The Pittsboro Board of Commissioners made history Monday night.
They voted 4-1 to approve Chatham Park, which, at more than 7,000 acres is believed to be the largest development plan in North Carolina history. Bett Wilson Foley was the lone dissenter. Pittsboro Mayor Bill Terry also opposed it, but he does not have a vote.
The project, which will create dense residential development clustered around five “village centers” in the largely undeveloped tracts of eastern Chatham County, is expected to increase the small Chatham County town’s population from 4,000 to 60,000 people by 2050.
Commissioners approved a master plan Monday that survived changes in town leadership, multiple rewrites and a blistering consultant’s evaluation. Its last hurdle Monday was a determined band of protesters, who gathered early at the Historic Chatham County Courthouse to denounce the massive development. Many wore shirts with the sarcastic motto “Pave Chatham” and carried signs reading “Table the vote.”
They distributed a cartoon depicting Chatham Park developer Tim Smith at the wheel of a speeding car while complicit town officials, with the exception of Foley, seem to sit willingly in the rear. Angry Pittsboro residents are crammed rudely in the trunk. “Who’s in the driver’s seat?” reads the caption.
Smith is with the Cary-based Preston Development, which, with the financial backing of software executives Jim Goodnight and John Sall of S.A.S. Institute, envision the vast mixed-use Chatham Park as a sequel to Research Triangle Park. When fully built, it would include 22,000 homes, plus office and retail space.
Developers made several concessions with Monday’s final master plan, agreeing to increase the minimum amount of open space to 1,320 acres. Earlier versions of the plan called for as little as 667 acres, despite a 2008 conservation report from the Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC) that recommended town officials set aside at least 2,400 acres.
Builders also agreed to buffers of 500 feet and 300 feet near two portions of the development abutting the Haw River. An earlier draft maintained an average buffer of 200 feet, although TLC called for buffers of at least 1,000 feet.
The master plan also included a stipulation that the developer will “help defray” the town’s additional costs associated with the growth, which would require massive infrastructure investments in Pittsboro, including more schools, police officers and fire departments.
Town commissioners tabled the plan in November following a heated public hearing. In February, an outside consultant panned the development for lacking sufficient detail and failing to provide sufficient open space. Meanwhile, the builders have been assembling the land for the project for most of the last decade.
The N.C. League of Conservation Voters just sent out an announcement about three upcoming meetings and public forums on the topic of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," the process of mining for natural gas.
- March 14, 6 p.m., Cary (no address provided) — 'citizen activists' training by Environment NC and Public Interest Network; for info, contact email@example.com
- March 15, 7 p.m., Raleigh — talk on 'Facts About Fracking'; hosted by Capitol Group Sierra Club at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, 3313 Wade Avenue; click here for more info.
- March 23, 7:45 p.m., Buies Creek — “Exploration for Natural Gas and the Future of NC, a Scientific Perspective," a moderated forum; sponsored by Campbell University, 56 Main St., Buies Creek, at the Turner Auditorium in D. Rich Hall
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources will also hold two meetings this month to present its draft report on fracking and take public comments:
- March 20, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center, 1801 Nash St., Sanford
- March 27, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at East Chapel Hill High School, 500 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill
N.C. House Minority Leader Joe Hackney announced his retirement this morning, opting not to wage a re-election campaign against long-time colleague Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange.
The two veteran legislators were drawn into the same district, the 56th, by the Republican-produced new maps last year.
Hackney has served 16 terms, 32 years, in the General Assembly representing the 54th district, which includes Orange, Chatham and Moore counties. He was elected Speaker of the House in 2007 following Jim Black’s removal. He severed as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
(This story was updated Feb. 9 at 5:30 p.m.)
MONCURE—More than two dozen people spoke before the Chatham Board of County Commissioners Monday night at a public hearing a plan to run an 8.1-mile underground pipeline from Western Wake County through Southeastern Chatham County.
Western Wake Partners—the towns of Apex, Cary, Morrisville and Research Triangle Park-South—are constructing a $327 million wastewater treatment plant in unincorporated New Hill, but they need to build the pipeline to funnel treated wastewater to the Cape Fear River. About a dozen landowners would need to give up 40-foot-wide easements to bury the pipes, which are 5 feet in diameter.
Chatham County Commission Chairman Brian Bock says the board will vote on the pipeline at its next meeting, Feb. 21.
Chatham Commissioner Sally Kost says she plan to vote against the pipeline unless the only way "we were able to develop a list of concession from the partners that benefited Chatham, but as it's currently proposed I just don’t see what's in it for Chatham County." She is concerned that business expansion that occurs as a result of the wastewater treatment plant could be limited to Wake County, while Chatham County could experience largely residential growth that would worsen the area's problems with sprawl.
Many Chatham County residents were vigorously opposed over concerns about pipeline leaks, uncontrolled growth, the possibility of future annexation by Cary and decreasing property values.
However, representatives of RTP businesses supported the pipeline because they say the additional infrastructure is necessary to sustain and grow the local economy.
In their first meeting of the year, the Republican-dominated Chatham County Commissioners today cut two positions and eliminated the Pittsboro-to-Chapel Hill bus service that began Aug. 17, 2009.
During a tense and packed meeting, at which Chatham County Fire Marshal Thomas Bender turned citizens away due to fire codes, Human Relations Executive Director Esther Coleman and Sustainable Communities Director Cynthia Van Der Wiele lost their jobs.
By a 3-2 vote along party lines, Chatham County Commissioners eliminated the positions. The Obesity Coordinator position was also cut, but it was vacant.
Democrats Sally Kost and Mike Cross voted against cutting the positions. Republican newcomers Brian Bock, Walter Petty and Pamela Stewart voted for the cuts.
Coleman earned $80,000 annually, Van Der Wiele $96,000.
Supporters of the new commissioners reminded Bock, Petty and Stewart that the three had run their campaigns on cutting “government fat,” and that their voters expected them to do that today.
The cuts are expected to save the county $2 million over the next four years, according to Chatham County Community Relations Director Debra Henzey.
The meeting agenda didn’t specifically say the job cuts would be considered, but they were tucked in Item No. 21, “Cost Containment/Streamlining Discussion.”
The newly elected GOP commissioner, Brian Bock, Walter Petty and Pamela Stewart, eliminated positions quickly, which upset many citizens present who hoped the incoming commissioners would not rush their decisions.
“The commissioners can eliminate a position at any time,” Henzey said. “No one was fired, the commissioners chose to eliminate offices as part of their budget decisions.”
Coleman has been executive director of the Human Relations Commission since 2007. She oversaw the county's diverse communities. Nearly 13 percent of Chatham residents are African-American; 13.3 percent are Latino.
However, pockets of the county have high numbers of minorities. For example, Siler City's population is 50 percent Latino.
“Don't think racism does not still exist in Chatham County,” urged Rita Spina, vice-president of Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities. “Please do not go backward in your thinking."
Loyse Hurley, president of CCEC, said, "The human relations director averts and preempts issues by dealing with discrimination, labor violations, hate bias, and hate crimes before they become problems and expensive lawsuits for the county."
As sustainability director, Van Der Wiele coordinated planning, environmental resources, soil erosion and sedimentation control, central permitting, transportation, green building and affordable housing. Her primary charge was to develop and implement a long-term comprehensive community sustainability plan for Chatham County.
Van Der Wiele was hired in 2009.
The commission also voted 4-1 to eliminate the express bus service between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill for 18 months. When the service started in 2009, Chatham County and Pittsboro matched a state grant with an additional $176,000 each year generated by alcoholic beverage taxes.
By Rebekah Cowell
After 32 years of business, the owner of Beggars & Choosers, Pittsboro's eclectic vintage shop has decided to take a hiatus after an Oct. 24 robbery during the town's Street Fair wiped out the store's jewelry case, cash register and ultimately owner Pam Smith's faith in her customers.
“I've always loved what I do, and right now I don't,” said Smith.
The final day of business is Jan. 2.
The robber took Smith's gold and silver jewelry, priceless cameos, watches, amber and cash. “They had cased the store and they knew right where the valuable items were." Smith did not have insurance on her vintage merchandise, and she doubts she will ever see the stolen jewelry again. “I'm sure they'll melt it down.”
For now, Smith's lack of joy in working the store has diminished to the point of where she doesn't trust her customers.
She needs a break, but at 62, she said she’s not ready to retire and may not close for good.
“I wish I could get a grip,” Smith said. “Part of me says it was just stuff and no one got hurt, but the other part of me doesn't trust anyone, and you can't run a business if you don't love your customers.”
Since announcing the closing over the weekend, Smith has been warmed by the community's response. As one customer mentioned, the downtown Pittsboro community will not be the same without Smith's creative corner window displays and decked-out mannequins.
On Smith's last day of business, Smith will hold a storewide sale with merchandise discounted as much as 50 to 75 percent. “This is our way of giving back to all of you who have made our lives rich in love and laughter,” wrote Smith in her store closing announcement.
“I know it was just stuff, but my faith was robbed and until I can work through that, I need to take some time.”
ProPublica, the investigative nonprofit based in New York City, has compiled an exhaustive accounting of the federal stimulus money for every county in the U.S.
Of the $7.4 billion allocated to North Carolina, Chatham County received $4.9 million in grants, loans and contracts, or an average of $79 for each of the county's 63,077 residents.
Here are some of the beneficiaries. Click here for a complete list. We'll be updating other Triangle counties throughout the day.
FlyLeaf Books which has opened in Chapel Hill on Airport Boulevard: $126,000 Small Business Administration loan
Starrlight Mead, a honey winery opening in Saxapahaw in nearby Alamance County: $55,000 SBA loan
Town of Pittsboro: $607,500 to build a fire station
Chatham County Sheriff’s Office: $44,746 K9 Field Team Supervisor
Silk Hope Ruritan Club: $950,000 for rural housing
It's closer than most political observers imagined: Just 64 votes separated Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller from his under-the-radar challenger, Republican Bill Crawford, giving Voller the win, but hardly a commanding one, especially for a well-known incumbent. With both town precincts reporting, Voller tallied 392 votes to Crawford's 328, according to the Chatham County Board of Elections.
And in the Town Commissioner's race, Pamela Baldwin won one of two seats with 461 votes. However, the second-place finish was decided by just eight votes, giving Michael Fiocco a 345-337 edge over Andrew Allden, who could ask for a recount or a runoff.
Absentee votes are the only ballots that have been counted in the Pittsboro mayoral and town commissioner races, but incumbent Mayor Randy Voller has a 60-39 lead with the town's two precincts yet to have reported, according to the Chatham County Board of Elections.
In a three-way race for two seats on the Pittsboro Town Commission, incumbent Pamela Baldwin has 43 percent of the vote, floowed by Andrew Allden with 31 percent and Michael Fiocco with 23. 5 percent.
No major bombshells in Randy Voller's latest campaign finance report, filed Oct. 26.
The mayoral incumbent collected $2,453 in the last month for a total of $7,841 for the election cycle. He has spent most of his campaign cash since late September: $3,958 of the total $4,058. See the report here (pdf, 924 KB): vollercampaignfinance
Voller's contributors include Pittsboro General Store restaurateur Vance Remick, Jill Ehrenfeld of the Bean And Barrel, who gave $100 each. Chatham Coalition vice-chair John Hammond contributed $64 in the form of an in-kind donation, while the committee to Elect Peter Rubinas ponied up $201 and change. Rubinas unsuccessfully ran for Chatham County school board last fall and received the Chatham Coalition's endorsement.
Voller faces Republican Bill Crawford in the Nov. 3 election. Early voting continues through Oct. 31.