevitable.

The Board is awaiting comments regarding the recommendations from Preston Development, INC. Another public hearing will be held at a later date.

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