Curious Chatham: Safety concerns over one-road Powell Place

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Photo from Powell Place

This week’s question comes from Bonnie Thompson, who is a resident of Pittsboro’s Powell Place neighborhood concerned about the safety of Powell Place and a plan for future emergency exits.

Powell Place, which includes many senior citizens, is located near the intersection of U.S. Highway 501 and U.S. Highway 64. It is zoned as a MUPD, also known as a Mixed Use Planned Development.

According to the Town of Pittsboro Zoning Ordinance, MUPDs are “an area integrating mixed uses which may include commercial, office, institutional, hotel, residential and recreational uses.“

Powell Place’s classification became a problem for many residents in the area in 2018, when it was planned to develop into an apartment area. In fact, Powell Place residents petitioned against the 264-unit apartment complex.

The apartment homes are called Sanctuary Apartment Homes at Powell Place, and they are set to open to residents in February 2020.

Thompson mentioned that one of the residents’ concerns was about Millbrook Drive, the main road that runs through the area.

“It’s not a big road,” she said. “So, they’re building this thing: 260 apartments, which means easily 500 more cars on a road that’s already challenged.”

Others shared Thompson’s concern, eventually resulting in a traffic impact analysis.

The analysis concluded that the proposed development would amount to approximately 1,440 vehicle trips per day. The Town of Pittsboro hired RS&H to review the analysis. RS&H deemed that the analysis was conducted to industry standards.

According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, adding a new road inside the neighborhood is under the jurisdiction of the Town of Pittsboro. 

A spokesperson from the Town of Pittsboro said that there are currently no laws or ordinances regulating the number of roads in a neighborhood. Therefore, it’s up to the owner and developers of the land whether a new road develops.

There was a proposal during a Board of Commissioners meeting at the end of May to move forward emergency plans for Powell Place. 

During the meeting, Town Manager Bryan Gruesbeck said several things would need to take place before the plan breaks ground:

  • The Town of Pittsboro and emergency services need to determine accessibility as it currently stands.
  • The property owners of the proposed land would need to provide the right for access on their property, most likely through an easement.
  • If the easement were to be granted, the town would need to decide who exactly would be qualified to access the land.

Town Attorney Paul Messick Jr. said there are other areas with one entrance and exit. 

All Pittsboro commissioners unanimously voted to table the matter at the Board of Commissioners meeting. 

But for residents like Thompson, the lack of any new roads despite development is a matter of growing concern.

“We have, at the back of the neighborhood, what they call a senior-living building,” Thompson said. “EMS is always going back there. I don’t understand how the town doesn’t understand this is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

The Pittsboro Fire Department did not comment on the safety of the area, referring all questions to the fire marshal – who couldn’t be reached for comment.

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