With additional reporting by Trent Brown
As the Chatham Park development publicly shared plans with the Town of Pittsboro leadership, the development company is trying to even the debate with environmental groups looking to protect the tree population, which they say could be reduced to a minimum under the current plan.
Environmental issues are a hot point of debate in the community, with parts of the discussion centering around the issue of tree protection in the Chatham Park development area. Another area of concern is protection of the Haw River.
Continuing the back-and-forth of the debate, the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners scheduled a public workshop on March 18 to discuss the Chatham Park Tree Element.
Chuck Smith is a representative for Preston Development Company, the development firm behind Chatham Park. He responded in writing to Our Chatham’s questions, and explained that the process of appearing before the board to discuss the development plans is nothing new.
In writing, he argued that environmental groups against the development have overblown the severity of the tree issue, saying the tree canopy will never fall below 50 percent, that comparisons between Chatham Park and New York City tree coverage are “a provocative soundbite” but distanced from the reality of the plan, and that Chatham Park’s tree canopy will meet or exceed that of Charlotte, for example, by 2050.
“Public comment has quickly jumped to conclusions that, at best, are incorrect assumptions and, at worst, blatant misrepresentation of truth,” according to talking points handed out by the development firm. “With respect to Chatham Park’s tree coverage, this has been especially true.”
Chatham Park representatives plan to attend the meeting and, according to Smith in a written comment, “respond to Staff and Board member comments and from those comments will revise our proposal for their consideration.”
The Pittsboro Board of Commissioners discussed the Chatham Park Tree Protection Plan at a Feb. 25 meeting, and Smith wrote that the board has already approved 10 elements from the Chatham Park development. He hopes that, through the upcoming meeting, the Board of Commissioners “will have an accurate understanding of what our element says.”
At the last meeting, in fact, 17 people spoke publicly – all against the development, saying it stands to ruin tree coverage, which was one of the very reasons some had located in Chatham County.
Representatives from the Haw River Assembly have been working to bring public attention to the tree conversation and, last month, organized a “Procession of the Trees” protest.
They also urged the public to attend board meetings and “speak on the importance of saving more trees in Chatham Park,” according to a flyer posted on their website.
According to that website, “The revised Chatham Park Tree Protection rules would only require saving as little as 10 [percent] of the existing trees in much of Chatham Park’s development.”
A PDF provided by Smith lists four talking points from the Haw River Assembly about the tree coverage issue and argues against them, emphasizing the differences between a “tree coverage” and “tree canopy.”
According to that document, “Tree canopy is the area the tree’s branches and leaves cover when viewed from above. Tree coverage is the land area where the tree grows.”
The document also argued that Chatham Park “will have more trees than most cities in North Carolina.”
Elaine Chiosso, executive director of the Haw River Assembly, disagreed.
“That’s one of the problems with Chatham Park,” Chiosso said. “Their elements are often what seem to be needlessly complex, and it’s very difficult to decipher what they’re saying in the elements – which is basically an ordinance – what will mean on the ground and what the contractors will be expected to follow.”
Emily Sutton, the “Haw Riverkeeper” with the Haw River Assembly, said the town of Pittsboro and Chatham Park representatives are not adhering to the 2,000- foot buffer zone along the river that was mentioned in the Town of Pittsboro Land Use Plan.
She calls this a “huge concern,” citing the endangered Cape Fear Shiner species that lives in the river.
Smith wrote that the question about a buffer zone “continues to be asked by those who don’t understand zoning law.”
He said, “the combination of tree protection, open space, parks, public facilities, water quality and water conservation requirements placed on Chatham Park provide more environmental protections than any other property along the Haw River.”
Sutton also worries about the tree canopy issue, and is concerned that young trees will not hold in soil effectively.
“It would take as long as 40 years for some trees to develop canopy,” Sutton said.
When asked how long he expected it would take to reach a canopy of full-grown trees, Smith wrote, “This answer varies depending on the type of tree and how much light, air and nutrients it receives.”
Smith also stressed that the Chatham Park team is incorporating a water reclamation facility in the project, which he wrote will save water in the Haw River watershed.
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