Chapel Hill News

Chatham commissioners consider countywide zoning

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners heard from nearly 40 residents this month with strong opinions on countywide zoning.

Before the Nov. 16 meeting ended, the board voted 3-2 to ask staff to present plans for extending residential or agricultural zoning classifications to unzoned parts of the county, as a starting point.

Most of the unzoned areas are in the western half of Chatham County outside the planning jurisdictions of Siler City, Pittsboro and Goldston.

The motion asked staff to prepare a zoning map and an ordinance extending zoning classifications to unzoned areas.

“This includes staff mapping all existing land uses and presenting us with options at a future work session that would provide residential-agricultural zoning or agricultural exempt classifications for these areas,” said Commissioner Diana Hales.

Commissioner Chairman Jim Crawford said the board clearly heard all of the concerns expressed.

“The divisiveness on such issues keeps me awake at night many times,” he said. “Even so, I believe that the unprecedented growth coming to Chatham County means that it is critical for us to have a uniform set of land use regulations as soon as possible.”

Crawford noted that this is a first step.

“In the development of the countywide comprehensive land use plan, we will have many opportunities for specific communities to weigh in on areas that should be commercial, industrial or whatever they decide,” he said. “We need people back at the table for those vital discussions.”

Hales said that research shows that zoning has helped preserve and even boosted land values and often attracts nicer developments that will benefit the county. “Developers and business investors want to know how land around the development will be used. It provides some level of predictability.”

Crawford said that properties used for agriculture and related businesses will be exempt from zoning, as required by state law, and will remain so unless the owners decide to use the land for other purposes. “I would hope that our farmers will find that zoning will protect them and be a benefit rather than a liability.”

Crawford added that any properties in these areas currently involved in non-agricultural commercial or industrial use will be grandfathered in and will continue their operations. However, if the business wants to expand significantly or changes its use, they would have to go through a rezoning process to do so.”

It will take several months for planning staff to develop the maps and options requested by the commissioners, said Crawford. “We want to make sure we do this right and get all of the information needed. Any revisions to the Zoning Ordinance will require a public hearing and that is another time for people to express their opinions.”