To balance the needs of future industry and population boom with the desires of current residents, Chatham officials are using outside consultants to create Plan Moncure — a Small Area Plan to project and plan for what the southeastern portion of the county will look like in the wake of the huge investment by VinFast and its ripple effects.
The process for devising that Small Area Plan began as soon as VinFast made its announcement in March to invest $4 billion in an electric vehicle plant — and create 7,500 jobs — in Moncure.
Due to the scope and scale of the VinFast project and requirements in Chatham’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), the process for the Small Area Plan was triggered. The first phase of planning meetings by consulting groups began in June.
Last month, the Chatham Board of Commissioners and the public got a first glimpse of the Small Area Plan, of which White & Smith LLC, a Kansas City-based planning and law consulting group, was the lead project consultant.
Phase one of the plan included preliminary findings of the report, adding additional consulting groups to the process and laying out a timeline for final rollout. After hearing phase one, commissioners voted unanimously to renew the contract of White & Smith, which means work on phase two will begin later this month.
The SAP calls for focused planning in areas of economic development in and around Triangle Innovation Point, the megasite that will house VinFast.
The boundaries of the study area addressed in the plan include the Chatham County limits from the south and east sides; the U.S. Hwy. 15-501 corridor defines the western edge; and the town of Pittsboro’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), Jordan Lake, and the Study Area of the Chatham–Cary Joint Land Use Plan, in combination, demarcate the northern boundary.
In addition to these overarching goals for the SAP, the plan must also abide by the objectives of the county’s Land Use Plan — Plan Chatham — and its future Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), which is also managed by White & Smith. The UDO, also called Recode Chatham, maps a plan for the future by simplifying and amending existing ordinances dealing with zoning, subdivisions, stormwater and other land use issues.
The UDO is expected to be presented to the public toward the end of 2023, after the issues of the initial drafts are addressed. The process began in 2021 and was anticipated to take two years to complete.
Plan Moncure hopes to ease fears in the community around that growth and ensure the county is prepared for what is to come.
Many landowners in the area have already looked to the future and see opportunities. According to the SAP, since the March 2022 VinFast announcement, Chatham has rezoned more than 620 acres of land through 11 rezoning requests.
Most of the requests move properties from commercial to industrial zoning. Typically, commercial zones include firms like offices, restaurants and plazas while industrial zones include manufacturing centers, warehouses or loading centers.
The final plan is expected to be presented before the board of commissioners in August. Until then, commissioners have exercised their legislative discretion to pause taking legislative action on new rezoning requests for the Moncure area as outlined in the plan.
This means rezoning requests previously heard by the board will continue through the county’s planning board, but no new rezoning requests in this area will receive final approval by commissioners until the final plan is presented.
If seen all the way through, the SAP will cost the county $418,500 with more than 2,100 total hours of work between seven project managing firms, according to the budget sheet released by White & Smith.
The project is split into five total phases: Initiation (already completed), Analysis, Plan Development, Recommendations, and Documentation & Adoption. Each phase has different cost estimates and hour expectations for each firm involved and the potential for amendments depending on the progress of the report.
The first phase had an estimated cost of $78,475. Phases two and three have estimated costs of more than $120,000 each. The final two phases are expected to cost more than $30,000 each.
While White & Smith is the lead project manager; the other firms involved include Nealon Planning, Green Heron, Economic Leader, Freese & Nichols, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) and CEI Engineering.
The first phase of Plan Moncure and timelines for future phases are laid out in a 110-page report from White & Smith. The document lays out the necessity of the SAP: managing growth from VinFast.
The new manufacturer is one of several large economic investments in the region driving the predicted population boom of more than 20,000 residents to Chatham over that same span.
The exponential growth has been foreseen since before VinFast put pen to paper in March, and existing Chatham residents have expressed concern that new development may harm the character of the town.
In the 2017 Land Use Plan, the top four responses of residents for their vision about the future of the county included preserving rural character; managing growth and focusing on quality growth near towns and centers; creating jobs and economic opportunity throughout the county; and preserving the natural environment and agriculture.
White & Smith aims to abide by the voices of Chathamites as they proceed in the development of the SAP. Public engagement strategies for the SAP include stakeholder interviews, small group meetings, online forums and community open houses throughout the year.
Over the next seven months, the planning consultants will continue to provide updates to the Chatham Board of Commissioners and the public. The next presentation is expected to occur at the February BOC meeting where key findings are expected to be shared. Another update of the preferred land use map will occur around April and the zoning strategy will be shared in June. The process will conclude with the creation and adoption of Plan Moncure, the completion of which is anticipated in the third quarter of 2023.
For more information and to view a full draft of phase one of Plan Moncure visit www.recodechathamnc.org.
Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @b_rappaport.
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