Chatham Park, in Pittsboro, Chatham County

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 now been continued until Feb. 9, 2011.

The Haw River Assembly (HRA) believes that the public deserves to know that the Town of Pittsboro and Chatham Park have brought contested cases before the Office of Administrative Hearing in regards to the May 3, 2018 letter from NC Division of Water Quality, and that there is a stay on the hearing while discussions take place between the parties.  All of us who will be impacted by Chatham Park development need to know what is being discussed, and how it will impact the protection of land and waters.

These are the documents we received through Public Record Requests to the state: Park-Petition-for-Contested-Case-Filed-3.pdf

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 Thursday Nov. 15, SELC  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.

The discussions between the state and Chatham Park/Pittsboro have now been extended to March 11.  Why are they contesting the state’s demand that greater environmental protections must be in place in order to protect the Haw River, as Chatham Park is built?  Profit motive is probably why Chatham Park is not willing to do more  – but what about Pittsboro?  We urge the Town to do what’s right, and to insist on greater protections for water, and air, and most of all, it’s own people, as Chatham Park is built.

Where are the Trees? 

Chatham Park Submits Inadequate “Tree Protection Additional Element”

On  January 28, 2019, Chatham Park  submitted yet another revised version of their Tree Protection Additional Element to the Pittsboro Town Board for their approval, before the town even had time to discuss the previous one.  We believe their proposed rules for minimum tree coverage and retention of existing trees are completely inadequate and are full of loopholes.

Chatham Park could end up with fewer trees than any other city 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 or sparsely replanting, as little as 10% of the existing tree coverage for much of Chatham Park 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 coverage within Pittsboro’s town limits (a fairly small area that includes downtown) is about 50%. Even New York City has an existing tree canopy coverage of  24%  according to milliontreesNYC urban forest facts.  These facts include:

  • Number of trees on New York City streets: 592,130 
  • Annual pollution removal: 2,202 tons
  • Annual carbon storage: 1.35 million tons
  • Annual stormwater capture: 890 million gallons
  • A large, healthy tree removes almost 70 times more air pollution each year than a small or newly planted tree.
  • Total annual benefits from street trees: $122 million ($209 per tree)

We believe there should be zero exceptions, 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.  Chatham Park will be a negative impact. At the very least, dense development should trigger tree coverage requirements with more tree coverage elsewhere to be provided as mitigation

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 worst urban kinds of development. We do not believe that this density and sparse tree coverage that Chatham Park proposes can be done without great harm to the Haw River, wildlife (including endangered species) and to Jordan Lake’s drinking water. The City of Durham does not think their own tree ordinance is protective enough, and is currently working to update it to be more protective. 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”.

Chapel Hill is a city of about the same population (almost 60,000) that Chatham Park is proposing, but on a much bigger piece of land: Chapel Hill is on 13,632 acres compared to Chatham Parks’ 7020 acres. Chapel Hill’s tree coverage ordinance now requires 30 – 40% tree coverage for almost all new development.  The known benefits of trees for air quality, water protection, stormwater mitigation and prevention of flooding are well documented. That is why Chapel Hill’s tree canopy 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, it states that  the highest priority is to maintain the existing trees. Read the report:  Recommendations for Implementing a Tree Protection Ordinance in the Town of Pittsboro.

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”
  • 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 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 (below) of their Tree Protection Plan Additional Element, they will need to preserve much more of the forest that exists there today. The newly added point #11 seems to be the only real purpose of this plan.

  1. Emphasize the importance of trees and vegetation as both visual and physical buffers.
  2. Moderate temperature and promote energy conservation.
  3. Promote carbon dioxide absorption and oxygen production.
  4. Reduce the harmful effects of wind, heat, noise and glare.
  5. Improve surface drainage and aquifer recharge.
  6. Prevent Reduce soil erosion while promoting soil stabilization and enrichment.
  7. Provide shade.
  8. Reduce water pollution.
  9. Provide wildlife habitat.
  10. Encourage the protection and planting of native trees.

 11.Enhance the aesthetic qualities of Chatham Park and its built environment as a means of improving quality of life and attracting new businesses and residents.

Contacts for Pittsboro Board of Commissioners

If you wish to share your thoughts with Pittsboro’s elected officials about requiring greater protection of our waters and forests as Chatham Park is built (and in the new town-wide Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), here is the contact info:
Cindy S. Perry
Pamela Baldwin (Mayor Pro Tem)
Michael A. Fiocco
(919) 542-7079
 J. A. (Jay) Farrell
Bett Wilson Foley
 John Bonitz
(919) 360-2492

If you would like to be added to a list serve for updates from Haw River Assembly on Chatham Park environmental issues please send your name, email address, and location (what county or city) to