Preston Development Co. hosted about 50 public officials and business leaders to show off its new office for Chatham Park in downtown Pittsboro on Wednesday night.
And for possibly the first time in an event involving Pittsboro officials and the planned 7,100-acre Chatham Park, no protesters or picketers were on hand.
Supporters included members of the Chatham County and Pittsboro boards of commissioners, the head of the county’s economic development agency and business people from Lee, Chatham and Wake counties.
Pittsboro Mayor Bill Terry thanked the men behind the project, Julian “Bubba” Rawl and Tim Smith, for bringing their “big brains” and big potential to Chatham County.
Chatham Park, which is slated to grow in stages over the next 30 to 40 years, will include homes, shopping and office parks. It could bring 60,000 new residents to the area between downtown Pittsboro and Jordan Lake, effectively growing the Triangle into more of a rectangle.
The office – at 79 Hillsborough St. next to S&T’s Soda Shoppe – is the developers’ first physical presence in Chatham County, and its opening marks a turning point from planning to active development.
“We’ve been here a lot, but this is our first bricks and sticks,” Smith said.
The office will provide maps, pamphlets and videos about Chatham Park and will also be a meeting space for companies and individuals interested in moving there, making it easier to embark on tours of the site than from Preston’s offices in Cary.
In early November, workers are expected to break ground on the first building in Chatham Park, a medical office run by UNC Hospitals just north of the intersection of U.S. 15-501 and U.S. 64, across from Northwood High School.
Plans for a separate UNC Hospitals hospice facility should go before the town for approval next week, Smith said.
Smith said he has been fielding plenty of questions about bringing more retail to the area, and while those plans are still a ways off, he said, new homes will probably be on the way within 18 to 24 months.
Despite the progress, Chatham Park still faces some uncertainty.
An opposition group, Pittsboro Matters, sued the town in August over the project. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the park’s rezoning and master plan approval, as well as some of the town’s development rules.
Preston Development is paying the town’s legal bills for the fight, which is still in the early stages.
Jeffrey Starkweather, a Pittsboro Matters co-founder, said the lawsuit isn’t about imposing the personal view of Pittsboro Matters members. He said the approval process, which ended in June, lacked proper oversight and community input.
Preston Development helped the town write the rules that govern its development, after months of community meetings and public hearings.
“What I see is that, hopefully, the Town of Pittsboro and its citizens should (have) a process that is collaborative, cooperative – where the citizens actually have a voice in how this thing’s developed,” Starkweather said. “That is not what has taken place so far. It’s pretty much a top-down, take it or leave it approach.”
Staff writer Andrew Kenney contributed.