Pittsboro commissioners move forward on new $16.5 million town hall

(The above rendering is courteously of Hobbs Architects and the Town of Pittsboro.)

Pittsboro’s Board of Commissioners advanced a plan this week for a new town government facility, estimated to cost more than $16.5 million. 

The new town hall would be a three-story building, would serve as the board commissioners’ new meeting chamber and would house the Board of Elections and Health Department Administration for the next 10 years. It will be located on West Salisbury Street in downtown Pittsboro. 

The facility will also contain a two-story parking deck, costing the town more than $2.8 million. At one point, Commissioner Michael Fiocco balked at the cost of the deck, saying it would cost the town more than $24,000 per space. The plan, which was presented by Chevon File and Taylor Hobbs of Hobbs Architects, passed unanimously after roughly 30 minutes of discussion. 

Hobbs and File told commissioners that the project may start receiving bids as early as July, and that construction is scheduled to start in August of this year. It is estimated to take 15 months to complete. 

The construction will also require a large section of Salisbury Street to be torn up and repaved to build a new sewer line and storm-water extension.

Here’s what we know about evidence of logging in Jordan Lake protected nature area

Photos show evidence of logging at the Bush Creek Marshes Registered Heritage Area near the intersection of Big Woods and Jack Bennett roads in Chatham County. Chatham resident George Pauly first noticed logging at Bush Creek in 2016. Pauly contacted the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources shortly after he spotted a bulldozer clearing the area. 

Established in 2014, Bush Creek Marshes RHA is one of many natural heritage areas around Jordan Lake. RHA’s are voluntary agreements between landowners and the Natural Heritage Program that protect outstanding examples of natural diversity occurring in the state. 

Click here to see the full amendment to the memorandum of understanding between the state and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. 

The Bush Creek area, which spans of 166 acres of forest, open water and marsh, is home to a variety of wildlife — most notably the bald eagle. The federally protected species is known to be present along the forested margin of the protected area. 

Photo by Paige Masten/Our Chatham

The agreement clearly states that the natural forest communities should be allowed to mature into old-growth. 

So why were these trees cut down? 

In an email exchange with Pauly in September of 2016, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program director Misty Buchanan said the “6.8 acre timber harvest as planned is an approved use of the Registered Heritage Area.” Pauly gave Our Chatham access to the emails. 

In July of 2017, Pauly contacted Brooke Massa, land conservation biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Emmy Little is bringing Chatham together, one donated gift at a time

For Emmy Little, finding people in need is almost instinctual. The 10-year-old student at North Chatham Elementary School has organized homemade charities since she was little. From lemonade stands that helped pay for her horseback riding instructor’s vet bills to random acts of kindness, Little is always thinking about to whom she can bring a smile next. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Katherine Smart, Little’s instructor, wrote in an email. But this year, Little is looking to rise to a new challenge of giving: donating 100 toys by Christmas to UNC Hospitals, the Lineberger Cancer Center and the Ronald McDonald House.

‘Age of Anxiety’ ChatCast, a production of Our Chatham and the Chatham News + Record, launches today

The first season of the new podcast series by Chatham News + Record and Our Chatham, the “ChatCast,” comes out today. You can find it online or through various streaming services. 

In Chatham County, mental health isn’t typically a dinner table topic. But the creators of the ChatCast are hoping to change that to deal with an issue that is so vital to Chatham County and beyond, as data suggests mental illness – as well as suicide – are only getting more prevalent. News + Record Reporter Zachary Horner and Our Chatham Reporter Adrianne Cleven have interviewed more than 30 people in and around Chatham County — including educators, mental health professionals, teenagers and parents — to provide insight on the topic. The first season of the podcast, “Age of Anxiety,” discusses mental health topics throughout the county of Chatham.

Chatham’s new 2019 State of the County report, summarized

“Strong, resilient and progressive” were the main takeaways of the 2019 State of the County report presented by the Chatham County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. The report covers fiscal year 2018-19, starting July 1, 2018 and ending June 30, 2019. It includes updates on countywide initiatives such as encouraging economic development, climate protection efforts and achievements within the Chatham Comprehensive Plan, the county said in a press release. “The state of Chatham County is one of strength, resiliency and promise as it continues to experience rapid growth while embracing the many traditions that make our county so special,” said Chatham County Board of Commissioners Chair Mike Dasher. “We are making great strides in achieving our collaborative goals and cultivating opportunities so people can work and raise their families for generations to come.” 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Chatham County is North Carolina’s fourth fastest-growing county, with a growth rate of 2.7 percent.

Could tiny homes be the solution for affordable housing and mental health inclusivity?

On Friday, something big is happening to make way for something little. The site for Tiny Homes Village, a community of affordable tiny homes for those with mental health challenges, will begin its groundbreaking. The site will be located on the grounds of The Farm at Penny Lane in northern Chatham County. The village aims to include 15 tiny homes at around 400 square feet each to provide housing opportunities for those on a fixed income, veterans or residents with health issues. Surrounding the houses will be a clubhouse for classes and other activities.

With the removal of Pittsboro’s Confederate monument in limbo, here’s what residents and businesses have to say

By Paige Masten and Molly Weisner

The future of the Confederate monument in downtown Pittsboro remains uncertain following months of protests, lawsuits and a temporary restraining order. 

But it has it also affected those who live and work in the area. Since the Chatham County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of the monument’s removal in August, the statue, which has sat outside the Chatham County Historic Courthouse since 1907, has been the subject of heated debate. Many have gathered downtown to protest both for and against the statue’s removal. Social media has been a catalyst for these protests, with groups organizing via Facebook and Twitter. Some pro-Confederate groups have even posted clips of their demonstrations on TikTok. 

News travels fast online — so some participants are outsiders who travel to Pittsboro on the weekends to protest.

‘There’s no face to hunger’: Community discusses food insecurity in Chatham

Patricia Parker grows food for a living. But still, she knows what it’s like to be food insecure. 

The entirety of Parker’s income comes from the farm she owns in Chatham County growing things such as fruits and vegetables. Like many others, she has a limited amount of money to spend on food, and she relies on the cheap prices at stores like Aldi and Lidl to stay within budget. 

But those prices are also hurting her business, since the low prices mean less profit and income for Parker. “It’s a very conflicting experience for me,” Parker said. “It’s a terrible sort of catch-22.”

Parker is one of many community members who attended the Newsmakers Forum on Hunger at Chatham Community Library last Friday. 

The panel, hosted by Carolina Public Press, sought to spark discussion about food insecurity in rural Chatham.

How Chatham is joining forces to combat environmental issues

By Molly Weisner and Casey Mann

The environment is on Chatham County’s mind. With the months-long saga of Pittsboro’s tainted drinking water still unfolding, attention by county officials and local groups to environmental health is heightened. Various county leaders, from planning and development to transportation, are collaborating on the issue of environmental protection and climate change, which has been in discussion for several years now. The creation of the county’s Climate Change Advisory Committee in 2015 has been one major step toward solving Chatham’s biggest environmental challenges, of which several county commissioners have said vehicle emissions is one. Commute times contribute emissions

Commute times in Chatham County average almost 30 minutes, and average car ownership per household is two vehicles.

More protests planned over Confederate statue Saturday. So, some perspective from a former Pittsboro mayor

With protests again expected Saturday in Pittsboro over the removal – or existence – of the Confederate monument downtown, we thought it important to give context to the issue with some history from the former mayor of the town, Randy Voller, with a video. Voller, who also runs the Chatham County Line, knows the arguments for removing it. For some, it’s a symbol of the slavery that so scarred North Carolina and much of the South and country, and the racism that still shows itself today through white-power movements. The pro-statue side would say it has nothing to do with race or slavery because the Civil War was more about taxation, states rights and the agricultural economy. The monument’s place is there, they say, at the foot of the historic courthouse in Pittsboro.