With additional reporting by Adrianne Cleven
This week’s question comes from Stephanie Bass. She’s got one that we’re sure is on a lot of your minds: what are the important decisions yet to be made about Chatham Park, along with who makes them and when?
If you’ve just moved to town – or have been walking around with earmuffs on for the past few years – here’s the scoop: Chatham Park is a pending mixed-use development in the Town of Pittsboro. At full buildout, which is expected to take 35 to 40 years, it’s projected to spread over more than 7,000 acres.
Thomas D’Alesandro has a history of strategizing planned developments in the vein of Chatham Park: he’s worked on four of the largest master-planned communities in the country, including Las Vegas’ “Summerlin” and “The Woodlands” in Texas.
He thinks there’s value to planning a multi-use community this far out to combat, among other things, the traditional and often erratic growth that can jeopardize the look of such a historic town through traditional suburban sprawl.
“If we step back and kind of plan [all of Chatham Park], yes we are making some decisions that will impact three or four decades,” he said. “But we’re also able to think about larger urban systems.”
The Chatham Park Planned Development District Master Plan (PDD), which dates back several years, was approved by the Pittsboro Town Board of Commissioners on August 10, 2015.
The Chatham Park project is not without its growing pains. For every resident looking forward to new restaurants, shops and events, there has been plenty of resistance and questions raised – by the community and town officials – as the town and area gets a grip on the scope of the immense project.
But so far, it’s been a go.
Chatham Park’s parent company, Preston Development, describes Chatham Park as a “live, work and play” community, with five separate villages and 27 unique home styles. Dining, education, shopping and entertainment spaces will also be included.
Preston Development says that 2,000 acres of the community will be for parks and open space, with 50 miles of trails within the community and along Haw River and Jordan River. The office, retail, research and community spaces combined are expected to span 22 million square feet.
Those are huge plans with a lot of moving pieces. So far, the Town of Pittsboro has approved parts of Chatham Park’s plan as the developers have brought them forward. But not without reservations from some in the community, residents and officials, who say the development could spoil water, hurt the environment and ruin the natural beauty of the area.
Many others, meanwhile, are excited about the economic impact of a development this size.
In addition to the PDD, Chatham Park has submitted 12 additional elements that will govern land use and development within the project. As each of them have been approved, they’ve become part of the Master Plan.
These elements include development phasing, open space, tree protection, landscaping, stormwater, parking and loading, signage, lighting, public art, affordable housing, transportation, and public facilities.
These elements will be used to guide the production of future small-area plans, subdivision plans, and site plans throughout the development of Chatham Park.
The Pittsboro Town Board of Commissioners is still reviewing the Affordable Housing Element, the Development Agreement between Chatham Park Investors and the Town of Pittsboro, and the Small Area Plan for North Village, Vanessa Jenkins, executive vice president of Preston Development Company, said in an email interview.
“A common misconception is that once the PDD documents are approved Chatham Park is off on its own developing with no further interaction with the [Town of Pittsboro],” Jenkins said. “This simply could not be further from the truth.”
D’Alesandro says that, eventually, the site plans for every single parcel of land in Chatham Park will be brought to the town for approval.
“The town will be involved with every site plan,” D’Alesandro said. “The town will be involved with every new neighborhood, with every office building… We didn’t design every one of 22,000 homes, including ones that would be brought to market for our grandchildren.”
For small area plans, such as North Village, there is a long submittal process, along with lots of interaction between the Development Review Committee for Chatham Park PDD, the Pittsboro Town Staff, and Chatham Park Investors, LLC.
Jenkins and D’Alesandro both pointed to Pittsboro’s growing staffing needs. D’Alesandro says the town’s staff is “not sized for the complexity” of the Chatham Park development, which is causing some “shared” frustration between Chatham Park and the town.
Several town officials were called and emailed about the project but could not be reached before publication.
“We want [Pittsboro] to move fast, and we’re just giving them a lot of work that’s hard for them to accomplish in the timetable we’d like,” D’Alesandro said.
He encourages the town to hire more staff to shoulder the burden of incoming applications. In the meantime, the town’s elected officials and staff have some massive decisions to make.
“Our applications come in, and it’s not like figuring out whether a gas station should go here, or a cement factory should go here,” D’Alesandro says. “It’s whether 5,000 houses should go wherever they go. It’s a much bigger issue.”