PITTSBORO — Another large mixed-use development may be coming to Pittsboro, but it could take longer than initially anticipated.
Developers approached commissioners during the board’s regular meeting last week with plans for a 212-acre neighborhood — Robeson Walk, originally brought to the board in 2019 — with between 600 and 900 housing units and up to 50,000 square feet of commercial developments south of the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 64 Business and East Street and adjacent to Industrial Drive.
Commissioners, however, raised concerns regarding affordable housing and loss of industrial land, resulting in the indefinite tabling of the project.
Parts of the development where Robeson Walk is targeted for is zoned as an M-2 region, designated for industrial developments under Pittsboro’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). Commissioner Jay Farrell raised his concerns regarding the potential loss of industrial land in town.
“We would have 212 acres that we would be losing to residential,” he said. “I know our amount of M-2 is dwindling; there are other developments that are coming, and it really concerns me because we are limited in acreage for M-2.”
Farrell wasn’t alone in his concern.
Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Baldwin also sounded the alarm regarding the conversion of the industrial land to townhomes, single family homes and multi-family homes.
“I would like to see some manufacturing, even though it seems as if we are going towards residential,” she said. “There are reasons that towns do have industries, of course, it expands your tax base. So I would certainly like to see that.”
Attorney Mac McCarley addressed Farrell’s and Baldwin’s concerns, saying he believes industries would rather pick a site outside of a municipality’s corporate limits.
“Industries typically prefer to be outside of a city so they are only paying county taxes,” McCarley said. “Since the water and sewer infrastructure is probably going to be delivered to the Vinfast project in the Moncure area before anyone else, I would suspect that most industrial development is going to end up out there.”
Pittsboro Planning Director Teresa Thompson oversees the approval process for development proposals such as Robeson Walk. She said when the board approved the town’s UDO, that approval included a recommendation from the planning department to hold off on rezoning the parcels of land for Robeson Walk.
“When we proposed adopting the UDO staff included in our recommendations what we could do with our M-2 districts,” Thompson said. “We recommended waiting until we update the land use plan and include the heavy industrial zoning district as a more of a focus area or small area plan of the larger land use plan.”
Industrial land zoning wasn’t the board’s only concern.
Commissioners were wary of the proposed affordable housing element for Robeson Walk. Developers offered at least 10% of the residential properties to be for “qualified individuals” who make between 80% and 120% of the area median income (AMI); affordable housing is defined as housing costing no more than 30% of an individual’s total gross annual income.
Chatham County uses the Durham-Chapel Hill Metro FMR Area’s AMI as a basis to calculate the percentages to determine a definition for low income for the region. The AMI for Chatham County according to the county’s Housing Trust Fund was $90,900, with 80% of the AMI being $50,900 for one person and $72,700 for a family of four.
The county’s housing trust defines affordable housing to be “affordable to households with annual incomes at or below 80% of the Area Median Income.” The proposed affordable housing element for Robeson Walk would be considered workforce housing by Chatham County standards — housing costing below 120% of the AMI, which would be $109,080 for the county.
Commissioner Kyle Shipp asked McCarley why the developers decided to not follow the town’s approved affordable housing incentives, which would allow developers to build more units per acre and provide fee rebates and expedited plan reviews.
“We spent a lot of time developing the incentive policy in November modified in February,” Shipp said. “I am curious to know from your perspective why that’s not a valuable policy to take note of. We imagine it’s valuable, but no one has taken advantage of it yet.”
The Robeson Walk project was initially brought before commissioners and planning staff in 2019, prior to the passage of the Chatham Park Affordable Housing incentives.
McCarley said expedited review and fee rebates were not as important to the developers, given that the project has been in the planning stages for over three years.
“We did not want smaller lot sizes or density bonuses,” McCarley said. “We are aiming for quality development, and we’re willing to add affordable housing despite not getting incentives.”
No matter what issues commissioners and planning staff have with the rezoning request for the Robeson Walk development, Pittsboro Town Manager Chris Kennedy said it was ultimately the commissioners’ decision about what was best for the town.
“The applicant is seeking to convince (the board) that this is a better vision for the town, and that’s what every rezoning is,” he said.
“We have something in front of us today that we did not have in 2012, so I think the conversation for the board is what is your vision for the town in general,” he said.
The board voted unanimously to table the rezoning request indefinitely for Robeson Walk. Shipp said commissioners didn’t feel comfortable granting while there were still details developers were sorting out.
“I don’t understand from the developer’s perspective of wanting to lock this land for this purpose at this point without a defined timeline for when you’d be able to start development,” Shipp said. “I think with the recent announcement of Vinfast, we need to take a much more careful look before we rezone anything M-2 away from that designation.”
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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