NCDOT shifts proposed highway alignment, but neighbors want more

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PITTSBORO — After months-long negotiations between the N.C. Dept. of Transportation and property owners in Pittsboro’s North Woods community, NCDOT has suggested it will amend plans for a proposed road that threatens to bisect the neighborhood.

But North Woods residents want more substantial revision.

Plans for the 2.7-mile North Chatham Park Way have been coming together for years. A NCDOT feasibility study first explored potential for the road in 1994. In 2015 and 2019, Pittsboro’s comprehensive transportation plan and a second NCDOT investigation cemented the idea. Already, a section of the road has been constructed between U.S. Hwy. 64 and Suttles Road, but North Chatham Park Way would extend the highway to U.S. Hwy. 15-501.

The North Woods neighborhood consists of 17 rural homes on about 200 acres in northern Pittsboro. Much of the surrounding land is owned by Chatham Park Investors. Development of Chatham Park’s North Village is under way on about 2,200 acres of land directly adjacent to North Woods, between the private community and the Haw River. The North Chatham Park Way is necessary to serve the many thousands of new residents who will inhabit Chatham Park in coming years and to mitigate traffic issues through downtown Pittsboro, according to NCDOT representatives.

“With new development in the area, traffic has increased, and creates mobility challenges in downtown Pittsboro,” said NCDOT Community Studies Expert Jamille Robbins in a January public hearing.

When NCDOT first published sample renderings of the North Chatham Park Way in 2016, the road appeared to pass east of North Woods through Chatham Park-owned land. At a public hearing in January, however, new drawings depicted the highway further west.

“(T)hey had shifted the alignment from Chatham Park land onto our land,” Mark Pavao, a North Woods property owner, previously told the News + Record. It “... was a watershed moment for us.”

Pavao and his neighbors quickly launched a petition on change.org called “Save North Woods Neighborhood.” They implored residents of the greater Pittsboro area to support them in voicing disapproval of the proposed North Chatham Park Way alignment. Within a week, more than 2,300 had signed. As of Tuesday, more than 1,000 more had added their names.

“Over the last three months we have continued our campaign to draw awareness to the fact that the proposed alignment of (North Chatham Park Way) would divide North Woods,” Pavao said. “We have presented to Pittsboro and Chatham County Commissioners and kept in touch with NCDOT and the Pittsboro planning department.”

Before the campaign to prevent seizure of their land, the “NCDOT seems to have had no awareness that the proposed alignment would divide a neighborhood,” he added. In response, NCDOT hosted a meeting for the North Woods neighbors last Tuesday to present an alternative road trajectory. The new proposal shifts North Chatham Park Way east of its first planned alignment, but not entirely off North Woods land.

“It’s definitely better,” Pavao said, “but it still cuts through a lot of our land.”

At least four North Woods residents would still have much of their land cut off. To avoid that, Save North Woods Neighborhood members submitted to NCDOT their own alternative alignment following the Tuesday meeting. In their drawing, the road would shift further east to run along North Woods’ border before turning west after having passed most of the neighborhood. Only Pavao would still have to sacrifice some land, a concession he’s willing to make.

“Both the Pavaos and Chatham Park would be left with a similar amount of isolated land,” he said, “which is a very fair compromise.”

NCDOT representatives confirmed receipt of the suggested realignment, Pavao said, and promised to consider the neighbors’ proposal in their final deliberations. They did not say when another proposal will be published.

“They showed us their alternative but the input was, ‘This is an improvement, but it’s not perfect. It could be fairer,’” Pavao said. “... So I suspect that they’re going to go back and discuss it amongst themselves and they will make a decision, or at least they will move towards making a decision. Maybe they’ll reach back out to the neighbors, or maybe they’ll just post on their website that they have finalized their alignments and here it is. I don’t know, but I hope it considers what’s best for the community here.”

Construction of the North Chatham Park Way is expected to begin soon and will cost about $18 million. NCDOT hopes to complete the project by 2023.

For information on the North Woods neighbors’ campaign, visit their website, https://savenorthwoodsneighborhood.com/.

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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