Haw River Assembly planning Friday rally for trees in Chatham Park

An environmental group is planning a rally for trees in downtown Pittsboro Friday afternoon.

Supporters of the Haw River Assembly plan to gather at the Historic Courthouse from 4:30-5:30 p.m., said Director Elaine Chiosso. They’re asking the developers of Chatham Park and the Pittsboro Town Board to protect more trees in the 7,000-acre development coming to town.

“We are urging the Town of Pittsboro to insist that Chatham Park save more of the existing trees,” Chiosso said. “They’re building a new city near Pittsboro, next to the Haw River and Jordan Lake. If you have a lot more trees, it will help with flooding and water quality.”

Some of the land is near the Haw River, which feeds Jordan Lake. Chiosso said extra care should be taken with the forest land in this area.

Much of the land for Chatham Park is still covered by forest. Google Earth

Pittsboro does not have a tree protection ordinance, said Town Planning Director Jeff Jones. The only trees currently protected are within state-regulated buffer areas, he said.

Chatham Park is a megadevelopment on the northeast side of Pittsboro. It is expected to increase the town’s population by more than 60,000 residents during the next 30 years, nearly a 12-fold increase over the current 5,000 who live there.

Some minor commercial development has already occurred in Chatham Park with the opening of businesses in Penguin Place and several UNC Healthcare offices. Grading for the Mosaic project, a much larger mixed-use development across the street is imminent, according to Kirk Bradley of the Eco Group.

The developers of Chatham Park offered an amended tree protection plan at Monday’s Town Board meeting they say will protect more than enough trees while the property is developed during the next 30 years. It is one of many negotiations happening between town leaders and Chatham Park developers.

Chatham Park’s plan allows for latitude in deciding tree density based on whether they are in a residential or commercial area. Chatham Park has said they’ve done an inventory of large trees on their property and will do as much as they can to protect “specimen” or “champion” trees.

David Brown, a landscape architect with WithersRavenel, presented the Chatham Park plan. He said there was a distinction between tree coverage area and tree canopy area that often was confused. Tree coverage refers to the tree in the ground and the area it covers, he said. The canopy area is the leafy part of the tree.

“Tree coverage and tree canopy are different,” he said. “But they tend to be intermingled.”

Tree coverage is the standard Chatham Park is using in its plan.

The Haw River Assembly says the plan does not go far enough.

Chiosso fears tree coverage would be minimal in the areas of densest development and provide nominally more coverage in some residential areas even with replanting new trees.

The Chatham Park plan now only protects 10 percent of existing trees by tree coverage area. That figure does not include what trees may be subsequently planted by homeowners when people start moving in, Brown said.

Chapel Hill’s tree protection ordinance uses canopy coverage for its standard and requires 30-40 percent canopy coverage for most new development. Charlotte is proposing 50% tree canopy coverage by 2050. Raleigh uses the tree coverage, or basal area standard.

Joe Johnson is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer. He most recently covered towns in western Wake County and Chatham County. Before that, he covered high school sports for The Herald-Sun.