Lengthy county commissioners meeting discusses compact communities

BY HANNAH McCLELLAN, News + Record Staff
Posted 8/17/21

PITTSBORO — A five-hour Chatham County commission board meeting on Monday night included lengthy and, at times, contentious discussion regarding rezoning requests and compact …

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Lengthy county commissioners meeting discusses compact communities

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PITTSBORO — A five-hour Chatham County commission board meeting on Monday night included lengthy and, at times, contentious discussion regarding rezoning requests and compact communities.

More than three hours of the meeting were devoted to three public hearings: 

• A request by Congruus LLC for a map amendment to the Chatham County Compact Community boundary map

• A request by the Vickers Bennett Group LLC for text and map amendments to the Chatham County Compact Community Ordinance

• An additional request by Vickers Bennett Group for a Conditional District Rezoning request from R-1 Residential to CD-CCO Compact Community

Compact Communities Ordinance

At the board’s July 19 meeting, Commissioner Diana Hales brought up the upcoming requests pursuant to compact communities, inquiring if the board could repeal its compact communities ordinance added in 2004. In that ordinance, a compact community is definid as “a compact development with a mixed-use village center” that meets all the other conditions specified in the ordinance.

Hales mentioned the Unified Development Ordinance being developed by the county, a document that outlines traditional zoning and subdivision regulations along with other desired city regulations such as design guidelines and water management.

“No matter how much we want to crunch it, it’s two years out,” she said of the UDO. “So in the meantime, more developments are coming through.”

At that meeting, Commissioner Karen Howard also expressed interest in potentially repealing the compact communities ordinance, if it was legal to do so. County Attorney Bob Hagemann said the board could look into a repeal, but the standards of approval set in the ordinance would still apply to applicants who began the application process before it was removed.

“I think we need an option for high density development in those areas of the county that the comp plan says we want higher density development right now,” Chairperson Mike Dasher said at that meeting. “We have a compact community ordinance and that is not a great vehicle for what I think this board wants to see there, but there is no other vehicle for an applicant to use.”

On Monday, all three of the requests were eventually referred to the county’s planning board, but not before lengthy presentations and public comments were given.

The first public hearing, with Congruus LLC, included a request to extend the CCO map to make an additional 184.04 acres off Parker Herndon and Morris roads — the whole of Fearrington Preserve — eligible for development. The text amendment, if approved, would allow greater flexibility to design a walkable, mixed use development with a mix of housing types, open space, and commercial development — including the dedication of land in the CCO for the construction of affordable housing.

Commissioner Hales inquired whether the affordable housing would be designed with low-income or workforce housing in mind. “The builder is dedicated to providing workhouse affordable housing,” one of the presenters, John Foley of VRC, a Pittsboro-based development company, said. 

Affordable housing is an issue across the state, Chatham notwithstanding. It’s long been a priority on the board’s agendas as well.

“On the question of affordable housing in my seven years on the board, this is the first private developer of any stripe to come forward,” Commissioner Jim Crawford said, “And their initial card on the table will be they want to provide affordable workforce housing, period. So I take that seriously.”

During public comments, several speakers during the hearing brought up concerns with wastewater and sewage issues — citing spills and odors in Briar Creek — which would end up being a common theme of the night. Presenting developers said they believed they could improve the wastewater situation, but did not offer specifics. (Doing so was not directly relevant to their request.)

The common concern is that new development would create even higher density populations in Northeast Chatham, where wastewater infrastructure was already lacking or overwhelmed.

“It seems to me that the infrastructure should be addressed first, then we can discuss rezoning land for compact communities,” one speaker said. “I would hate to see the county pay for such an endeavor when doing so essentially profits developers. There’s a place for compact communities, but I can’t see the benefit of a compact community placed in this particular location.”

The next two hearings both concerned requests from Vickers Bennett Group LLC.

The first requested text and map amendments to the CCO to support Chatham’s Compact Community Area. The second requested a Conditional District Rezoning from R-1 Residential to CD-CCO Compact Community, concerning approximately 101.8 acres off US 15-501 between Vicker’s Rd and Jack Bennett roads, Williams Township.

Similar concerns were raised during the public comment for these hearings, with some residents calling the proposed expansion “piecemeal plans.”

One resident spoke positively of development plans for Vickers Village, saying the development meets many housing needs in Chatham, specifically for single-income folks looking for moderately priced housing. A few other speakers said they were in complete support of the development.

Other speakers applauded the developers for communication with the community and planning efforts, but still cited environmental or wastewater concerns.

Following the closing of the public hearings, the board voted on a request by Zachary Fuller, PE on behalf of Swain Land & Timber, LLC for subdivision First Plat review and approval of McBane Park Conservation Subdivision. That area consists of 149 lots on 161.97 acres, located off Old Graham Road.

All the planning board recommendations for the First Plat review were satisfied; following a relatively short presentation, the board unanimously approved the request.

“I just want to point out that we’re talking about the same number of residents more or less as we were talking about in the earlier hearing. But there are no neighbors present to talk about this,” Crawford said. “This is the future, friends and neighbors. We’re going to have large developments that come in where if there are established neighbors, they’re going to raise objections.”

“This is where we’re at. Which is not to say pro or con, it’s just this is it,” he added. “So we had an hour and a half on a previous one, this one’s going to come through with no public comment whatsoever  – that’s Chatham County.”

Other meeting business

The meeting, held in the Chatham County Historic Courthouse, started with the board voting to add a quasi-judicial public hearing for a request by the Conservancy Real Estate Group LLC for a Special Use Permit to the beginning of the public hearings agenda. 

Following a postponement request from the applicant, the county removed the item from Monday’s agenda; it was added back because the hearing was already posted, but commissioners did not open the hearing. Instead, the attorney requested an indefinite postponement of the public hearing based on some revisions to the applicable property subject to the application.

In the same motion, the board also updated the agenda to postpone its planning recognition of the Chatham County finance office for receiving GFOA’s Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the county’s comprehensive annual financial report for the 2020 fiscal year. It was added to the board’s Sept. 20 agenda.

The board approved a resolution proclaiming Chatham as a “Breastfeeding Family Friendly Community” and to recognize Sept. 15, 2021, as Chatham County’s United Way Day of Service.

Commissioners also approved a resolution to improve student learning conditions, at the urging of Chatham County Schools. The CCS Board of Education unanimously approved a similar resolution at its July meeting, as requested of local boards across the state by the North Carolina Association of Educators.

The board also approved a resolution proclaiming Sept. 15-Oct. 15 Hispanic Heritage Month in Chatham. Following brief comments from the Hispanic Liaison’s Ilana Dubester, Commissioner Franklin Gomez Flores read the proclamation first in Spanish, then in English.

“This is our 26th year of being here in Chatham County,” Dubester said of the Liaison, “And, yeah, it’s been a long journey. I want to first thank you for your amazing support of our organization and our efforts in our community.”

A lot of work has been accomplished to welcome immigrants and increase equity in Chatham since the Liaison was founded, Dubester said, but there is more work to be done.

“As the Hispanic Liaison, we pledge to continue to work with you to make Chatham County a welcoming home for immigrants from near and far,” she said. “I just wanted to thank you again for your time and for this proclamation, and I love that you made it a bilingual Proclamation — I appreciate that very much.”

Monday’s meeting concluded with the adoption of a new county LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy.

The board’s next regular meeting will take place at the courthouse on Sept. 20.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.


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