Chatham Park, in Pittsboro, Chatham County

(Scroll to bottom of page for latest on Chatham Park’s controversial proposed tree protection rules.)

Sign the Petition to Town of Pittsboro Asking for Better Tree and Water Protections in Chatham Park

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Throughout the watershed, large scale developments are occurring at a rapid rate. In some cases, development and growth are necessary, and it is not always done poorly. However, when developers place profit over human and environmental health, Haw River Assembly and our passionate members will take action.  The largest of all these is  Chatham Park, a new city the size of Chapel Hill or Burlington, being built in Pittsboro’s ETJ (extra-territoral jurisdiction) adjacent to the Haw River and Jordan Lake. It will be the biggest master plan development ever built in NC. Read our concerns below.

                                 (aerial view of  muddy waters from Chatham Park construction, near Hwy 15-501)

Chatham Park will be bulldozing  a huge portion of their nearly 8000 acre development, which is now mostly forested land.  As trees are replaced by buildings and roads, those hard surfaces will increase the stormwater flowing off the land, which can increase flooding and pollution to streams, and to the Haw River and Jordan Lake.  Chatham Park’s approval by the Town of Pittsboro included a requirement to use “exceptional design” to protect the environment, which includes managing stormwater. HRA believes it will not be possible to adequately control stormwater flooding and pollution with the number of houses and commercial areas they plan to build in this new city for 55,000 residents. We’re urging the Town for more trees and natural areas to be saved in this environmentally important land near the Haw River and Jordan Lake.

A general overview of our environmental concerns regarding Chatham Park can be viewed in this slideshow from 2015,  ” Conservation of Critical Resources in Chatham Park” 

An article HRA wrote that was published in the Chatham County line in September 2016 discusses “Is Chatham Park Sustainable?”

Though the Master Plan has been submitted and approved, many aspects of Chatham Park are not set in stone, and we will continue to educate the public and our elected officials and advocate for the health of the Haw River and Jordan Lake. Chatham Park’s Additional Elements have not been approved by the Town of Pittsboro, and these elements could have devastating implications on the health of our river.

  (Chatham Park Planned Development District Master Plan, Land Use Map 5/2015)


  (The above map shows the northern half of Chatham Park, above Hwy. 64 Business)

US Fish and Wildlife Concerns about Impact of Chatham Park

In 2010, there was an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) turned in to NC DENR as part of the NPDES  application for an expanded  Wastewater Treatment Plant  permit for Pittsboro that would include  new discharges into the Haw River. In that EIS, Pittsboro agrees that in regions of the Haw that  support the endangered Cape Fear Shiner , there will be larger riparian buffers and a zero percent change in the stormwater hydrograph after any development. This means that the water flow rate and quantity must be the same as pre-development levels, which is currently mostly forested land.The EIS can be found here.  The most recent letter from the US Fish and Wildlife Service  stating the implications of this agreement by Pittsboro to protect the Haw River can be found here.

Pittsboro and Chatham Park Oppose State’s Letter Telling them To Protect the Haw River (concerning the EIS in paragraph above).     Where is Public Transparency?

On May 3, 2018, the state Division of Water Resources sent a letter to the Town of Pittsboro saying that they needed to follow the mitigation strategies for new development (north of Hwy 64) for greater protections for the Haw River, especially wider stream buffers and enhanced stormwater management. Pittsboro had committed to these strategies in the EIS (environmental impact statement) that was part of their 2010 NPDES (wastewater) permit.  HRA asked the Town repeatedly if they had replied to the state’s letter but were not given an answer. We used public records requests to find out the following information:

 On June 4, both the Town of Pittsboro and Chatham Park sent petitions for a contested case hearing to challenge the Division of Water Resources (DWR) letter and to contest that Pittsboro needed to carry out the commitments it made in that EIS.   In July, the Town and Chatham Park asked (and were granted) a stay for the hearing so that they could have discussions with DWR. The stay has been repeatedly extended. Discussions have now been continued until April 10, 2019.

On September 8, Haw River Assembly sent a letter by email to the Pittsboro Town Board and Mayor apprising them of what we know and stating “… the Haw River Assembly believes that the public deserves to know what these discussions entail, since our air and water quality in the area surrounding Pittsboro will be greatly impacted by the development of Chatham Park, as well as the health of the aquatic ecosystem of the Haw River”  We believe the Town of Pittsboro should live up to their commitments to protect the Haw River made in 2010, and insist that Chatham Park take greater measures to protect water quality in their massive development, instead of contesting it.

On Tuesday, Sept. 18 the Southern Environmental Law Center sent a LETTER to the NC Dept. of Justice and DEQ on behalf of the Haw River Assembly, urging the state to hold Pittsboro and Chatham Park  responsible for protecting the Haw River and to hold them to the commitments made in the 2010 Environmental Impact Statement.

 Despite Opposition, Pittsboro Approved the Chatham Park Stormwater Element and Design Manual for Chatham Park on Oct. 8

The  “Additional Element” for Stormwater, is analogous to Town’s Stormwater Ordinance, but applied just to the Chatham Park Planned Development District (which has it’s own ordinances).  The Chatham Park Stormwater Design Manual  includes a point system that developers would use to meet a higher standard for environmental protections.  But, HRA has many concerns about the Stormwater Element and it’s untested “point system”, which may actually reward contractors for doing what is already required by law.  In February 2018, we submitted comments to the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners on the latest version of the Stormwater Element and design manual. Read our comments here.

Despite public outcry against taking a vote while discussions that include stormwater are going on with the state, the Town approved the latest version of Chatham Park’s Stormwater Element and Design Manual.  The vote was 3-2, with John Bonitz and Bett Foley Wilson voting against it, and questioning the timing of the approval. Mayor Perry also cautioned the Board about passing it and possible consequences in dealings with the state.

We believe that this vote should have been delayed until the Town and Chatham Park have concluded their current discussions with state agencies about the need for greater protections for water and the environment, including stormwater (that Pittsboro committed to as mitigation strategies in their 2010 NPDES Permit for wastewater).

On Nov. 15, 2018, Southern Environmental Law Center filed on behalf of the Haw River Assembly to Intervene in the Contested Cases in Order to Protect Haw River & Jordan Lake from Impacts of Massive Chatham Park Development in Pittsboro.

“Chatham Park investors and the Town of Pittsboro sued the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality in the OAH after the agency notified the town of failures to fulfill commitments made in Pittsboro’s permit application to expand its wastewater treatment plant to accommodate new development. In its permit application, Pittsboro committed to conservation measures and stormwater mitigation strategies that would help offset the dramatic increase in paved surface areas from the addition of 23 million square feet of commercial space and 27,570 residential dwelling units on the banks of the Haw River.“The Haw River Assembly wants to make sure the river and Jordan Lake are protected from the harm of such a massive development located directly on the banks of the Haw River.” said Elaine Chiosso, executive director of the Haw River Assembly”
Read the full  Press Release.

On March 2, our Petition to Intervene was denied by the Administrative Law Judge. 

On April 5, Southern Environmental Law Center filed a Petition for Judicial Review to appeal that decision.

Where are the Trees?  

Chatham Park Submits Inadequate “Tree Protection Additional Element”

Chatham Park, a proposed planned development on over 7000 acres, has submitted the latest revision of their Tree Protection Additional Element to the Pittsboro Town Board for their approval. We believe their proposed ordinance for minimum tree coverage and retention of existing trees is completely inadequate, and is full of loopholes.

Chatham Park could end up with a lot fewer trees than other cities in NC, a particularly tragic fate for this beautiful forestland along the Haw River and Jordan Lake. The revised Chatham Park Tree Protection rules would only require saving as little as 10% of the existing trees in much of Chatham Park’s development, with 0% in some of the densest areas, and with only 20% – 25% coverage in some residential areas after replanting (25% if all sparsely planted saplings).  In contrast, the current tree canopy (the amount of branches and leaves overhead) within the Town of Pittsboro is about 50%. Chatham Park claims that there saplings will eventually grow to provide equal tree canopy, but we do not see how their proposed Tree Protection Element would make that  a reality.

We believe there should be zero exceptions to providing or saving trees,  even in the most densely urban areas. The more urban an area, the greater the need for trees to provide shade and heat reduction, oxygen and better air quality and buffers against stormwater impacts. All new development must be seen in the context of how it impacts climate change and as currently proposed, Chatham Park will have a negative impact. At the very least, dense development should trigger much more preservation of the existing mature forest in Chatham Park, in unfragmented areas, especially in the 2000 ft. buffer along the Haw River, as was designated in Pittsboro’s Land Use Map.

Chatham Park claims to have based these rules on the city of Durham’s tree protection ordinance for their urban tier, meaning Chatham Park is using a model for density that would mimic the most urban kind of development. We do not believe the density and sparse tree coverage proposed by Chatham Park can be done without great harm to the Haw River, wildlife (including endangered species) and to Jordan Lake’s drinking water. Durham does not think their tree ordinance is protective enough, and is currently working to update it to be much more protective. See new ordinance changes:   Other cities are also trying to find ways to maintain or increase tree coverage. In an article in 2016 from UNC Urban Institute on Charlotte, A City of trees, but for how long? Canopy is loved but threatened they said: “In response to studies showing that the tree canopy was disappearing faster than it was being replanted, the Charlotte City Council in 2011 adopted a “50 percent by 2050”. The Town of Cary (home to Chatham Park developers) has 46% tree canopy coverage. Even New York City has tree canopy coverage of 24% .

Chapel Hill is a city of about the same population (almost 60,000) that Chatham Park is proposing. Chapel Hill’s tree coverage ordinance requires 30 – 40% tree coverage for almost all new development.  The known benefits of trees for air quality, water protection, and prevention of flooding are well documented. That’s why Chapel Hill’s tree protection ordinance was used as a model for Pittsboro by the town’s Conservation Ordinance Review Committee after their review of all NC municipal tree ordinances. Importantly, this Pittsboro model tree protection ordinance states that the highest priority is to maintain the existing trees. Chatham Park has argued that eventually the trees that are replanted will grow to provide a larger tree canopy cover, and that existing trees in open space, streets and mandated buffers will add to that. But how many trees? And how many will survive? Chatham Park should preserve more of the existing forest before the bulldozers arrive.

Other Concerns:

  • Land under “forestry management” programs in Chatham Park will be exempt from even this inadequate tree coverage. We fear that a large portion of the existing forests in Chatham Park will be logged or clear cut in advance of development as “forest management”
  • The root protection zone proposed for grading and construction is much smaller than most experts recommend and would result in root damage and poor tree survival.
  • 60% of the existing trees for a Tree Coverage Area need only be 2″ in diameter.Replanted canopy trees also only 2″ diameter, and understory trees only 1″. This could result in very large areas of small sapling trees, with little of the shade and stormwater benefits that forests provide.
  • This revision of  CP’s Tree Element (requirements) includes a very complicated and loosely designed “Tree Coverage Planning Area” (TCPA). At worst it could allow temporarily undeveloped forest to substitute for required tree coverage in a development. Chatham Park has indicated large combined areas of hundreds of acres could be averaged — meaning the low percentages they are requiring could be even lower. As currently written, the ordinance could allow counting an existing forested area towards tree coverage (TCA), and then later clearing it for a greenway or stormwater pond.
  • Existing mature trees can get double credit by being called “specimen trees” but without being exceptional. There is no provision for providing extra credit for preserving large areas of intact mature forest. Extra credit should only be allowed if the overall requirements are significantly increased, so that it doesn’t further undermine the current low requirements.

The bottom line is that in order for Chatham Park to fulfill the stated purposes of their Tree Protection Plan Additional Element, they will need to preserve much more of the forest that exists there today.  You can read the Haw River Assembly’s   HRA Letter to Town Board.

It was a great turnout for the Procession of Trees” on  Feb. 15 !


 (photo by Gary Simpson)

150  to  200 people turned out to Speak for the Trees  in Pittsboro, to show the Town Board our support for saving more trees in Chatham Park .  Much thanks to everyone for coming and to Jan Burger and other folks from Paperhand Puppet for all the art and puppets!  Watch a short video  about the Chatham Park Tree Protection issue – with footage from the Procession of the Trees (produced by Amanda Roberson with her footage, plus video and photos by Peter Theye, Mark Barroso and Gary Simpson).  See more photos of the event. taken by Gary Simpson

More resources on the importance of trees in urban and developed areas

How Many Urban Trees Are Needed to Lower Urban Heat?  A new study from University of Wisconsin concludes that for urban tree canopy to have any meaningful effect on heat reduction, there must be a minimum of 40% coverage

Tree Coverage Area and Tree Root Protection  Raj Butalia sent information to the Pittsboro Town Board that looks at Chatham Park’s use of “Tree Coverage Area” for tree protection in their development, instead of the more commonly accepted use of Tree Canopy. He explains why “Tree Coverage Area” may not adequately protect the large root area of mature trees. Read his report

2000′ Haw River Buffer Overlaid on Chatham Park Proposed Development   The Pittsboro Future Land Use Plan shows a buffer area of 2000; along the Haw River. Click on these maps to see what that 2000′ looks like when overlaid on Chatham Park’s map of their proposed North Village area (between Bynum ad Hwy 64)

HRA Suggestions to Town Board for Greater Percentages of Tree Coverage  and Why Chatham Park Needs Trees PLUS Affordable Housing  Read the Letter


Contact the Pittsboro Town Board

You don’t have to be a resident of Pittsboro to urge the elected officials of Pittsboro to do more to protect trees.  Much of Chatham County, and people throughout the region,will be impacted by Chatham Park’s air and water pollution, and the impacts on recreation and drinking water from Jordan Lake.


Cindy S. Perry


Pamela Baldwin (Mayor Pro Tem)

John Bonitz    (919) 360-249

Michael A. Fiocco   (919) 542-7079

 Jay Farrell

Bett Wilson Foley

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