After 13 years of planning, a developer is almost ready to start selling homes at Chatham Park.
Construction is expected to get underway within a year on the first batch of houses that could eventually bring more than 60,000 people to Pittsboro, about 35 miles west of Raleigh. Crews are already working on retail and office space near U.S. 15-501.
As workers turn dirt and erect steel beams, some Chatham County residents remain skeptical about the 7,100-acre project’s potential impacts on traffic and green space. But many are looking forward to the thousands of new jobs expected to come to Pittsboro, a town of about 4,200.
The first residential development, part of what will be Chatham Park’s North Village, will feature 700 homes on 223 acres south of the U.S. 64 bypass. The first residents should be able to move in within two years.
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“This will be our first heavy jump into the deep end of residential,” said Chuck Smith, vice president of planning and development for Cary-based Preston Development Company. “Things are really accelerating now.”
Demand for housing in Chatham County is increasing as the Triangle continues to grow and residential development spills out of Durham, Chapel Hill and Cary. Briar Chapel, a 1,600-acre community on the west side of U.S. 15-501, has been popular.
“It’s got maybe two years at most of inventory left,” Chuck Smith said of Briar Chapel. “So what we’re trying to do is pick right up with our residential inventory.”
Eventually, Chatham Park is expected to have 22,000 homes, along with stores and offices. The development will be broken up into four or five villages that are made up of neighborhoods.
North Village, which will span about 2,200 acres mostly north of the U.S. 64 bypass, will be developed in the next 12 to 15 years.
“Each village will have a school, fire and police station, maybe a small grocery store,” said Tim Smith, co-founder of Preston Development.
Chatham Park’s first residential development will include single-family homes and about 100 townhomes starting at about $350,000. It will also have 61 smaller, cottage-type homes, roughly 800 to 1,500 square feet, starting at about $225,000. The cottages will be clustered around a shared, open space in groups of 30.
“It’s a smaller unit, more affordable unit, so it’s trying to get at entry-level buyers,” Chuck Smith said. “It’s really looking for the single moms and the school teacher and those kinds of buyers. So we’re pretty excited about that.”
The cottage clusters, called “pocket neighborhoods,” will be sprinkled throughout Chatham Park instead of in one area so “it’s part of the fabric of the community,” Chuck Smith said.
New rooftops will likely attract businesses to the east side of the development, which Chuck Smith calls the “Research Triangle-type corridor.” He compared it to Cary’s Weston Parkway, where the MetLife campus is located.
Several companies already have shown an interest in the area, he said, but “most people we talk to want to start seeing some houses going up.”
In the meantime, commercial development farther north along the east side of U.S. 15-501 is already on its way. A major office and retail section is taking shape where UNC Health Care opened a 25,000-square-foot medical office building and a 10-bed hospice facility.
Work will begin soon on Mosaic, a 44-acre project off U.S. 15-501 on the north side of Russet Run developed by John Fugo and Kirk Bradley, co-founders of The Eco Group.
Mosaic will feature restaurants, a grocery store, other retailers, a UNC Health Care urgent care center, banks, a movie theater and a 120-room Hampton Inn. It will also have 320 apartments, 120 of which will be for residents 55 and older.
Parts of Mosaic are expected to open within two years, and the entire project is expected to take three years to complete.
“It’s going to put this whole area on the map,” Tim Smith said.
The owners of The Root Cellar Café & Catering in Chapel Hill will open their second location across the street at a development called Penguin Place.
Near the first group of houses, construction is set to begin later this year on Thales Academy, a private school that can serve 950 students. It will open in 18 months.
In the next year and a half, Preston Development will connect an already-constructed $7 million bridge over the U.S. 64 bypass to Chatham Park via Chatham Parkway.
But ultimately, the project has just about everything it needs to allow the first residents to move in starting in 2019, Tim Smith said.
“We have the businesses and the schools and the hospital,” he said. “Everything is here. We’re ready for them.”
But some Chatham County residents say they are still worried about all the changes happening around them, including the effects on water, open space and traffic. A group called Pittsboro Matters raised about $100,000 to sue the town of Pittsboro over Chatham Park, but a judge dismissed the case.
Pittsboro Matters has disbanded, said Elaine Chiosso, a former member.
But as the Haw Riverkeeper with the Haw River Assembly, Chiosso is still sharing her concerns about the loss of thousands of acres of forested land.
“There’s a lot of concerns,” she said. “It’s an enormous impact on the Haw River and Jordan Lake to have a new city built on the watershed and this close to the Haw River and Jordan Lake.”
Chiosso said she wants Chatham Park to protect a 2,000-foot buffer around the Haw River, provide buffers around smaller streams and wetlands and protect more open space and mature trees than the minimum requirement.
“Just the amount of open space they were proposing was just way too small,” she said. “We’re not talking about much natural undisturbed land.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon