Board of Commissioners requests changes to Chatham Park tree coverage element as consensus remains elusive


The Pittsboro Board of Commissioners requested several changes to Chatham Park’s tree coverage ordinance at its meeting Monday night, as talks about the development’s plan to protect trees once again dominated the agenda without a resolution being voted on.

Multiple commissioners expressed frustration over unclear language in the element that they said is difficult to understand. Commissioner John Bonitz and Mayor Cindy Perry also questioned Chatham Park’s practice of, in the past, changing additional parts of the element when taking into account board recommendations.

The board asked Chatham Park to consider the requests made by the board Monday night and to come back with a revised draft in a couple of weeks.

“I personally feel like we need to see a complete document,” Commissioner Bett Wilson Foley said. “We need to get through on this, there’s no question. We’ve been working on this for a long time.”

Commissioner Michael Fiocco remarked that the board might have a finished document to consider in the near future if Chatham Park can address the changes requested Monday night.

Here’s a breakdown of what the board wants changed.

1. The addition of language establishing a minimum height for canopy trees at full maturity

When speaking to the board, Pittsboro Planning Director Jeff Jones recommended that the board consider adopting language regarding minimum tree height for canopy trees at full maturity from the landscaping element and applying it to the tree protection element.

While the landscaping element set the minimum at 30 feet, Jones suggested increasing the figure for canopy trees in tree coverage areas. In the end, the board decided on a minimum height of 40 feet, with a variety in tree heights.

Chatham Park representative Smith said he thought this change would limit Chatham Park’s ability to plant trees native to North Carolina. Multiple commissioners were skeptical of Smith’s claim and so was Jones.

“Yeah, I think there could be an argument made that it’s the obverse,” Jones said.

2. The addition of language establishing a minimum height for understory trees at full maturity and an increase in understory caliper.

Similar to the discussion on canopy trees, Jones also recommended increasing the minimum height at full maturity for understory trees from a minimum of 10 feet to a new minimum of 15 feet.

“We might want to have a more substantial tree planted,” Jones said.

The board agreed with that suggestion, and it also agreed with Jones’ recommendation to increase the minimum caliper for understory trees from one inch (as outlined in the latest version of the tree protection element) to 1.25 inches (as outlined in the landscaping element).

3. The addition of an appendix listing types of canopy trees and a reference to the North Carolina Forest Service’s pocket manual on common forest trees in North Carolina.

A similar appendix on types of canopy trees already exists in the landscaping element. Elaine Chiosso, the executive director of Haw River Assembly, suggested the inclusion of the N.C. Forest Service’s manual following Smith’s claim that an increased minimum height at full maturity for canopy trees would decrease the variety of plantable tree species.

4. The rewording of the definition of a tree coverage planning area (TCPA)

A considerable portion of the board’s discussion on the tree coverage plan centered around Chatham Park’s definition of a tree coverage planning area:

“An area of land that contains one (1) of the following development types, together with the existing trees and/or New Trees needed to satisfy the TCA requirements of this Element for that development type: Village Center; shopping center; a Single-Family Development; or the portion of Section 7.1 as shown on the Master Plan that is located on the north side of Russett Run Road.”

“I believe it is confusing,” Bonitz said.

At one point, Perry asked Smith if Chatham Park could reword the definition for clarity’s sake, to which he replied, “No ma’am.”

With Commissioner Michael Fiocco seemingly the only one in full understanding of the definition, Smith eventually offered a revised definition: “Tree coverage planning area, known as TCPA, is defined as an area of land that contains either a village center, a shopping center, a single-family development or the portion of section 7.1 shown on the master plan located on the north side of Russett Run Road together with the existing entries and/or new entries needed to satisfy the TCA requirements for any of these development types.”

Both Bonitz and Perry said Smith’s new definition was an improvement, but Bonitz still had questions about TCPA and remained concerned about tree coverage areas possibly being limited only to riparian buffers.

5. The addition of language pertaining to specimen tree replacement

Wilson Foley said she wanted to put a plan in place for specimen tree replacement should a natural disaster or some other weather event occur and do damage in “tree-protected areas.”

Smith questioned whether Chatham Park was being singled out by this request or if it would be part of a unified development ordinance. Wilson Foley said she wasn’t talking about a UDO, but said “if it’s been designated as the TCA and something happens to those trees, then you still need trees.”

When asked by Bonitz if a a new subsection was needed on specimen tree replacement, Wilson Foley said, “It’s one of those things that I think needs to be in there.”

6. Understory tree credit to be changed back to original agreement

In a version of the tree protection element from January, understory tree credit was established as one tree for every 1,000 square feet of new trees. However, that changed in an updated version presented in April, which said there should be “one understory tree for every 2,000 square feet of TCA.”

On Monday, the board asked for understory tree credit to return to its original terms of one tree for every 1,000 feet.

7. Consideration of local growers/nurseries

In discussing future canopy and understory trees in TCA, Wilson Foley requested that Chatham Park use local growers and nurseries.

“When I say local, I mean Chatham County,” Wilson Foley said.

One thought on “Board of Commissioners requests changes to Chatham Park tree coverage element as consensus remains elusive

  1. Brennan Doherty’s coverage of May 13 town board meeting was well done and covered some key points made during the discussion of the Chatham Park Tree Element. Even quoting the TCPA definition, and Chuck Smith’s comments. was good–the whole thing is a loophole where they have TCA counted by riparian buffers somewhere else and not have even the minimum percent of coverage for a particular development site! While this article stuck to the facts, it didn’t go into analysis of how evasive this thing is since that’s not the point of covering actual information in a meeting, but got some of the commissioner’s concerns included. Thank you–having briefly been a news reporter for a small town paper, I know how hard to do a succinct but accurate article it can be for those kinds of meetings.

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