CORRECTION: The last public hearing on the fate of Chatham Park was in November. Previous versions of this article had said December. Correction made on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
PITTSBORO -- With dueling choruses of critics and supporters, the Chatham Park project on Tuesday cleared the last likely hurdle before its potential approval. More than 70 people signed up to speak at the podium of Pittsboro’s old courthouse for a final public debate about Preston Development Co.’s master plan for a city-size development wrapping around eastern Pittsboro.
Unlike the last public hearing, in November, there were no signs, no shouts from the audience and few T-shirts with printed messages. People still had plenty to say, covering topics as diverse as forest growth rates and economic distress.
The speakers, largely consisting of residents of Pittsboro and surrounding areas, tended to argue past each other. Critics often dove into the rules and nitty-gritty of the plan, while many supporters argued for the project’s broad economic promise.
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Dick Winokur saw a chance for Pittsboro to establish its future.
“I’ve seen over and over again where opportunities like this were passed by,” he said. “It gives an opportunity for our children and our grandchildren to stay in the community, work in the community and improve our community.”
Cathy Holt, however, worried promises of environmental protection and sound planning could erode with time. “All these protections for our quality of life that we have here have to be down on paper, not promises,” she said.
Pittsboro Matters, the most-unified voice questioning the developer, again called for further study and more information. Among its requests, the group asked:
• That the developer pay before the project’s approval to study its social and economic effects.
• That the developer establish affordable housing.
• That the developer study its traffic impact, with an eye toward protecting downtown.
• That the developer robustly protect streams and sensitive environmental areas.
Philip Culpepper, a representative for the developer, questioned his critics’ intentions. “That’s their only goal, is to kill Chatham Park,” he said in an interview. “They will cover it up with ‘study, affordable housing, local contractors,’ every condition they can think to do.”
Culpepper said the company will look into affordable housing, but he rebuffed the suggestion of a policy requiring certain units be built for people with lower incomes.
“There’s not a town-wide (affordable housing)ordinance,” he said. “We believe we should be treated the same way as the rest of the town, not to put the finger on us because ... they think there are wealthy people behind it.”
The board has not yet scheduled its potential vote on the project.