Pittsboro candidates discuss environment, development at Haw River Assembly forum

Posted 9/20/19

PITTSBORO — Pittsboro’s candidates for town board showed their differences — and their similarities — at a forum held by the Haw River Assembly at the Central Carolina Community College on …

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Pittsboro candidates discuss environment, development at Haw River Assembly forum

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PITTSBORO — Pittsboro’s candidates for town board showed their differences — and their similarities — at a forum held by the Haw River Assembly at the Central Carolina Community College on Monday.

The focus of the forum was the environment and Chatham Park, but other issues surfaced as well. The divisions between the candidates and their view of Chatham Park, the more than 7,000 acre planned community underway in Pittsboro, were evidenced throughout the forum.

Incumbent John Bonitz provided the sharpest criticism of the development and its influence claiming that the county’s only local newspaper, the News + Record, is “owned by developers” coupled with a “too clever lawyer” led to a “weakened and watered down” tree protection element, the agreement between the town and Chatham Park on how many trees are required in different areas of the development as it is constructed.

The News + Record is owned by Chatham Media Group LLC, whose partners are Kirk Bradley, Chris Ehrenfeld and Bill Horner III. Although Bradley is a developer in Mosaic, which is part of Chatham Park, none of the three are investors in Chatham Park.

Other candidates noted slightly more balanced approaches to Chatham Park. Bridget Perry noted the importance of “balancing development with the environment,” while Kyle Shipp stated that the development provided an “opportunity to do exceptional things” such as solar installations and large scale storm and wastewater re-use. Incumbent Jay Farrell, who has served for two terms, noted that the board worked very hard to preserve the environment with the additional elements but noted that “sometimes you have to give a little” in terms of development. Pam Cash-Roper also called for balance, saying she was a “voice for smart and sustainable growth,” but that it should ensure affordability. Heather Johnson was perhaps the most supportive of the Chatham Park development, often defending and noting the investments the group has already made in town including agreeing to pay a large percentage of the water and wastewater improvement costs.

Candidates also addressed staffing at the Town of Pittsboro. Each candidate agreed that the town does not have sufficient staff for the amount of work that needs to be done. Farrell noted that the board voted to add two new staff members, one engineer and one in planning, during this fiscal year, but added that there were budget constraints. Bonitz noted the same, stating “we have insufficient funds” to hire the staff that is needed. Shipp agreed that more staff was required, but also noted the need for communication from the town staff as a major challenge. Johnson said that increased staffing was one of her “top three priorities” if she were to win, but noted that she didn’t have the answers on how to pay.

Cash-Roper noted that staff was needed to enforce the ordinances otherwise the ordinances were “not worth the paper they were written on.” This sentiment was echoed throughout the panel of candidates.

Several items of import brought up by the candidates — staffing, improvements to both the water and wastewater systems, and sidewalks — boiled down to money. Several candidates, such as Farrell, Johnson and to a extent Cash-Roper, noted a goal to keep taxes low on current residents. Others, such as Bonitz and Shipp, said that a tax increase may be required to support the growth of the town. Both Cash-Roper and Shipp stated that collaboration with Chatham County may be a way to assuage the burden on Pittsboro. Shipp said this was already in the works with Chatham County’s financial support of the new Pittsboro Town Hall and discussions about water supply.

Jim Nass, who is running unopposed for Pittsboro mayor, noted that Chatham Park had agreed to pay for additional staff in addition to the $300,000 it gives the town each year, but the offer had not been accepted. Bonitz stated that he was unaware of such offer as the town manager had not informed him, but would not speak on the subject so as to not “botch” any negotiations that may be ongoing.

Six of the seven candidates vying for the three open slots on Pittsboro’s town board were in attendance. Lonnie West was traveling and unable to attend the event.

The election for Pittsboro Town Board takes place on November 5 with early voting available from Oct. 16-Nov. 1.

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

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