By Ari Sen and Adrianne Cleven
(This story has been updated to reflect further comment from the town).
This week’s featured question comes from Ann Herndon, who wonders “How will our infrastructure support Chatham Park?”
Good question, Ann, particularly after a recent town meeting suggested sewer lines were quite weak in many spots.
Infrastructure can refer to a lot of different systems, including everything from wastewater treatment and sewers to roads and storm drains, Pittsboro Town Manager Bryan Gruesbeck said.
And the massive scale of the Chatham Park development will affect each of those aspects of infrastructure. Some 650 single-family homes and townhouses will be offered in just the first phase of the project, ultimately building up roughly 22,000 residential units over a 40-year period.
The total cost of the project is expected to be roughly $15 billion.
And with final buildout, the project is expected to boost the county’s population by 60,000 residents. They’ll all live on land serviced by the water and sewer services of the Town of Pittsboro.
Gruesbeck says Chatham Park’s population increase won’t put pressure on Pittsboro’s existing sewer and water lines, which are already in need of repair in many areas. And in terms of financing, the town’s existing infrastructure won’t have to support the immense development much.
Still, there are massive expenses to consider. The town’s water treatment plant costs more than $1 million, while the wastewater treatment plant comes in at more than $670,000.
Chatham Park’s developers say they will spend $1.8 billion for infrastructure in the next 35 years, costing Pittsboro’s taxpayers nothing.
Gruesbeck says population growth from both Chatham Park and “Non-Chatham Park Development” will make that expansion necessary, but that “Chatham Park is sharing the cost of utility expansion” with the town of Pittsboro.
In preparation for the population boom, Pittsboro’s town staff has been putting away funding for residential and retail expansion within the area. Low-interest loans and grants from the state government are also helping Pittsboro expand its ability to treat wastewater, according to Gruesbeck.
Gruesbeck explains that Chatham Park paid the town a $300,000 “annual contribution” in 2015. Pittsboro and Chatham Park planned to reduce that recurring funding measure each year as the development brought in more property tax revenue to the town. He says that the annual funding is “generally applied to staff and building costs used to review [Chatham Park] development projects.”
The recently approved town budget says Pittsboro will receive $160,000 in the upcoming fiscal year, down from the $250,000 that Chatham Park paid this fiscal year.
And Pittsboro’s existing infrastructure, like that of many towns, is in a continual process of refinement.
A map presented during a recent Pittsboro town meeting shows some existing sewer lines and manholes are at a high risk for failure. As town engineer Elizabeth Goodson helped explain at that meeting, several areas within the sewer system are in great need of attention.
And while roadway infrastructure has taken a backseat lately to conversations about water treatment, the town’s Board of Commissioners has touched on road-widening and speed-limit regulations in certain parts of Pittsboro.
Bottom line: huge infrastructure additions are coming to northeast Chatham County soon. But Gruesbeck is confident that existing Pittsboro residents won’t have to foot much, if any, of the bill.
“Our goal is to not burden existing customers with the cost of development,” he said. “I believe we’ll continue to be successful in this way for the foreseeable future.”