Chatham residents share growth and development concerns with county commissioners

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PITTSBORO — Less than a week after VinFast — a Vietnamese electric vehicle manufacturer — announced plans to build a $4 billion manufacturing facility at Triangle Innovation Point, the county’s megasite near Moncure — a number residents expressed concerns about the county’s rapid growth during the public comment portion of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting on Monday night.

Chatham resident Tim Moore directly addressed the impact of a projected 7,500 VinFast employees moving to the area once the manufacturing facility is up and running. Moore said the school system in Chatham County is already at maximum capacity and the influx of thousands of new residents and their children will make a challenging situation much worse. Moore advocated for the construction of new schools to address the issue.

“You’ve got 7,500 [employees] coming to work at VinFast,” Moore said. “They’ll bring their 14,000 children with them. And you got 2,500 employees going to the Toyota plant [at the Greensboro-Randolph megasite]. They’ll bring their 5,000 kids with them … Shovels need to start hitting the ground.”

Chatham residents also raised concerns about the Chatham-Cary Joint Land Use Plan during Monday night’s commissioners meeting.

Jim Stevens said he understands development of the northeast portion of Chatham County is inevitable, and believes in the goals of the land use plan. However, he said, the current implementation of the land use plan is not acceptable.

“There are no bad plans, just bad implementation,” Stevens said. “And we’re concerned that there is this bad implementation by the town of Cary and these would much have bigger problems for Chatham County if the current needs are not addressed.”

Stevens said the scale of development requires an integrated plan, not the current approach of piecemeal annexation development, which has led to environmental degradation and a host of other issues.

“Property damage and cost to residents is occurring,” Stevens said. “When we raise our concerns with Chatham County, we’re sent to the town of Cary. The town of Cary tells us this problem with the engineering plan or the engineers. The engineers say all plans are starting point need to be adjusted based on conditions on the ground … so we really do need your help.”

Patrick O’Neal also shared his concerns regarding the joint plan during the meeting. O'Neal encouraged commissioners to increase the minimum lot size for development in its upcoming review of the plan to help protect the environment and quality of life for Chatham residents. He also advocated for an updated schools plan when commissioners review the land use plan in the weeks ahead.

“The education of our children is very important,” O'Neal said. “There isn’t a schools plan for the east side, none at all.”

Jim Fletcher, a resident of the Windy Hill subdivision, pleaded with commissioners to reconsider how they specify housing density in the land use plan to address adverse environmental impacts of rapid growth and development. Fletcher said housing density as prescribed in the land use plan should better reflect an understanding of its overall environmental impact.

“I strongly recommend you only consider buildable acres in determining the number of homes on a given tract,” Fletcher said. “The beauty of Chatham County is its rolling wooded landscape. You must find a way to better fit developments in your land you have versus destroying the land to maximize homes per acre.”

Keri Strickland-Ward, a resident of Old Thompson Creek development, said nearby developments are causing water runoff issues in her neighborhood.

“So much water runoff from [nearby developments] have flooded our creek — the Rocky Ford Branch Stream — several times,” Strickland-Ward said. “One time, it completely washed out our driveway. We were stranded. We had no driveway. We had no way to leave because we have a bridge.”

Because to water runoff from nearby developments, Strickland-Ward said she and her family have incurred $15,000 in repair fees, and the environmental issues are beginning to mount in her neighborhood.

“They’re compromising our septic fields, our wells, our properties, and if they take out all the natural vegetation — which goes against the [Unified Development Ordinance] of trying to keep natural vegetation and environmental areas — it’s just going to create more problems for us.”

She also pointed out there is no mention of the Chatham-Cary Joint Land Use Plan in the county’s newly proposed Unified Development Ordinance.

On Monday night, Kelly Cousino of White & Smith LLC presented commissioners with a draft audit report of a revised Unified Development Ordinance for Chatham County.

The draft audit report stipulates the last comprehensive update of the county’s zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations occurred nearly 15 years ago. The report states that significant growth in the county since 2008 necessitates the updating of land use, zoning and development ordinances in the county.

In other business, County Manager Dan LaMontagne provided county commissioners with an update on the work of the Northeast Chatham Wastewater Study Commission.

LaMontagne informed commissioners that the 12-member study commission had developed a list of seven possible solutions to the wastewater challenges in the northeast corner of the county.

On March 23, the study commission discussed the seven potential solutions — including short-term transitional options, like the possibility of creating a new centralized management entity to manage the current existing package plants in the northeast corner of the county; extending service from Pittsboro and Chatham Park to the northeast; extending service from Sanford to the U.S. 15-501 corridor; as well as extending service from Siler City’s wastewater system to the northeast corner of the county.

Study commission members also mulled the possibility of connecting into the Orange Water and Sewer Authority to provide wastewater treatment for the northeast area of the county.

LaMontagne said the list of seven potential solutions seems like the final word on the subject and in his opinion, goes beyond the scope of the study commission’s purpose.

“I didn’t feel that what you appointed them for was that level at this point,” LaMontagne said.

LaMontagne suggested the co-chairpersons of the study commission make a presentation to the board of commissioners at its next meeting.

“Is there a possibility that our instruction or our requests of them was not sufficiently clear?” Karen Howard, the chairperson of the county commission board, inquired.

LaMontagne responded by saying the scope of the study commission was clearly defined during its first meeting earlier this year.

“I’m also not extremely comfortable with saying scrap it either — I don’t think that’s the direction to go,” Howard responded. “Because I want the decision to be ours, but we’re not the experts.

“We’re not the subject matter experts,” she continued. “This was an opportunity for us to hear from and get input from the subject matter experts and have it brought to us as part of the study commission’s work … And we would have we would have the information presented to us — we could do the work once we collated it, once we’ve collected all that sort of background.”

Howard said the study commission’s presentation of seven possible ways to address wastewater needs in northeast Chatham County feels like they are giving the commissioners a solution, which is premature.

“I am not comfortable with that,” Howard said. “Having them present is probably the best way forward.”

The commissioners’ next meeting is April 18.

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