Roughly 55 people gathered in the Chatham County courthouse Monday night to comment on potential re-zoning, the capital improvements plan and an amendment which would require places of worship to obtain conditional use permits.
The meeting kicked off at 6:03 p.m. when three Northwood High School seniors — Sarah Beck, Reagan Flynn and Meera Batalia — spoke to the commissioners on behalf of Triangle People Power. The trio called on the commissioners to address issues of climate justice and environmental racism with an inter-agency working group.
Interim County Manager Dan LaMontagne then presented for the second time the county’s draft for the Capital Improvements Plan for 2020 through 2026. Only one person, Jane Gallagher, of Pittsboro, spoke on the plan. Gallagher called on the commissioners to improve parks and recreation facilities, saying young children had to practice basketball late at night and had no affordable place to go during the summer.
Commissioners said they might address some of Gallagher’s concerns next year in the parks and recreation master plan.
The majority of people in attendance were there to comment on a proposed amendment which would require churches and other places of worship to obtain a conditional use permit before construction.
The amendment spawned from complaints by residents of Hogan Farm Road, a dead-end gravel drive in the Chatham County part of Apex. Residents attending the meeting said that events held by the Radha Krishna Temple on the street had caused an increase in noise and light pollution, litter and traffic. The residents also said events created unsafe conditions for residents because parked cars made the road inaccessible to emergency vehicles and the increase in traffic brought a potential for an increase in crime. The Hindu temple is located in the second whitest Census tract in Chatham County, but is just to the west of a Census tract in Wake County where 8 percent of the population is Asian.
James Cassese, a Hogan Farm Road resident, said he acknowledged that the amendment would not change his situation but he said he hoped it could provide an opportunity for others to provide public comment before places of worship could be constructed in secluded residential areas.
A large group people also attended the meeting to oppose the amendment. All but one chose for attorney Paul Messick to speak on their behalf.
Messick argued to commissioners that the proposed amendment would violate a federal law implemented in 2000, which forbids the government from treating places of worship on a “less than equal basis.” He also said the amendment could lead to restrictions on the people’s right to freely exercise religion.
Samir Patel, the only temple attendee to speak on his own behalf, said he strongly supports places of worship in residential areas because it provides children a safe place to socialize and play.
Commissioners Hales, Crawford and Petty said they would further consider the amendment and would attempt to find a better solution for both parties on Hogan Farm Road. Commissioners Karen Howard and Mike Dasher were absent.
Further into the meeting, commissioners said it was a “surprise and a delight” to receive an award presented by the N.C. School Boards Association for outstanding support for elementary and secondary schools and creative funding of education. Chatham County was the sole recipient of the award. Chatham County Schools Superintendent Dr. Derrick Jordan also received regional recognition as a finalist for the Superintendent of the Year award.
The commissioners also discussed the re-zoning of several pieces of property.
The board will reconvene for a work session on the Capital Improvements Plan on Nov. 27.
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