Let’s leverage Chatham Park’s tax base for the community’s good

BY VIRGINIA PENLEY, Guest Columnist
Posted 3/15/19

As a Chatham resident off and on since 1970 I have observed a lot change in our county — some good, some bad. That notion that depends greatly on one’s point of view.

I will admit that it is …

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Let’s leverage Chatham Park’s tax base for the community’s good

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Posted

As a Chatham resident off and on since 1970 I have observed a lot change in our county — some good, some bad. That notion that depends greatly on one’s point of view.

I will admit that it is nice to have more dining options, grocery options and movie theaters. I’ll also admit I didn’t initially support some of the changes in and around Mann’s Chapel, where I reside.

I did not dream of Briar Chapel or Fearrington evolving from a working farm to a preferred retirement location, nor the many other neighbors that have moved in and around me for the past 35 years to North Chatham.

These changes forever alter the landscape and view shed around me. But I came to enjoy my new neighbors and the positive impact they have had on Chatham County and our region and state.

For example, the new residents have generally supported cleaner water and better environmental practices, which is why in part we never see the Haw River dyed blue or red or soap suds and other more dangerous runoff floating downstream from Burlington and/or Alamance County any more.

Of course, we must be diligent because there are still allegedly sources of impact upstream that dump chemicals such as GenX in the river. This is a threat which should unify all Chathamites in order to eliminate it from the river and ultimately Jordan Lake.

I witnessed firsthand as a young person in Cleveland how rampant industrial pollution could light our river on fire. A few years later I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and I recall the effort to protect the Eno River in the 70s by large groups who purchased land, created parks, endorsed forward-thinking policies and secured necessary rights and easements.

Today the Eno River Festival is legendary and the park and river are beautiful and a source of community pride. It’s a success built upon a vision that was endorsed and carried forward by multiple generations.

If we missed our shot to make a difference in Chatham County in the 1980s and then the golden opportunity to make a lot of such land purchases when the market tanked in 2008 and 2009, why not make a real effort now?

I understand that the Haw River Assembly and its allies have successfully created the Lower Haw River State Natural Area, as well as the Bynum Beach county park with a total of approximately 1,000 forested acres of land along the Haw River that will protect the drinking water downstream in Jordan Lake, enhance wildlife habitat, and be a natural greenspace for Chathamites to enjoy.

This is a good start, but I think we can make a larger concerted push to purchase land and/or the rights to land en masse to protect water supplies and sensitive areas.

It seems that we could do more if we had a county policy of purchasing and preserving more land.

Since Chatham Park is already the largest taxpayer in Chatham County before a single home has even been constructed, perhaps we should consider a bond to fund parks, green ways and other such purchases.

If preservation is really an important policy to support, then let us apply it on the 98.5 percent of Chatham County that is not Chatham Park as well.

Let’s use the energy that has been narrowly focused on the Pittsboro Town Board regarding the “Tree Element” and amplify it for a greater public policy goal across the county.

This could be a good use of our AAA bond rating and low interest rates and certainly a good topic for the voters to decide as a policy issue on the ballot.

We can still get a lot of tree canopy and coverage in Pittsboro, but we can leverage Chatham Park’s tax revenues, which are already the largest in Chatham, to preserve a lot more land and space in the county in and around Bennett, Bynum, Cary, Goldston, Moncure, Pittsboro, Silk Hope and Siler City.

At the end of the day, Chatham Park in Pittsboro will create a larger municipality over the next 30 years that will obtain the benefits of population density such as better transit options, better health care options and the ability to walk or bike to work or simply retire.

It can connect its greenways, bike paths and pedestrian conveyances, we can become healthier by having hundreds of miles of paths for residents to bike and hike upon daily.

And at the same time we can stop sprawl in the rest of the county by leveraging revenues and purchasing more land and easement rights to preserve what we all love about Chatham.

This would be an appropriate use and leveraging of the significant tax base that Chatham Park has already created and will create over the next 30 years.

Virginia Penley is a retired business owner who lives in the Mann’s Chapel area of Chatham County. She’s the first vice-chairman of the Sixth Congressional District Committee for the N.C. Democratic Party and a state executive committee member. She and her late husband were co-owners of Chapel Hill’s Cat’s Cradle in the 1980s.

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