North Woods neighbors make headway in their fight to preserve land

Posted 8/25/21

PITTSBORO — Two weeks after pledging to assist property owners in Pittsboro’s North Woods neighborhood with their campaign to redirect the impending North Chatham Park Way road, Pittsboro’s …

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North Woods neighbors make headway in their fight to preserve land

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Posted

PITTSBORO — Two weeks after pledging to assist property owners in Pittsboro’s North Woods neighborhood with their campaign to redirect the impending North Chatham Park Way road, Pittsboro’s board of commissioners appears to have made good on its promise after insisting the N.C. Dept. of Transportation reevaluate the highway’s planned alignment and more seriously consider a trajectory through Chatham Park-owned land.

In its regular meeting Monday, the board entertained a presentation from NCDOT explaining the latter’s decision to build the North Chatham Park Way through privately owned land in North Woods. The road’s design has been hotly contested for months, with NCDOT proffering several road “Alternatives” for public comment and discussion. The months-long conversation was abruptly cut short in June, though, when NCDOT announced it would move forward with plans to bisect the neighborhood, according to a NCDOT email obtained by the News + Record. The department had previously suggested it might amend the proposed alignment to circumvent the North Woods community.

The NCDOT-selected road alignment is known as Alternative 6 and would see the 2.7-mile, four-lane highway run through North Woods’ 200-acre, private community of 17 properties. The four-lane highway is necessary, NCDOT has said, to serve the many thousands of new residents who will inhabit Chatham Park in coming years, and to mitigate traffic issues through downtown Pittsboro. Already, a section of the larger Chatham Park Way has been constructed between U.S. Hwy. 64 and Suttles Road, but North Chatham Park Way would extend the road to U.S. Hwy. 15-501.

Since learning of NCDOT’s intentions earlier this year, the North Woods neighbors have campaigned for a compromise known as Alternative 7. In the board’s previous meeting on Aug. 9, neighborhood representatives implored the commissioners to support them in calling for NCDOT to amend its plans. Instead of dividing the North Woods neighborhood, the Alternative 7 road alignment would run 200 yards east of Alternative 6, closer to the community’s border with Chatham Park, which sits immediately to the east.

But in their presentation Monday, NCDOT representatives argued Alternative 7 was inadvisable due to its greater environmental impact.

“NCDOT determined that Alternative 6 was the least environmentally damaging, preferred alternative,” said Teresa Gresham, of Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., a Raleigh-based engineering consultancy. “It was anticipated to have the fewest impacts to streams, residents and businesses.”

The commissioners agreed with the agency’s decision to minimize environmental impact, but objected to its solution. Instead of shifting the road west, deeper into North Woods land, they said, NCDOT should move the highway east, entirely onto Chatham Park land.

“I’m really concerned about this,” Commissioner Jay Farrell said. “I’m going to really be pushing for the DOT to examine going ... on Chatham Park’s property.”

Several commissioners and Mayor Jim Nass echoed his sentiment.

“I would like for them to look at this alternative,” Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Baldwin said, referring to Farrell’s suggestion.

But no formal alternative to traverse Chatham Park land has been studied by NCDOT. When Commissioner Michael Fiocco questioned why a road alignment through Chatham Park was not included among the options listed in NCDOT’s presentation, Patrick Norman, NCDOT division 8 engineer, admitted his team had not thoroughly investigated that possibility.

“We have not studied that alignment in detail,” he said, citing perceived inconsistencies with previously adopted plans as reason for having dismissed the option.

“But hearing the stance from the commissioners,” he said, “... we will move forward with that review of that alternative.”

For Mark Pavao, a North Woods neighbor who spoke at the meeting and has spearheaded the community’s efforts to shift North Chatham Park Way’s alignment, the board’s argument against Alternative 6 felt like a “breakthrough in our campaign,” he told the News + Record.

“North Woods neighbors are very grateful to Mayor Nass, Mayor Pro Tem Baldwin and Commissioners (John) Bonitz, Farrell, (Michael) Fiocco and (Kyle) Shipp for their time and attention to learning about the potentially devastating impact of the proposed North Chatham Park Way,” he said. “Commissioner Fiocco’s suggestion, endorsed by all, to study a new alternative east of North Woods on high ground between two streams looks like a very good option. North Woods is thankful that our town leaders have asked, and NCDOT has agreed, to explore that option. Of course, any change will produce consequences that must be considered and weighed, but we are hopeful that our Pittsboro community will strongly weigh the benefit of preserving North Woods.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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