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.

Judge Dismisses Chatham Park Lawsuit

Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway has dismissed a lawsuit against the Town of Pittboro that challenged the approval of the Chatham Park Development in a ruling dated December 9.

A release from the group representing the developers says Ridgeway dismissed each of the claims by the plaintiffs for “either lack of standing or failure to state a claim.”

This was the third lawsuit brought by the group Pittsboro Matters, according to the vice chair of the group’s board Jeffrey Starkweather.

“We are a grassroots citizen group that has been attempting to improve the plans for Chatham Park so that it puts the people of Pittsboro and the town in charge rather than an outside developer,” Starkweather says.

The outside developer he is referring to is Chatham Park Investors and Cary-based Preston Development.

Chatham Park is a 7,000+ acre development described as a “live, work, play sustainable community” by the developers that has zoning approval for 22 million square feet of commercial, office and civic space and 22,000 residential units. Developers say it will be “one of the largest master-planned communities in the country upon completion.”

Developers say nearly 2,000 acres will be set aside for park and open space, along with 50+ miles of walking and biking trails.

The development could take Pittsboro’s population from about 4,000 to possibly 60,000 over the next 30 years.

Starkweather says citizens have voiced concerns with the project at public hearings at different stages throughout the process.

Starkweather says, while the judge has dismissed this lawsuit, the group has been able to alter the proposals along the way due to legal action that has been taken.

“I think we did maybe the most significant thing we could do,” Starkweather says. “Which is we gave the town the authority to pretty much decide on whatever is reasonable – the term health, safety and welfare – whatever is reasonable, they could reject or propose changes in all of the things that are going to implement this plan.”

Starkweather criticizes the plan for being “very general and very vague,” without telling residents exactly what will be happening.

Starkweather says town officials have said in the past that some of the group’s concerns, including affordable housing and transit support, would be specified with proposed Small Area Plans rather than under the broad umbrella of the Master Plan. He says the group will continue the discussion over portions of Chatham Park during the authorization procedure.

“We were challenging the Small Area Plan approval process and the Development Agreement approval process,” Starkweather says. “The new town board, which there was an election and there was some change, they would have the authority, if they want to, to strengthen those now. They can vote to change those.

“Unlike the Master Plan, which unless we win a lawsuit can’t be changed, they can change those procedures because they were just policies.”

Starkweather says the group will continue to lobby town leaders over specifics throughout the approval process.

“For an example, on the Small Area Plan process review they didn’t require an environmental impact assessment, which seems to me grossly deficient,” Starkweather says. “And they also didn’t require an official public hearing.

“We proposed there ought to be some kind of a stakeholders group that meets to review these, similar to what Chapel Hill has with their Compass Committee.”

Mitch Armbruster, a partner at the law firm representing the development company, said in a statement, “Obviously, we are very pleased with the judge’s ruling that the Town of Pittsboro Board of Commissioners acted in accordance with the law when granting approvals requested by the developers of Chatham Park.”

Starkweather says Pittsboro Matters will appeal Ridgeway’s decision to dismiss the case.

“We feel that there is a strong possibility this will be overturned,” Starkweather says. “We think the judge made some significant errors.

“Land use is a very complicated thing and often goes back and forth from appeals.”

The first ground breaking for a project associated with Chatham Park was held in December.

New UNC Hospice Home Breaks Ground In Chatham Park

About a hundred people turned out in Pittsboro on Tuesday as officials broke ground on UNC Health Care’s new Hospice Home.

“We’re glad to be celebrating UNC Health Care’s newest opportunity to serve the people of North Carolina,” said Brian Goldstein, chief operating officer of the UNC Health Care System, as he welcomed onlookers to the site.

The hospice home is set to open in February. When it opens, Goldstein said, it will be a major addition for hospice care – Chatham County’s first inpatient hospice facility.

“In total, (it will have) 11,000 square feet,” he said, “complete with kitchen, dining room, meditation space, family visiting areas, and ten private rooms, each with an individual outdoor patio.”

Brian Goldstein speaks at the groundbreaking. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

Brian Goldstein speaks at the groundbreaking. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

In addition to serving as a boost for medical care, the building will also serve as a boost for the town of Pittsboro. It’s the second building to start construction in Chatham Park, Pittsboro’s new mega-development – the first, already under way, will open in December.

“We are pleased to partner with UNC Health Care,” said Chatham Park developer Tim Smith, who was on hand for the groundbreaking. “This hospice will provide end-of-life care options not previously available to local residents.”

Pittsboro town commissioner Pamela Baldwin – also present for the ceremony – agreed. “This is an honor, as well as an unparalleled privilege, to participate in the groundbreaking,” she said.

Large crowd on hand to break ground on UNC's Hospice Home. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

Large crowd on hand to break ground on UNC’s Hospice Home. (Photo by Aaron Keck.)

The crowd spilled out beyond the tent.

The crowd spilled out beyond the tent.

Officially, the building will be named the SECU Jim and Betsy Bryan Hospice Home of UNC Health Care. (Jim Johnson of the SECU Foundation was on hand to provide a major donation to the project – a $1 million challenge grant.) Dr. James Bryan, the building’s namesake, has been with the UNC Department of Internal Medicine since 1964; in the 1970s he introduced the modern hospice care movement to North Carolina.

Jim Johnson reveals the $1 million grant.

Jim Johnson reveals the $1 million grant.

Jim and Betsy Bryan.

Jim and Betsy Bryan.

That movement began in England with a physician named Cicely Saunders – and an idea that began to grow in the 1940s, when she was a nurse treating a Polish refugee who was terminally ill.

“There he was, undertaking this terminal course, and they became very close,” said Bryan at Tuesday’s ceremony. “And they talked about how ideal it would be to be at a home…with a window overlooking a park, with music, with friends and with family…

“And so when he died, he left a legacy to her – and said, ‘I want you to build a window.'”

That “window” eventually became St. Christopher’s in London, which opened in 1967 as the first modern facility devoted to hospice care. Today, there are “windows” like St. Christopher’s around the world – and come February, there will be another new “window” in Chatham Park.

UNC Hospice House Groundbreaking 8

UNC Hospice House Groundbreaking 9

UNC Hospice House Groundbreaking 12

Artist's rendering of the future Hospice Home. (Photos by Aaron Keck.)

Artist’s rendering of the future Hospice Home. (Photos by Aaron Keck.)

Chatham Park Foes Demand Stop to Related Highway Work

The Town of Pittsboro is rejecting a citizen’s group’s demand to stop construction on a stretch of the U.S. 64 Bypass.

“Their development plan calls for a bridge to be built over the bypass,” said Amanda Robertson, the chair for the board of Pittsboro Matters. “But they’re also creating the road that goes back into the development right now.”

Pittsboro Matters accuses developers of a 7,100-acre mixed-use project of starting construction without first meeting legal requirements.

But the town manager says the group is mistaken about the history and jurisdiction of the bypass work.

This past December, Pittsboro Matters and six adjacent property owners filed a lawsuit challenging the Chatham Park Master Plan approved early that month by the town board. An earlier plan approved in June was also challenged by the same plaintiffs.

Opponents contend that the master plan is neither in compliance with the Planned Development District plan, nor the Land Use Plan. A trial date is set for October.

But right now, Pittsboro Matters is accusing developers of starting construction work on the 64 bypass without meeting a requirement to clear the work first through a Development Review Committee.

“It’s as though the town either is completely oblivious or just ignoring what’s going on,” said Robertson.

An attorney for Pittsboro Matters wrote to Town Attorney Paul Messick that the group is prepared to go to court if the work isn’t stopped by April 6.

Town Manager Bryan Gruesbeck told WCHL that Pittsboro Matters is knocking on the wrong door.

“The public agency that has the exclusive jurisdiction over this project is the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Gruesbeck referred to a thoroughfare plan that was approved by the town in 1992. Then, about six years ago, the town adopted a resolution to ask the NCDOT to approve an interchange at that location, with use of private funds.

“Even more recently than that, in 2011, the town adopted a Comprehensive Transportation Plan, which identified the location of the bridge,” said Gruesbeck. “And that plan was included as part of the Chatham Park Planned District.”

Pittsboro Citizens’ Group Files Second Lawsuit Against Chatham Park Plan

The citizen’s group Pittsboro Matters has filed a second lawsuit to challenge the recent master plan and rezoning for the 7,100-acre Chatham Park development.

Plaintiffs claim that the new master plan and rezoning passed by the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners on December 8 was prompted by an August lawsuit from Pittsboro Matters, in opposition to the original June 9 approval of the Chatham Park plan.

“Because of our previous suit,” said Jeffrey Starkweather, vice chair of Pittsboro Matters, “the Chatham Park Investors came back with a whole new master plan and rezoning – mainly because they were trying to get around what they discovered through our deposing of our Pittsboro Matters that they had deficiencies in their procedures they used to pass it back in June.”

Starkweather added that the new zoning plan meant that Pittsboro Matters needed to file a whole new lawsuit.

Speaking to WUNC, Tim Smith of Preston Development Company denied that the reopened process was connected to the lawsuit. Preston said that new rezoning was required because Preston and Chatham Park Investors wanted to add 45 acres to the project.

This time, Pittsboro Matters has signed on six more people as plaintiffs, in a concerted challenge to plans for a massive mixed-use development, adjacent to Jordan Lake and Downtown Pittsboro.

Starkweather said that all six of those property owners near the project site had provided evidence during depositions for the first lawsuit that they would suffer loss of value to their properties if the current Chatham Park plan went ahead.

The new lawsuit lists 10 claims, including that the master plan is inconsistent with Pittsboro’s land use plan; and that the public hearing process was not properly followed.

“And it’s unconstitutional, both in the state and the federal constitutions, because it’s a vague ordinance,” said Starkweather.

In a Dec. 23 news release, Pittsboro Matters Chair Amanda Robertson is quoted as saying that her group does not wish to stop Chatham Park.

Starkweather said the group objected to a lack of impact assessments for the plan regarding the environment, transportation, and affordable housing. He added that he also wants to see the developers donate land for schools; and that he hasn’t seen a marketing study that would convince him that the development would bring the promised wave of job opportunities.

He shared some of his ideas for what he called a “sustainable mixed-use community” in Chatham County.

“My conception of it would be what I call a ‘new urbanist’ green urban area near the town,” said Starkweather, “sort of like a conservation subdivision writ large. And you’d have these villages, but you’d locate people in a density high enough that you could have transit between the villages and the urban areas.”

Starkweather said he’d like to see 30 percent of the area preserved for natural conservation, and he’d like to see Chatham Park developers make such a promise.

Chatham Park Breaks Ground Amid Controversy

UNC Health Care broke ground Tuesday on the first project in the controversial Chatham Park development near Pittsboro.

The 25,000-square-foot medical office building will be at the intersection of U.S. 64 Bypass and U.S. 15-501.

Though construction is underway, Chatham Park is still the focus of scrutiny.

The 7,000 acre mixed-use development was approved this summer after months of contentious debate.

A coalition of Pittsboro residents immediately filed suit have the rezoning overturned, alleging town officials didn’t follow state and local zoning rules.

Chatham Park Investors, which shares management with Preston Development, filed a motion to dismiss the suit, saying members of Pittsboro Matters don’t have a legal stake in the case.

While the lawsuit plays out in court, Pittsboro Commissioners are considering a request to add 46 acres to the project’s master plan, a move that would require the re-approval of the entire development.

Even if commissioners don’t approve the new plan, the initial approval would still stand.

The full project is slated to take 30 years to build. Once complete it would increase Pittsboro’s population by 1,900 percent, growing from 3,000 to 60,000.

Chatham Park Developers Seek New Rezoning

Developers of the 7,000-acre Chatham Park project want to add six properties and 45 acres to the plan, which will require a public hearing on a rezoning request.

That public hearing of the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners takes place tonight at 7 at the Historic County Courthouse.

By a vote of 4-to-1, the Board approved the plan by Preston Developers back in June, after months of hearing comments from citizens, many of whom were opposed to the size of the project.

A local non-profit group called Pittsboro Matters took some credit for the re-opened rezoning process. In an email to local media, Pittsboro Matters claims that it is a direct result of a lawsuit filed in August against the Board of Commissioners for what the plaintiffs called “deficiencies” in that initial rezoning approval.

Speaking to public radio station WUNC recently, Tim Smith of Preston Development denied the lawsuit caused his company to seek new rezoning.

Lawsuit Challenges Chatham Park Project

A group of citizens has filed a lawsuit challenging Pittsboro’s approval of the Chatham Park development project.

The suit filed by members of Pittsboro Matters alleges that the Town Board violated state statutes, town zoning rules and the state constitution when it voted in June to rezone 7,000 acres on the outskirts of town.

The controversial proposal would increase Pittsboro’s population from 4,000 to nearly 60,000. Opponents say the project lacks adequate environmental protections and should incorporate more public input in the design process.

Members of Pittsboro Matters say while they are ready and willing to litigate the issue, they would also be open to negotiating with town leaders and Chatham Park investors.

You can find the full text of the complaint here.

Town Leaders Talk Obey Creek, Glen Lennox…And Chatham Park

What is the future of development in Chapel Hill? The Chapel Hill Town Council will be making a pair of big decisions on Monday.

That’s when the Council votes on whether to approve a development agreement for the Glen Lennox neighborhood – and whether to proceed to the negotiation phase on another development in the works, Obey Creek.

See the Council’s full agenda.

Located just across 15/501 from Southern Village, the 120-acre Obey Creek site represents the next big phase of the ongoing discussion around development and redevelopment in Chapel Hill. (Since the town’s new comprehensive plan was approved in 2012, Chapel Hill has begun moving forward on several “future focus” areas, including Central West, Rosemary Street, and Ephesus/Fordham as well as Glen Lennox.)

See an image of the broad vision for Obey Creek, as laid out in the “Chapel Hill 2020” comprehensive plan.

Developer Roger Perry of East-West Partners has proposed a 1.5 million square foot development for the site, with 600-700 residential units, 327,000 square feet of retail (including a large anchor store, perhaps a ‘big box’), and a hotel. The proposed development would cover 35 of the 120 acres, with the rest conserved for public use, wilderness preservation, and a possible future school.

See the most recent development proposal.

Reaction to Perry’s proposal has been mixed, at least so far. (No surprise: the discussion process is still in the early stages.) Residents and town officials generally agree that some development ought to take place at the Obey Creek site, if only to generate more retail spending: fewer dollars are spent on retail in Orange County than in any of the surrounding counties, and that in turn forces Chapel Hill’s tax burden disproportionately onto property owners. (The Town Council, indeed, just approved a one-cent property tax increase.)

But some have objected to certain features of Perry’s proposal. Its large scale is one concern: some have proposed a smaller development, closer to 750,000 square feet than 1.5 million. (Perry has argued, in response, that a certain level of density is necessary to make the project financially viable.) Others have expressed concerns about the environmental effects, pedestrian and bike accessibility, and the impact on traffic on 15/501 (which is already busy in that area). And still others have emphasized the need to make sure that Obey Creek has a “sense of place”: aesthetically pleasing, with a real connection to Southern Village and a feeling of being Chapel Hill’s southern ‘gateway.’ (Some residents involved in the discussion have held up the East 54 development – also Perry’s – as a cautionary example in this vein: the East 54 development isn’t as inviting as it could be, they say, because drivers along Route 54 can only see the backs of the buildings.)

Last year, the Town of Chapel Hill appointed 17 residents to a committee, to study the proposal, solicit public feedback, and provide recommendations on moving forward. On December 16 of last year, the Obey Creek Compass Committee submitted its final 43-page report.

Read the Compass Committee’s report here.

Committee members say they have some concerns about the proposal that’s currently on the table, but they’re confident the disagreements can be worked out before final approval from the Town Council.

And all of these discussions are taking place in the wake of Chatham County’s recent approval of Chatham Park – a massive development that’s set to add about 60,000 residents to Pittsboro over the next three decades. (Pittsboro’s current population is about 3,000.) How that will affect development in Chapel Hill – or the entire Triangle, for that matter – remains to be seen.

Two weeks ago, WCHL’s Jim Heavner spoke at length with Roger Perry about the Obey Creek project and the state of development in Chapel Hill.

(Listen to part 1, part 2, and part 3 of that conversation.)

And last week, Aaron Keck welcomed several key town officials and Compass Committee members into the studio to talk about Obey Creek – as well as Glen Lennox, Chatham Park, and development in general in Chapel Hill.

Listen to Part 1 of Aaron’s conversation with Jeanne Brown and Susan Lindsay of the Obey Creek Compass Committee:

And Part 2:

Listen to Aaron’s conversation with Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt:

Listen to Part 1 of Aaron’s conversation with Kristen Smith of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce:

And Part 2:

Finally, listen to Aaron’s conversation with Chapel Hill Economic Development Officer Dwight Bassett:

The Town Council meets on Monday night at 5:30 in the Southern Human Services Center.

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

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.