Portion of Farrington Road in Chatham County Reopens After Chemical Spill

****UPDATE: The roadway has reopened shortly after 1:30 Tuesday afternoon.****

A chemical spill in Chatham County has closed a portion of Farrington Road.

Officials say Farrington Road between Martha’s Chapel Road and Farrington Mill Road will be closed for “several hours” Tuesday. The North Carolina Department of Transportation to clean up acid on the road, according to a release.

The closure is also impacting the intersection of Lystra Road and Jack Bennett Road.

Officials say it appears the acid fell off of an unknown vehicle earlier in the morning.


Chatham County Asking Residents and Businesses About Barriers to Internet Access

As internet access becomes less of a luxury and more of a necessity, Chatham County officials are asking residents about barriers to internet access in portions of the county.

While officials acknowledge in a release that “the county is restricted in what it can do to promote more options,” they are asking residents and organizations to complete a survey better documenting challenges or barriers.

“We are asking every household or organization to complete a survey to help us better communicate to state and federal officials the severity of broadband access issue in Chatham County, which likely is true in many other rural counties,” county director of management and information systems Darlene Yudell said in a release.

Yudell added that, “It is up to us to show areas that are unserved or underserved. We also have to deal with the fact that several state regulations and laws restrict what counties can do to promote more broadband options in those areas.”

Officials are asking residents and businesses to complete the survey by November 11.

You can take the survey online or you can have a copy mailed to you by requesting one from Yudell via e-mail at darlene.yudell@chathamnc.org or mailing a request to Chatham County MIS, 158 West St, Pittsboro, NC 27312.


Five Arrested After $3 Million Worth of Cocaine Seized from Chapel Hill Home

“Well over” $3 million worth of cocaine was seized from a Chapel Hill residence as part of a multi-agency drug investigation.

Authorities say they suspected a high-level cocaine trafficking operation was located at 131 Morton Road in Chapel Hill and launch an investigation. That led to a search of the residence where Chatham County deputies located and seized 38 kilograms of suspected cocaine hydrochloride, which authorities estimated had a street value of more than $3 million.

Officials say law enforcement also seized approximately $530,000, which was described as being “packaged, sealed and prepped for transport out of the country.”

Authorities say five firearms were also seized along with multiple rounds of various caliber ammunition, a commercial-grade currency counter, digital scales and several “luxury vehicles.”

The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office along with federal, state and other local agencies were all part of the investigation, according to a release.

“Teamwork is the key to solving these complicated and extensive cases,” Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson said in a release. “It takes a collective partnership with other local, state, and federal agencies and the community to identify and effectively respond to criminal activity. Don’t let cases like these stay hidden in the shadows; call 911 to share information if you suspect criminal activity in your neighborhood.”

Five suspects – 39-year-old Jose Manuel Elzaldo-Serrano, 41-year-old Carlos Ocegyeda-Serrano, 40-year-old Venusian Serrano-Mejia, 45-year-old Fernado Rivera-Hernandez and 30-year-old Christian Manor Gomez-Santos – have all been charged with trafficking a schedule II controlled substance, conspiracy to traffic a controlled substance, possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine and maintaining a dwelling to sell or distribute cocaine.

Jose Manuel Elzaldo-Serrano. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

Jose Manuel Elzaldo-Serrano. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.

Carlos Ocegyeda-Serrano. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

Carlos Ocegyeda-Serrano. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.

Venusian Serrano-Mejia. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

Venusian Serrano-Mejia. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.

Fernado Rivera-Hernandez. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

Fernado Rivera-Hernandez. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.

Christian Manor Gomez-Santos. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

Christian Manor Gomez-Santos. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.

All five suspects were given a $1 million bond and made a first court appearance on Monday.


Chatham County Leaders Receiving Chatham Park Update Thursday

Chatham County officials will be meeting to receive an update on one of the largest development projects in the state on Thursday.

County Commissioners and municipal leaders are slated to receive an update on the Chatham Park development at a meeting at Central Carolina Community College.

Chatham Park has been a controversial topic around Pittsboro and greater Chatham County in recent years as the development is slated to bring 22 million square feet of commercial, office and civic space along with 22,000 residential units to the area in the coming years. The project is slated to rest on more than 7,000 acres and could take Pittsboro’s population from 4,000 to 60,000 over the next 30 years.

Multiple lawsuits have been unsuccessfully filed in an attempt to stop the project from moving forward.

The Chatham Park update is set for 6:30 in the CCCC Multipurpose Room.


Chatham County Sheriff’s Office Makes Drug Bust in Chapel Hill

A raid of a Chapel Hill residence led to two individuals being charged with more than a dozen drug offenses.

Jesse King-Bey. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

Jesse King-Bey. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.

Chatham County authorities say investigators with the Sheriff’s Office conducted a search of 22 Bell Circle, Apartment B, in Chapel Hill on August 31. Officials say law enforcement seized one gram of crack cocaine, 24 grams of marijuana, eight dosage units of Alprazolam, four dosage units of Clonazepam and nearly $1,000 in cash.

Samantha Epperson. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

Samantha Epperson. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities have charged 51-year-old Jesse King-Bey and 26-year-old Samantha Epperson with multiple drug counts in relation to the investigation.

King-Bey is facing 10 counts of varying narcotics charges, including two felonies. Epperson is facing two felonies in the three charges brought against her.

King-Bey was given a $65,000 secured bond and Epperson a $5,000 secured bond. Both are due in Chatham County Court in Pittsboro on September 19.


AK-47 and AR-15 Rifles Seized from Pittsboro Home After Drug Search

Chatham County authorities seized AR-15 and AK-47 rifles, one shotgun and over 100 rounds of ammunition from a Pittsboro residence when conducting a search earlier this month.

Christian Dominick Lenoir. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

Christian Dominick Lenoir. Photo via Chatham County Sheriff’s Office.

Officials say 27-year-old Christian Dominick Lenoir, of Old Graham Road in Pittsboro, was arrested after a search of his residence on August 14.

In addition to the firearms and ammunition, law enforcement officials say two ounces of marijuana, three scales, plastic bags and a vacuum sealer machine were all seized along with more than $2,200 in cash.

Lenoir has been charged with possession with intent to sell/deliver marijuana, felony possession of a schedulve VI controlled substance, maintaining a vehicle/dwelling/place for a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Lenoir is due back in court on September 19.


Two Chatham County Residents Arrested in Meth Lab Bust

Two Chatham County residents have been arrested after multiple meth labs were found during an investigation by the Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities say two searches were conducted in Pittsboro on August 13 after an investigation into the manufacturing of methamphetamine in the area.

Two residences were searched near Tobacco Road, in Pittsboro, and two active meth labs were found. A third lab was described as “primed but not yet active.”

Officials say Robert Russell and Kara Watkins were taken into custody and charged with manufacturing methamphetamine, possessing/distributing meth precursor, conspiring to traffic methamphetamine and maintaining a vehicle/dwelling/place for a controlled substance.

Authorities say the State Bureau of Investigation’s Clandestine Lab Team assisted with conducting the search.

Russell and Watkins are due back in court on September 19.


Chatham Commission Chairman: Countywide Zoning ‘Best Way Forward’

“I just don’t understand why our opinions had no value.”

That was the sentiment of one Chatham County resident who spoke during the public comment period of Monday night’s meeting of the County Commissioners where the board approved blanket zoning for the previously unzoned portions of the county as either R-1 – estimated to be one residence per acre – or R-5 – estimated to be one residence per five acres.

The message of feeling unheard by the county leadership seemed to be echoed by those opposed to the new guidelines. The meeting Monday night was expected to draw a large crowd after a public hearing had overflow attendance earlier this year. To accommodate the larger crowd, Monday’s meeting was moved to Chatham Central High School but it was less than half full.

Commissioner Walter Petty – who was against the blanket zoning – attributed the lower attendance to some residents feeling defeated and that a decision had already been made in the minds of the majority of the commissioners.

The meeting was a culmination of about 18 months of work from county staff and leadership.

Residents were divided at the previous public hearing between those supporting zoning to protect the land from overdevelopment and those against zoning because they felt it was government overreach.

Another speaker on Monday night shared concerns that the decision would have a negative impact on Chatham County’s future.

“We have seen what poor planning has done to north Chatham,” she told commissioners. “And I’d hate to lose the rest of Chatham to that kind of planning. Yet, with your R-1 and R-5 zoning, that is exactly what you’re opening us up to.”

Another resident said he could not remember the county being so polarized over one issue.

“I’d like to see this county united again instead of split down the middle,” he said, “and this has probably been the most divisive thing I’ve seen in my adult life in this county to go on. And it needs to stop.

“We could all work this out. But not with a one-size-fits-all all-one plan.”

A resident supporting the zoning changes acknowledged that it would impact his property and said he was grateful for that.

“We live on 16 delightful acres,” he said. “We support the effort to establish countywide zoning. We are aware that it will apply to our land, and we support that change.”

Some residents who are new to the county said they chose the area because of the freedom that fewer regulations offered. Meanwhile, others said they chose a certain portion of the county purely because it was zoned and, therefore, they felt protected from development.

“I live in northeast Chatham, and I’m R-1,” she said. “And I would not have come to Chatham County without the protection of the zoning. And I totally support the efforts of the Board of Commissioners, the planning board and the county staff to get this county zoned.”

The planning board voted to support countywide zoning but did so in a close margin.

Some members said they felt the blanket zoning was not the right way to go forward. Those supporting the plan said they had looked to surrounding and counties growing as quickly as Chatham and saw that they were all fully zoned.

And with the Chatham Park development on its way, the board wrote in its recommendation that this was the best way to protect the county as a whole.

Commission chairman Jim Crawford supported the zoning and cast the deciding 3-2 vote.

“I am voting for the zoning because I believe it is the best way forward for the county,” the chairman said. “It’s that simple.”

Land that is a bonafide farm will be exempt from any zoning changes by law. Businesses currently in operation in the newly zoned areas will be grandfathered in and allowed to continue operating. Any new proposals will have to go through the public process to apply for rezoning.


Chatham Commissioners Approve Countywide Zoning

Chatham County Commissioners voted 3-2 to apply zoning to the remaining portions of the county that were previously unzoned at its meeting Monday night.

The vote means that the newly zoned portions of the county will now fall under R-1 or R-5 zoning regulations.

R-1 will allow “low to moderate density residential development in residential and agricultural areas (approximately one residence per acre).” R-5, meanwhile, calls for approximately one residence per five acres in areas adjacent to rivers and streams.

Bona fide farms, which are defined by state law, are exempt from the zoning regulations as long as they continue using the property for agricultural purposes, according to a release.

Businesses that are in areas that were previously unzoned are being grandfathered in as non-conforming issues, meaning they can continue operating even though they do not fit the current zoning guidelines.

The issue had been a contentious point among Chatham County residents and commissioners between those thinking this was a way to protect the county from impending development and those who felt it was government intrusion.


Multiple Drug Busts in Chatham County

Chatham County authorities have arrested two men in what appear to be separate incidents involving narcotics.

Members of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office stopped a vehicle on White Cross Road in Pittsboro on August 4. That stop led to a search of the vehicle where deputies found six grams of crack cocaine. Officials say 46-year-old Reginald Bland, of Graham, was operating the vehicle and was taken into custody. Bland was charged with possession with intent to sell/deliver cocaine, possession of cocaine, maintaining a vehicle for a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Also on August 4, members of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office searched a residence at 4440 Old Graham Road, in Pittsboro, where investigators seized 16.5 grams of crack cocaine, along with 28 grams of marijuana, 17.74 grams of opiates, 6.64 grams of psilocybin mushrooms and over $3,000 in cash.

Donvelle “Chubbs” Partridge was arrested after the search. The 34-year-old was charged with 13 drug offenses including trafficking opiates and counts of possession with intent to sell/deliver a schedule I, schedule II and schedule VI controlled substances.

Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson issued a statement in the release associated with the arrest of Partridge:

“I commend my staff on their teamwork and investigative skills. I also want to encourage any citizen who is concerned over potential criminal activity in his or her neighborhood to contact the Sheriff’s Office with more information. Community safety is a responsibility we all share, and we value citizen participation in safeguarding the welfare of Chatham County.”

The releases announcing the arrests were sent separately on the same day by Chatham County officials. They did not say the cases were related.

Bland was being held under a $10,700 bond as of last update.

Meanwhile, Partridge was being held on a $300,000 secured bond.

Both are scheduled for court appearances in Pittsboro on August 22.