Pittsboro prepares for 7,000-acre technology park - WRBL

Pittsboro prepares for 7,000-acre technology park

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A map showing the master plan of Chatham Park. A map showing the master plan of Chatham Park.
A rendering of Bluff Park inside Chatham Park. A rendering of Bluff Park inside Chatham Park.
The near-by Haw River and its tributaries are seen by developers as an integral part of the project. Photo by Jeff Reeves/WNCN The near-by Haw River and its tributaries are seen by developers as an integral part of the project. Photo by Jeff Reeves/WNCN
Chatham Park could bring an estimated 55,000 people to the Pittsboro area. Photo by Jeff Reeves/WNCN Chatham Park could bring an estimated 55,000 people to the Pittsboro area. Photo by Jeff Reeves/WNCN
PITTSBORO, N.C. -

There's a huge new development on the horizon in the Triangle. A new technology area known as Chatham Park near Pittsboro is seeking official approval for its newly revised master plan.

Instead of being just a location for building high-tech office space, the project wants to create a live-where-you-work environment that will attract thousands of people to that part of Chatham County.

Chatham Park will encompass 7,000 acres between Pittsboro and the Haw River.

"I believe it will change the course of Chatham County in very dramatic ways," said Dianne Reid, who is the president of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation.

The project is the vision of Preston Development, which along with billionaire investor Jim Goodnight, have spent close to a decade buying up the land in the area that'll make up the region's newest technology park.

Watch a video detailing Preston Development's vision of Chatham Park

Right now, Chatham Park is all on paper; a collection of maps, documents and information that's part of a master plan for the live-where-you-work business park.

When it's completed, it will bring an estimated 55,000 people to the Pittsboro area.

"There will be townhouses starting at $175,000 or apartments you can rent by the month; all the way up to $1 million dollar homes for doctors, lawyers or whoever can afford it," explained Preston Development co-founder Tim Smith.

Right now Pittsboro is home to about 4,000 people.

"I'm concerned about the town and Chatham County being able to handle that sort of thing," said longtime Pittsboro resident Dan Clower.

And so are officials with the town of Pittsboro.

"Its infrastructure is old," says town manager Bryan Gruesbeck. "We are not only trying to make sure we have sufficient infrastructure for our current citizens and businesses but we have to plan forward to make sure that infrastructure meets the demands of development pressures and projects like this."

Although the project is being developed outside the Pittsboro city limits, the town retains control of the site because it's part of Pittsboro's extraterritorial jurisdiction.

That means is Pittsboro will still oversee things like zoning, planning and code enforcement.

"Chatham County will change whether Chatham Park comes or not," says Preston Development's planning consultant Philip Culpepper. "Chatham Park lets it be done in a planned community rather than just piecemeal."

The near-by Haw River and its tributaries are seen by developers as an integral part of the project.

Using a giant land-use map as a prop, Preston Development's Tim Smith points out some of the intended features.

"There's a trail in the future that goes all the way up the Haw River or to Jordan Lake. All the streams that flow through our property will have trails that go to the river or lake," he said.

"You'll be able to essentially walk from Pittsboro all the way down to the river or lake from anywhere in our project to water," declared Smith.

But, some are worried about how development of the land will affect the Haw River, which feeds into the Jordan Lake water supply.

"Jordan Lake has been on the on the impaired list, which means polluted water list, for the EPA since 2002," said Elaine Chiosso, who is the Executive Director of the Haw River Assembly. "It's hard to see how this won't just increase pollution rather than reduce it into Jordan Lake."

When WNCN reviewed the master plan for Chatham Park, we found plans for stream buffers, wetlands and use of reclaimed water.

"One of the main things we'll be doing is not allow the waste water that is treated to be dumped back into the river," declared Philip Culpepper. "We'll reuse the water to the fullest extent possible so what comes out of the sewage treatment plant it becomes irrigation water, industrial water and cooling water."

He says there are also plans to have certain retention ponds work to allow the water they hold to be returned underground to help replenish the aquifer beneath the Chatham Park.

Most people spend untold hours on the road driving to and from their jobs.

As more business develops in the Triangle, the traffic congestion on the roads gets worse and worse.

Chatham Park is designed to eliminate that by creating living and shopping areas with-in walking distance of people's jobs.

"This sort of takes it the next step with good jobs; not just retail or service jobs, but a lot of high-tech jobs," said Dianne Reid.

DIG DEEPER: Review the Chatham Park Master Plan for yourself. Click here to see all the related public documents.

Downtown Pittsboro is small, which is part of its charm as wells as a disadvantage to some who live in the town.

Petra and Nick Beaulieu are town residents who would welcome a development that brought some services closer to home.

"We have three kids," said Petra Beaulieu. "Everywhere we go we have to spend money outside of our county. I would love to have more available here."

Adds her husband Nick Beaulieu, "I think it would bring good jobs. That gives a higher tax base to grow things and a better disposable income to support small business in downtown."

Pittsboro resident Dan Clower says he has concerns about the town becoming over-burdened by the development. He cites a personal example.

"The infrastructure is ridiculous. For sewerage, I had to go through my neighbor's house and down here and up here and through someone's property to get sewerage and here I am two blocks from the courthouse."

That and other issues have town officials looking closely at the impact of the project in several areas.

"Specifically making sure we have capacity to treat the waste water; to make sure we can provide clean water at a sufficient pressure for consumption and safety and making sure the quality of the water continues to be good and making sure our roads and streets are safe and drivable," explained Town Manager Bryan Gruesbeck.

The project would contain 1,000 acres of parks and open space and at least one watchdog group says it'll be monitoring how Preston Development will use the space.

"This is a huge parcel of land in the core of the Triangle and we'd like to see the natural areas of it protected and see open space protected as much as possible," said Chad Jemison, who is the executive director of the Triangle land conservancy.

"One of the main aspects of Chatham Park is the environmental quality of Chatham County and we want to enhance that not cause any problems with the environment," said Philip Culpepper.

Dave Clark is renovating his Pittsboro home by repurposing old materials. Conservation and environmental protection are big concerns of his.

"There's tons of ways for a new development to decrease waste," Clark said.  "People just have to be smart about it. It may not be the most cost effective way going in-but in the long term it'll benefit everybody." 

The first public hearing on the developer's rezoning request for its latest master plan is still several months down the road and lots of folks will be watching.

"I like Chatham County the way it is, but if we could see some systems used that are innovative and something different; maybe we have a chance." said Elaine Chiosso.

 

Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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