Chatham this week: Tree protection for Chatham Park, a bicycle & pedestrian plan, and more

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Nancy Martin attends the “Procession of Trees,” Feb. 15 at the historic Pittsboro, N.C. courthouse. The Haw River Assembly organized the event after Chatham Park released a recent proposal for tree protection to the Pittsboro Town Board. “A lot of areas in Research Triangle Park do have good tree coverage and we’re just worried, especially seeing Chatham Park’s proposed business plan,” Martin said. “… 10 percent tree coverage isn’t enough.”

Notes from the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners meeting on Feb. 25, 2019

Citizens’ Matters

  • Seventeen individuals spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, and each person spoke out on the proposed 10 percent tree coverage plan for the future Chatham Park development. Mayor Cindy Perry said she’s never received as many emails about a single issue than she did recently about tree coverage at Chatham Park. Here are some of the highlights from the public comment portion of the meeting.
    • Tara Lynne Groth stressed the importance of trees in helping bees, which have a big impact in agriculturally driven Chatham County, because of their role as pollinators.
    • Cathy Holt said she “understands change and development is inevitable,” but warned commissioners that they “will be changing this county for worst for generations to come” if they don’t mandate greater tree protection for Chatham Park. Holt cited Fearrington Village as an example of a development that kept a large amount of trees.
    • Meera Boutalia, a student at Northwood High School, said the “economic benefits that come with a large development are not worth the cost of inadequate environmental protections.” According to Boutalia, over 200 Northwood students have pledged to vote in 2019, 2020, 2021 and future Pittsboro elections while staying “informed about the environmental protections or lack of protections” that the board puts in place.
    • Tami Schwerin, of nearby Moncure, said “welcome” to Chatham Park but urged the developers to be good stewards of the land. Schwerin told commissioners they could do their part by “making the strictest policy that we have on the trees.”
    • John Wagner said the topic at hand should be less about trees and more about forests. “Trees standing alone aren’t what we need,” he said. “We need continuous blocks of forests.” Wagner told commissioners they need to postpone a vote on the tree coverage plan for Chatham Park.

Commissioner Updates

Commissioner Michael Fiocco attended the Opportunity Chatham Breakfast on Feb. 22. Fiocco said Anthony Copeland, the state’s secretary of commerce, was there and was enthusiastic about the Chatham Park development. However, Fiocco reported that Copeland said megasites within Chatham Park could lose considerable amounts of money for each day that the project is delayed. Referencing past instances, Copeland said that figure could be “86,000 dollars a day,” according to Fiocco.

“I thought that was very interesting,” Fiocco said.

Commissioner Bett Wilson Foley attended a program at Pittsboro Elementary put on by the Pittsboro Art Council. “Children are working with artists,” Wilson Foley said. “Kids are learning how to interview, how to ask questions, how to create a report.”

Wilson Foley said the topic students picked was economic development and small businesses in Chatham County and said several business leaders from the community visited third-grade classes, where they answered questions asked by students.

Commissioner John Bonitz said the Chatham County Climate Change Advisory committee sent a memo on tree protection to county commissioners.

Old Business

1. Parks and Recreation Systems Master Plan Update

Paul Horne, the head of the parks and recreation department, provided an update from a previous work session. He said the department has revised maps and “incorporated new material from Chatham Park and the county parks and recreation master plan.”

Horne said the new master plan is going to the printer and will be ready for the commissioners by the March 25 meeting.

2. Chatham Park Planned Development District (PDD) Additional Element – Tree Protection

  • After a lengthy discussion, the board voted unanimously to postpone a final decision on the tree coverage plan for Chatham Park and reconsider the matter during a special workshop on March 18 at 6 p.m.
  • “I’m committed to getting this right, and I don’t think we’re ready for that,” Bonitz said.
  • At the beginning of the discussion, Pittsboro Planning Director Jeff Jones gave a presentation on Durham’s tree coverage plan, which Chatham Park based its plan on.
  • Bonitz was skeptical of using Durham as a model for Chatham Park to emulate, to which Jones said that’s something the commissioners can take up with officials from Chatham Park.
  • Bonitz’ skepticism mirrored a sentiment expressed by Sara Smith during the public comment portion of the meeting. Smith, who grew up in Durham, said Durham “is not an exemplary city of sustainable development.”
  • Fiocco addressed concerns expressed by the public over the practice of clear-cutting by saying, “We are not contemplating clear-cutting 90 percent of Chatham Park.” Fiocco said trees on streets provide tree canopy, but aren’t factored into the tree coverage percentage.”
  • Jones said Pittsboro does not currently have any ordinances on tree coverage. “Right now we’re doing nothing,” he said.
  • Regarding environmental concerns expressed during the public comment portion of the meeting, Fiocco said Pittsboro needs to balance environmental and socioeconomic issues. “We are not interested in clear-cutting Pittsboro, but we are interested in having nodes of very urban development,” Fiocco said.
  • Chuck Smith answered questions from commissioners on behalf of Chatham Park. Wilson Foley expressed her displeasure with Chatham Park “douple dipping” and counting exempt land — greenways and parks — as part of the tree coverage plan.

3. Bicycle & Pedestrian Plan Update

  • Jones announced that the town was awarded a grant from the state Department of Transportation to update its bicycle and pedestrian plan.
  • Alta Planning + Design will lead the effort, Jones said.
  • A committee meeting will be held on March 7.

4. Ordinance to Amend the Capital Project Budget Town Hall Phase 2 Design and Scope

  • The board voted unanimously to amend the capital project budget for the town hall budget and authorized town manager Bryan Gruesbeck execute a “design amendment to AIA Contract B101.
  • Bonitz expressed curiosity in potentially using Duke Energy solar panels in the project.

5. Demolition of Building at New Town Hall Site — Concrete Slab Option

  • The board voted 4-1 to authorize Gruesbeck to continue with the demolition of the structure of at the future town hall site, including the concrete slab.
  • Fiocco was the lone commissioner opposed to the measure; he was interested in keeping the concrete slab.

What’s next:

The board meets again on March 11.

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