PITTSBORO — Randall Cahoon-Tingle has spent the last decade following the progress of one of the largest developments in N.C. history — Chatham Park. As a municipal planner, he said the project always intrigued him.
Cahoon-Tingle was named Pittsboro’s planning director in April, and will now help oversee the project and other development endeavors in town.
“There are certainly a lot of economic opportunities here in Pittsboro,” he said. “I would definitely like to continue to see the downtown just keep getting better and better.”
Cahoon-Tingle was born and raised in New Bern, which he said started to go through its own development to become the city North Carolinians know today. However, municipal planning wasn’t what Cahoon-Tingle imagined he would be doing.
He originally worked at the art department of the New Bern Sun Journal as a proofreader and page designer. After a major car accident, however, his path shifted.
“I realized when I was laying there on the stretcher that I was going to have to find a different job, so that meant going back to school midway through life,” Cahoon-Tingle said.
He found himself at an information session at East Carolina University, and while he was there to learn more about the environmental health program, Cahoon-Tingle met Dr. Harold Stone, the director of the university’s urban planning program.
“He said I could just try it for a few minutes and see if I liked it, and clearly, I enjoyed it,” Cahoon-Tingle said. “I chose planning because it seemed like it would be fun and interesting.”
The New Bern native found himself working for Wilson County in its planning department. He went on to serve as a planner in seven other jurisdictions including Creedmoor, Sharpsburg and Angier.
He believes those jobs have given him a diverse experience into the different sectors of planning, which he said will be helpful in his new position in Pittsboro.
“In a very small town you are required to be very versatile,” he said. “What that brings to this job is a broad knowledge base and a lot of experience in a lot of areas where a lot of planners will have no experience, and that’s helpful.”
A physical example of Cahoon-Tingle’s experience as a planner can be found in Selma, N.C., where he worked as their planning and development director for almost four years.
While there, Cahoon-Tingle was responsible for the oversight of the Eastfield Crossing Business Park — an almost 400 acre mixed-use development which will be comprised of “a business park, retail, medical, professional space, hospitality, entertainment, senior living as well as single- and multi-family residences,” according to the Johnston County Economic Development organization’s website.
The Johnstonian News reported the project had been in the works for more than a decade before it broke ground on Aug. 24, 2021, but experienced delays because of the 2008 Great Recession and the Covid-19 pandemic. Cahoon-Tingle was responsible for the project from 2018 until he left Selma later that year, and he said that experience will be helpful in navigating the Chatham Park development.
“Eastfield is like a smaller version of Chatham Park,” he said. “I think that some of the ambivalence and some of the local feelings about those two projects are similar. There’s a lot of similarities.”
However, Cahoon-Tingle isn’t just focused on expanding Chatham Park — He wants to see the downtown district grow with more local businesses, or as Cahoon-Tingle calls them, “mom and pop shops.”
“It’s interesting to see what options there are, but I think there’s more opportunities for hospitality related places in that area,” he said. “I do not see downtown as a place for your standard franchised, corporate types of businesses. I love the mom and pop shops, I’m so into the home-grown businesses, and I want to keep those here.”
Some Pittsboro residents have expressed their concerns regarding Chatham Park and the growth it will bring to the historically small community. Current estimates show over 60,000 people moving to Chatham Park over the next couple of decades, and Cahoon-Tingle said it’s important to remember this growth isn’t happening overnight.
“I do not believe that this is going to be something you blink your eyes for and Chatham Park is going to be finished — There’s a great deal more to do,” he said. “I think that it’s human nature to want to jump ahead, but I believe that as it grows into what it’s going to be, I believe that you’re going to find that a lot of local people will look back and think, ‘That’s just what we needed.’”
Pittsboro’s new planning director has several goals for the town he wants to see come to fruition, aside from Chatham Park and economic development.
As an avid walker, Cahoon-Tingle said he wants to see Pittsboro become more pedestrian friendly with more crosswalks, sidewalks and even electric scooters.
“I cannot walk to town hall from this beautiful office I’m in,” Cahoon-Tingle said. “I cannot walk from town hall to the courthouse without changing the side of the street I’m on … There has to be a way to be in Chatham Park and get to downtown without ever getting in a car. It can be done.”
For Cahoon-Tingle, the few weeks he’s been in Pittsboro have felt different than other jobs. He said this position is one where, for the first time, it feels like he’s going home when he drives to work.
“This place has a very positive energy and it aligns most closely with my personal and professional aspirations,” he said. “I’ve never felt that before … There’s just really an inviting attitude. I was pleasantly surprised that it’s kind of hard to remember I’m in government.”
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at email@example.com.