Tree protection work session yields some changes

BY CASEY MANN, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/22/19

A work session scheduled specifically so Pittsboro Commissioners could focus on Chatham Park’s proposed tree protection plan yielded a few changes Monday — and some frustration on the part of some commissioners and Chatham Park.

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Tree protection work session yields some changes

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PITTSBORO — A work session scheduled specifically so Pittsboro Commissioners could focus on Chatham Park’s proposed tree protection plan yielded a few changes Monday — and some frustration on the part of some commissioners and Chatham Park.

The plan, part of the 7,000 acres “additional elements” to Chatham Park’s already-approved master plan, was first introduced in 2016. In numerous board of commissioners’ meetings since, the town has received public comments and held discussions about the plan, making changes along the way.

The purpose of Monday’s discussion, as stated by Pittsboro Planning Director Jeff Jones, was to provide feedback on the plan to Chatham Park to Chuck Smith, the Vice President of Planning and Development for Preston Development overseeing the development of Chatham Park. Much, though not all, of the discussion, was focused on areas of confusion and requests for clarity.

The discussion, which lasted three hours, languished at points as commissioners spent long stretches of the work session in silence. Pittsboro Mayor Cindy Perry began the meeting by suggesting a change in the first section of the tree protection plant, its purpose, from a bulleted list to something similar to a narrative to “set the tone” for the philosophy of the board. The suggestion was made to Chatham Park to make edits for the board’s consideration when the newest draft of the plan comes before them again.

Pittsboro Commissioner Jay Farrell addressed several questions, most of which were rooted in clarifications of the document. For example, Farrell asked about the differences between tree coverage and tree canopy, a topic that came up several times throughout the night. The tree protection plan uses tree coverage requirements, which means the amount of acreage that must contain trees.

Other areas of Chatham Park’s additional elements also include numbers or areas of trees required for parking areas, streetscapes, trees on residential properties and landscapes. The trees required in these elements are not considered “counted” for the tree coverage requirements in the tree protection plan. Smith reminded commissioners that tree coverage area smaller than 25 feet wide or 100 feet long won’t count among the development’s specified tree coverage areas.

Canopy is defined the amount of branch and leafy coverage a tree may provide. Smith noted, as he’s done in previous discussions with commissioners, that conservative estimates show Chatham Park will have 50 percent tree canopy when all the required trees, within all the elements, are considered — meaning that even though certain trees are not counted when considering tree coverage in terms of protection, they are considered when calculating likely canopy. Required canopy is not included in the tree protection plan as all other elements discuss trees in terms of acreage or space rather than canopy.

Another area of the tree protection plan that generated discussion was that of the “Tree Coverage Planning Area.” The planning areas are tracts of land, larger than a single lot, used when considering tree protection. Smith brought several slides to show how those planning areas are determined. For example, if a developer applies to build a shopping center, that tract will become a planning area as well as a tree coverage planning area which would need to be contiguous. The commissioners requested Chatham Park work on the sections related to describing those areas to ensure clarity and reduce confusion. Smith noted that his team had already begun the process as questions about those sections had been common.

Pittsboro Commissioner Micheal Fiocco raised concerns that as the board moves to prevent development on larger portions of Chatham Park’s land, the unintended result may be the loss of affordability, a noted concern of the board. Fiocco later noted that “all of this contributes to the cost of a community” and the town “runs the risk you will have an exclusive community.”

Pittsboro Commissioner Bett Wilson Foley said she was not concerned about that because since the town would have a significantly greater tax base, it would have a greater ability to invest in affordable housing. She also noted that she wanted to make sure Chatham Park would be a place people would be willing to pay for because of the tree protections they were discussing.

There were several contentious moments during the discussion. At one point, Pittsboro Commissioner John Bonitz asked about the tree protection plan’s required tree coverage inventory field report. According to the plan, that report was due in to the planning department at the same time as the development plan. Bonitz asked Pittsboro’s Planning Director Jeff Jones to “have a discussion with Chatham Park” about the timing of the report. Jones asked if Bonitz wanted the report as part of the pre-submittal process, to which Bonitz replied he wasn’t sure. Jones questioned if the board wanted to comment on future site plans based on the tree inventory. Again, Bonitz said “No,” stating he merely wanted Jones to “have a discussion” with Chatham Park about it.

“What’s the goal?” Jones asked in frustration. “I need direction from you to what the end result is. I need direction from you all and you’re not giving it to me. ... I’m trying to figure out why you want it before the site plan is developed.”

In addition, Bonitz was asked by Smith when he would be ready with comments on the plan for Chatham Park. “I’m still compiling them,” Bonitz said.

“We’ve been doing this for a year and a half,” Smith said. “How long are we going to be compiling comments?”

Fiocco echoed Smith’s frustration, noting that the work session itself was scheduled to ensure all the commissioners were prepared, a sentiment noted at the board’s previous regular session earlier this month.

The comments the commissioners provided to Chatham Park will be coalesced into a new proposed document for the board to review at a future date once Chatham Park has concluded revising the plan.

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