PITTSBORO — The debate over Chatham Park still hangs on two ideas: density and size.
While the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners and Preston Development have gone back and forth for months about minute details, the sheer scale of the city-sized development remains the mind-boggling sticking point.
Were talking about a project so huge that its hard for the average citizen to understand, and Im one of them, said Mayor Bill Terry, who doesnt have a vote on the board. I guess Im making a plea for you to help us understand that youre really not trying to put 10 pounds of sugar in a 5-pound bag here.
A town-hired consultant, Lawrence Group, gave the project a skeptical review last month, asking whether the company really could fit tens of thousands of homes and several commercial and office centers on the 7,500 acres of rural land it has bought east of Pittsboro, a village with a population of 4,000.
Philip Culpepper, a representative for Preston, argued against that suggestion. Lawrence Groups representative, Craig Lewis, takes the position that in his experience it cant be done, that you cant put 22,000 dwelling units and 22 million square feet in 7,000 acres, Culpepper said. Our experience is that it can be done. Were talking about an urban project. Were talking about years.
He described Chatham Park as the alternative to traffic-choked suburban sprawl. Commissioner Michael Fiocco made the same point.
If you look at it from the suburban perspective ... that you wont get those densities. But if we go for something a little more urban, with transit, walkable, bikeable communities, then I think we can accomplish that, Fiocco said.
But Culpepper acknowledged the companys vision for Chatham Park can be hard to grasp.
Its really hard to get your head around it. Commissioner (Jay) Farrell has been living in a small town all his life, said Culpepper, who has been attending Pittsboros meetings for the better part of seven years as Preston has planned its legacy project.
Terry suggested that a plan fleshed out with more illustrations and details would help. The developer previously had said that the smallest details of the project will change over the decades of construction.
Mondays discussion was partial at best, and revealed some frustration among board members. Mayor Bill Terry had wanted a Lawrence Group representative on hand to answer questions, but the idea didnt have the support of the majority of the board.
I feel like were hamstrung tonight, Terry said. My fear is that we may have to in some parts revisit this in two weeks, when a Lawrence Group representative might be available.
He also asked for more information on how Chatham Park would protect land around streams and Jordan Lake. The developer had said it didnt want to formally incorporate the Southwest Shore Conservation Assessment an environmental report commissioned by Preston into its master plan, as Lawrence Group and local environmentalists had asked.
Pittsboro Matters, the group most critical of Chatham Park, early on had pointed to Lawrence Groups recommendations as a good compromise. Now, weeks later, the group is attacking the developers deviation in some places from some of the consultants ideas.
They are essentially telling the town board, Trust us, we know what we are doing better than the national recognized Lawrence Group, wrote Jeffrey Starkweather, a leader of Pittsboro Matters, in an email. In our view, not going along with the vast majority of these recommended revisions proposed by an clearly objective expert outside consulting firm is essentially selling out Pittsboro and its citizens to the financial interests of an outside developer.
But Culpepper, the developers representative, said the projects planners are still working with the town through a long process.
We have given you our responses in writing, he told the board. While they might not be the comments that you wished ... or perhaps didnt address each issue in the way you wanted it addressed were here tonight with you as partners in this project.
The town board planned to have staff confer with Lawrence Group and the developer about some of the debated parts of the plan. The board is set to again discuss Chatham Park publicly in two weeks.
Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC