Pittsboro this week: Chatham Park’s tree protection plan, Haw River cleanup, and more


The Pittsboro Board of Commissioners convened for a meeting Monday night. Here’s what we learned.

The board still hasn’t approved Chatham Park’s tree protection plan

Representatives from Chatham Park presented a revised version of its tree protection plan, but the board ultimately decided against voting to approve it or not. While several members said they appreciated some of the changes to the plan that were made, a consensus was not met and additional questions were raised.

Moving forward, the board will hold a special work session on Chatham Park’s tree protection plan on May 13 at 6 p.m. The decision to hold the special work session was proposed by Mayor Cindy Perry after Chatham Park representative Chuck Smith grew frustrated over the pace at which the board has considered the tree protection plan.

“We’re doing this another time, and we’re going to be last on the agenda that time, too,” Smith said.

The discussion of the Chatham Park tree protection plan was not technically the last item on the agenda for the meeting, but discussions on the topic did not begin until 10:22 p.m. at a meeting that began at 7 p.m.

Compared to the original plan, changes were made about hardwood canopy trees. In the revised plan presented Monday, “the percentage of hardwood canopy trees has increased from 50% to 75%,” and “the minimum caliper of new hardwood canopy trees to be planted has been increased from 2 inches to 2.5 inches.”

Caliper is a measurement for tree diameter.

Commissioner Bett Wilson Foley expressed concerns over the protection of trees within the 2,000-foot buffer along the Haw River, which the town recommended in a 2012 land use plan. This was only a recommendation, however, and “does not regulate,” according to the document.

Chatham Park’s tree coverage plan does not adhere to the 2,000-foot buffer recommendation from the 2012 land use plan. According to Smith, Chatham Park has two areas adjacent to the Haw River. In one area, Smith said, there is a 300-foot buffer, and in the other, there is a 1,000-foot buffer, an increase from what was previously a 500-foot buffer in an earlier version of the plan.

“Those two areas have been protected to a higher level than anywhere else,” Smith said.

Yet, Wilson Foley remained concerned about the fate of trees on private properties within the 2,000-foot buffer zone.

“All I’m saying is, with the 2,000-feet buffer, you can’t just go in and flatten and everything and build the houses,” Wilson Foley said.

However, Commissioner Michael Fiocco pointed out that there’s already language in the plan that prohibits the mass grading of lots greater than 10,000 square feet, or one quarter of an acre.

“The lots in this area are a minimum of one dwelling unit per acre, so each lot will be at least an acre in size, therefore disqualified from clear-cutting,” Fiocco said.

Fiocco was also skeptical of the notion that private property owners would cut down a large number of trees on their properties. 

“People say they move here because they like the trees,” he said.

Wilson Foley realizes it’s tough to mandate tree requirements on private properties but also said, “I just feel like this particular area, close to the Haw, just needs to be held to a higher standard.”

Commissioner John Bonitz suggested covenants or homeowners association requirements as mechanisms for protecting trees on private properties.

Smith believed Chatham Park has done an adequate job of protecting trees within the 2,000-foot buffer zone.

“We don’t apologize for the buffers we’ve put on the Haw River at all,” Smith said.

Additionally, the board sought clarification on the term “single-family development.” In the plan, Chatham Park defined a single-family development as “a development where in each residential lot may contain (i) a single residential structure which may contain a maximum of three (3) dwelling units or (ii) multiple residential structures which may contain a maximum of one (1) dwelling unit each.”

Multiple commissioners said the term “single-family development” is misleading and suggested a new term for those developments.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the 2,000-foot buffer zone along the Haw River as part of Chatham Park’s tree protection plan. The 2,000-foot buffer zone comes from Pittsboro’s 2012 land use plan and is a recommendation, not a regulation. The Chatham Park tree protection plan calls for a 300-foot buffer in one area adjacent to the Haw River and a 1,000-foot buffer in another area adjacent to the Haw River.

Board ponders best solutions for cleaning Haw River of unregulated chemicals

The board received an update from CDM Smith, a engineering and construction firm, on potential solutions for treating emerging contaminants in the Haw River as Pittsboro prepares for “expected growth and future needs for water supply.”

Much of the discussion centered around per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAs. Reed Barton, a client service leader for CDM Smith, said these substances are hard to detect and that it’s only been in recent years that their presence in water has been discovered.

The federal government does not regulate PFAS, Barton said. According to an article by NPR, PFAs have been linked to kidney cancer and thyroid disease.

In a presentation to the board, William Dowbiggin of CDM Smith said there are numerous ways to remove PFAs from water, with the most effective form being reverse osmosis. That method also happens to be the most expensive, however, with capital costs totaling $11 million for treatment of two million gallons per day. Another effective method – which combines other methods including granular activated carbon, ion exchange and ultraviolet radiation with advanced oxidation processes – would be cheaper.

However, Commissioner Jay Farrell asked whether one method in particular would be more capable of treating an array of unknown contaminants in the future. In response, Barton said reverse osmosis has the versatility to treat a wider range of chemicals, even ones not presently known to be undesirable. He said it’s for this reason that Brunswick County in southeastern North Carolina has recently chosen to implement reverse osmosis to treat its water.

Pittsboro Elementary School Road Bridge to get temporary fix before permanent one

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Pittsboro resident Martha Almond discussed the damaged Pittsboro Elementary School Road Bridge, which she said has experienced problems with erosion and flooding during the past few years, most recently during heavy rain on April 12.

Minutes later, Pittsboro Town Manager Bryan Gruesbeck said FEMA will fund a permanent fix for the bridge/culvert, but that the administration is requiring a conditional letter of map revision, which will slow down the process. A CLOMR is required because a permanent fix to the bridge/culvert will impact a floodplain. According to a town document, a permanent fix is expected by the end of 2019.

In the meantime, Gruesbeck said the construction of a temporary fix will begin soon and should only take a couple of days to complete. The temporary fix will cost around $23,000, Gruesbeck said, and he’s hoping FEMA will refund the town for the expense.

Evidentiary hearing held for proposed cell tower

An evidentiary hearing was held for a proposed cell tower to be constructed by Tillman Communication. The 300-foot tower would be located on a 23.4-acre parcel of land at the corner of Mitchells Chapel Road and Alston Horton Service Road.

Larry Perry of Tillman Communication said the tower is needed for Pittsboro to prepare itself the roll-out of 5G technology by the mid 2020s.

“If we don’t get this done in pretty soon, pretty quick order, then it’s going to drop way down the list,” Perry said. “Pittsboro, and I’m not threatening anyone, will be way down the list before they get any kind of 5G coverage.”

A special use permit is required for the tower, as it is over 50 feet in height. Perry and an attorney representing Tillman Communication said the tower would be in a mostly agricultural area, although Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Baldwin said the area is actually quite residential.

Pittsboro resident Kathleen Greenlee lives near the proposed site for the tower and objected to the notion that it wouldn’t negatively impact property values. Greenlee also expressed concerns over health hazards associated with cell towers.

Bob Hornik, an attorney representing SBA Communications, spoke at the hearing despite Perry’s objections. SBA Communications operates a 300-foot cell tower off of Highway 64, and he said it has the capabilities to accommodate 5G. According to Hornik, the construction of a new 500-foot tower on the 23.4-acre of land is not necessary.

2 thoughts on “Pittsboro this week: Chatham Park’s tree protection plan, Haw River cleanup, and more

  1. The reporter misunderstood the discussion of the Tree Protection Element concerning a 2000 foot buffer on the Haw River. The buffer was brought up by Bett Wilson Foley because it was in the Pittsboro Land Use Plan passed in 2012, and although not regulatory, is still considered relevant by those hoping Chatham Park will do more to protect the existing forest on their land, and the Haw River. This buffer has never been part of Chatham Park’s Master Plan. What was brought up last night was the 300′ buffer they have established on their land on the northernmost part near the Haw River, and the 500′ foot buffer a little further downstream, that they now say will be expanded to 1000 ft. Wilson brought up the 2000′ as an area where larger lots are proposed, saying they should have some standards for tree protection on those lots. The current version of the Tree Protection Element exempts all individual residential lots from tree coverage requirements.

  2. Thank you so much for bringing this to Our Chatham’s attention. The reporter has fixed the story to be accurate, and a replacement will be up soon.
    Thank you again.
    Eric Ferkenhoff

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