Chatham Park’s Tree Elements finally passes - now what?

Posted 6/7/19

PITTSBORO — After months of debate and discussion during hours-long meetings, the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners, in a 3-2 vote, approved guidelines for tree protections and planting of new …

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Chatham Park’s Tree Elements finally passes - now what?

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PITTSBORO — After months of debate and discussion during hours-long meetings, the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners, in a 3-2 vote, approved guidelines for tree protections and planting of new trees, referred to as the Chatham Park Tree Protection Element.

Passed after midnight on May 28, the long-debated element is in place. What does that mean for the town and for the 7,000-acre development?

Here’s some background and a look ahead:

What is the Tree Protection Element?

As part of the Chatham Park Planned Development District Master Plan passed in 2015, the town and Chatham Park agreed to negotiate 12 separate “Additional Elements,” which address regulations on open space requirements, landscaping, stormwater management, public art, lighting, signage and more.

The Tree Protection Element defines the amount of tree protection area, types of trees required and what does and does not count when calculating the amount of tree protection. The board has been discussing the issue for several months, requesting various changes from Chatham Park during those discussions, and Chatham Park returning with updated language.

What were the points of contention and confusion?

Throughout the discussions, terminology and its meaning seemed to cause confusion. For example, the phrase “tree coverage” was often confused with “tree canopy,” which is not a term used in the element. Tree coverage was defined as an area of ground or acreage where either existing trees or new trees are planted that could be considered in calculating tree protection. Commissioners would often interchange the two words during discussions, creating confusion. Throughout those discussions, Chatham Park officials would remind the board that other areas where trees were required, such as in open space, parking lots, and landscaping, would not be used to calculate tree coverage. In addition, since canopy refers to the extent of the outer layer of leaves of an individual tree or group of trees, an area with 10 percent tree coverage would often equate to 50-60 percent canopy.

The definition of tree coverage planning area had been a major point of contention. Tree coverage planning area is an area for development that will be used to calculate the amount of tree protection required. Though requests to change language for clarity were made and fulfilled, some commissioners still felt the language was not clear enough, voicing concerns that there were no limitations on the size of the area in terms of calculated tree protection. Those issues were finally assuaged as additional language was agreed to limiting the size of a tree coverage planning area.

The board’s desires at times were limited by state law, which allows timbering (something some board members didn’t want) through forestry management. However, municipalities can request that those that timber must wait 3-5 years after timbering prior to development. Several times, commissioners asked that developers be required to use only local nurseries and plant providers, but Town Attorney Paul Messick reminded the board that it was not allowed by law to demand a developer only use specific nurseries. Chatham Park agreed to place “consider local” growers in the element. However, the board later decided it wanted even stronger language short of requiring the developer to use a specific source.

The board was also interested in having individual land owners be responsible for trees that were lost due to a natural disaster or disease. Chatham Park noted that it would not be able to cover trees in perpetuity and Messick noted that such a demand on a property owner would cause undue stress on code enforcement, pit neighbor against neighbor, or possibly violate property rights.

What were the main points of the Elements’ final version?

• Tree coverage protection area: Chatham Park suggested and was provided consent from the board to add language that says “no [tree coverage protection area] shall be larger than any section or village center identified in a small area plan.”

• Timbering: There was a request from the board to move a footnote regarding timbering on Chatham Park land into the body of the element, with the acknowledgment that it should not conflict with state law.

• Local nurseries: The board decided to change the phrase “encourage to consider local” nurseries to “required to consider” in two different sections of the element.

• Chatham Park agreed to include a line item on the tree coverage area table to reflect greater tree coverage 2,000 feet from the banks of the Haw River.

• Attorneys for both the town and Chatham Park will investigate if the “special assessment district,” the proposed tax zone that would be just for Chatham Park that could be used for infrastructure, could be used to replace trees that die in a natural disaster or disease.

Now that it’s approved, what’s next for the town and for Chatham Park?

As part of the agreement with the town, Chatham Park was allowed to perform a certain percentage of commercial and residential development while the additional elements were being negotiated. Commercial and mixed-use development on Russett Run near the Bojangles restaurant and residential development near Thompson Street has progressed throughout the negotiations.

The commissioners and Chatham Park will now move on to negotiating the last of the “Additional Elements” that will need to be considered: affordable housing. The Affordable Housing Element will outline regulations and requirements involving affordable housing development in Chatham Park. No date has been determined for the board to begin discussions on that element yet.

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

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