NORTH CHATHAM PARK WAY

Proposed highway faces community pushback

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Residents of Pittsboro’s North Woods community are petitioning the North Carolina Dept. of Transportation to amend its plans for the proposed North Chatham Park Way, which threatens to bisect their neighborhood.

The project is under development by NCDOT in partnership with the town of Pittsboro and Chatham Park Investors, the group developing Chatham Park.

Plans for the 2.7-mile road have been coming together for years. Potential for the entire Chatham Park Way was considered as early as 1994 in a NCDOT feasibility study and in 2015 and 2019 as part of Pittsboro’s comprehensive transportation plan and a second NCDOT investigation.

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.

Earlier renderings of the road from 2016 appear to show North Chatham Park Way passing east of the North Woods community through Chatham Park-owned land. At a public hearing for the road’s impending development, however, new drawings depicted a different trajectory.

“The public hearing was the first time that we all became aware that this road was for real,” said North Woods property owner Mark Pavao, “and they had shifted the alignment from Chatham Park land onto our land. So, Jan. 7 was a watershed moment for us.”

Pavao, one of 17 landowners in the North Woods community, is spearheading the group’s efforts to prevent state seizure of their land. He owns 46 acres between two lots, one of which sits directly in the proposed road’s path.

“They’re going to carve it up,” Diana Dalsimer, another North Woods landowner, told the News + Record. “It’s not going to be a neighborhood.”

She and her fellow North Woods property owners are not fighting the North Chatham Park Way’s construction, Dalsimer pointed out, nor are they opposed to Chatham Park’s development, which will almost encircle the private community upon completion. When she and her husband moved to North Woods from Chapel Hill seven years ago, they already knew that Chatham Park and its infrastructure would eventually arrive.

“So, you know, we can’t complain about that, we know that’s happening,” she said. “But there are issues we want to bring up that we feel are not fair and not responsible.”

Pavao, likewise, acknowledged that Chatham Park is destined to revise the Pittsboro he has known for decades.

“All the neighbors, in fact, feel the same way, that we’re not fighting Chatham Park,” he said. “We’re not saying that it shouldn’t be here, and we’re also not saying that this road shouldn’t happen.”

They just don’t want it running through their land, he said, especially when it can so easily pass alongside it.

“My perspective is that eminent domain should be the solution of last resort, the option that the state resorts to after they have looked for every other possible alternative before they start taking private landowners’ land,” Pavao said. “There’s a very obvious and simple solution, which is to shift the road by a couple hundred yards and to use land that is already owned by the developer for whom this road is being developed.”

What would be a simple adjustment for NCDOT, the landowners say, would make an immeasurable difference to them. It would keep their quiet neighborhood whole and untarnished by a four-lane highway.

“It’ll tear the neighborhood apart,” Dalsimer said, “and these small rural neighborhoods — I call them hamlets — they are becoming more and more rare ... Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

Ducka Kelly, who bought her North Wood plot 23 years ago, suggests that Chatham Park Investors have ulterior motives for backing a road that passes through her neighborhood.

“It really feels like there’s something kind of underhanded about it,” she said. The road will devalue North Woods properties and may force some owners to sell “at rock bottom prices.”

Building the road through North Woods instead of on Chatham Park-owned property would also afford the company more space to expand housing development, Pavao said.

“So, I suspect that there are two objectives at play here. One is, ‘Let’s preserve our land so we can build more houses,’” he said, “and the other is, ‘If this neighborhood becomes less desirable for these neighbors, maybe they will sell their land.’”

Chatham Park representatives did not immediately repond to the News + Record’s request for comment Thursday afternoon.

A week ago, the North Woods neighbors launched a petition on change.org called “Save North Woods Neighborhood.”

“I thought, well, maybe we can get 100 signatures,” Pavao said. “And I thought that would be great.”

By Wednesday, more than 2,300 had signed.

“It tells me that we’re telling a story that people understand,” Pavao said. “It’s not fair for big, rich, real estate developers to come in and take land from private homeowners.”

To make the biggest difference, though, Chatham residents must submit their protestations directly to the NCDOT, Pavao said.

“The only reason they’ll make a change is if it becomes just too politically uncomfortable for them to go forward with the plan,” he said. “... The primary objective that we have right now is to get people to submit comments to the public comment box that the NCDOT set up on this road alignment. That seems to be the one concrete avenue that we have for DOT to get the message that this alignment isn’t fair and doesn’t make sense.”

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

NCDOT will be accepting public comments until Feb. 7 via phone: 984-205-6615, code 8027, email: North-Chatham-Park-Way@publicinput.com or mail: 421 Fayetteville Street, Suite 600, Raleigh, NC 27601.

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

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