‘Plan Chatham’ still central to county government, development in 2020

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/10/20

The elements of Chatham County’s Comprehensive Plan can be found all across Chatham government, which was the intention when it was created.

“Plan Chatham,” the document’s shorthand, was …

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‘Plan Chatham’ still central to county government, development in 2020

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The elements of Chatham County’s Comprehensive Plan can be found all across Chatham government, which was the intention when it was created.

“Plan Chatham,” the document’s shorthand, was approved by the county’s board of commissioners in late 2017 — after a multi-year process during which public engagement was sought — as the forming and foundational plan for the county’s next 25 years. As Chatham moves into the next year of that 25, parts of the plan have been followed up on and has even been utilized by groups outside the county.

One of the major parts of “Plan Chatham” was outlining areas of the county specific for development in an attempt to welcome growth but maintain the area’s rural character. The result was called the “Future Land Use and Conservation Plan,” a map which sets aside areas for rural, agricultural and conservation space — making up most of the county — while also stipulating where commercial growth can happen.

“It is aspirational, and it reflects the community’s goals and objectives stated earlier in this plan,” the plan states. “The map indicates the preferred locations for future development, as well as the type and intensity of such development. More importantly, it indicates areas that are valued for their natural and cultural assets, and should therefore be the subject of future conservation efforts.”

The plan was recently brought up by developers of the new 501 Landing retail development, slated for location along U.S. Hwy. 15-501 near Lystra Road. At a November 2019 commissioners meeting, neighbors addressed concerns of “strip mall, strip mall, strip mall” along 15-501. But Plan Chatham only has two “Community Center” areas — “retail hubs located along key roadway corridors,” according to the document — along the highway, and they’re only centered around intersections, not throughout the entire highway.

The goal of the plan, according to the document, is to manage development in a way that doesn’t overrun the county with retail and commercial spaces.

“Plan Chatham envisions a future where a network of agricultural fields, pasture, timberlands, rural homesteads and natural areas still dominate the County,” it states.

Other parts of the plan are central to some of the work the county is doing as 2019 becomes 2020. There are 10 “objectives” for the plan with some sub-objectives that have seen some progress within the last couple years. For example:

• “Provide expanded recreation opportunities and improve access to parks, community facilities, trails and open space.” The county is in the process of developing master plans for individual parks, both expanding and improving current ones and building a new one.

• “Leverag(ing) assets to promote entrepreneurship, arts, culture and tourism.” The county saw a record financial impact from tourism in fiscal year 2018-2019.

• “Improve emergency response and limit risk associated with natural and man-made disasters.” An improved emergency radio system is in the process of being installed for first responders across the county.

Organizations besides the county government are utilizing the plan on a daily basis.

“We’ve been able to use it as a tool that helps us better direct businesses where we see an alignment of what they want to do and how the county wants to develop,” said Alyssa Byrd, president of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation. “It’s a good framework to streamline the big question of ‘Where should I go?’ We actually have a map, guidelines to justify, ‘Here’s what we want and how we want it.’”

For more on the Chatham County Comprehensive Plan, visit chathamnc.org/government/departments-programs/planning/comprehensive-plan.

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