Chatham County

Chatham Park draws another legal challenge

A local advocacy group has launched another legal action against the town of Pittsboro over its handling of the massive Chatham Park development project.

The latest target of Pittsboro Matters is a bridge being built over the N.C. 64 bypass north of downtown Pittsboro. The group filed a motion April 10 seeking a preliminary injunction to stop work on the bridge; it claims land-clearing and other construction work has been taking place since at least late March.

Pittsboro Matters asked a Superior Court judge to stop the overpass construction because the town never approved plans for it.

The town responded that the work didn’t need its approval since all of the land involved is owned by either Chatham Park or by the state, and that the work received the necessary approval from the N.C. Department of Transportation.

“There is nothing in the town’s zoning ordinance that requires town approval of this work,” Paul Messick Jr., the town attorney, wrote in a letter responding to Robert Hornick, the attorney for Pittsboro Matters.

The bridge will connect Suttles Road with a wooded area that is part of Chatham Park, the planned 7,200-acre development that will eventually include 22,000 new homes and millions of square feet of labs, office and retail space.

Messick said plans for the overpass have been public knowledge for more than 20 years, and that the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners approved a resolution in 2009 – several years before Chatham Park was approved – requesting DOT authorize the bridge.

Last winter, Chatham Park broke ground nearby, across from Northwood High School, for a UNC-Hospitals hospice center – the first building in the development.

The developers are allowed to build as much as 5 percent of the residential and 15 percent of the commercial space in the near future, as long as site plans are approved.

But in this newest injunction, Pittsboro Matters also asked the court to stop all other work within Chatham Park until a separate lawsuit the group filed against the town, regarding the development’s master plan, is resolved. Jeffrey Starkweather, a co-founder of Pittsboro Matters, said he expects a judge to hear the group’s claims sometime next week.

Starkweather also said town commissioners, in approving Chatham Park, repeatedly tried to assuage his group and other opponents by saying they would require, in Starkweather’s words, “detailed site plans for everything.”

He said that’s why he was troubled to hear the overpass was being built with no site plan. He called it “a test case how the town staff and town board is either unable or unwilling ... to reinforce their ordinances against Chatham Park.”

Messick couldn’t be reached for comment to respond to Starkweather’s claims or elaborate on the town’s position.

But in his letter, sent before the injunction was filed but after he was informed that it would be, Messick criticized the approach of Pittsboro Matters and said their claims were not grounded in fact.

“Your clients may be better served by allowing the town to exercise its authority over the Chatham Park development in the appropriate forum and at the appropriate time,” Messick wrote.

“Inflammatory press releases and legal threats are not conducive to that process,” he continued. “Despite the adversarial attitude of your clients, the town is committed to working with Chatham Park Investors LLC and all of the public as this development proceeds.”

Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran