Pittsboro approves affordable housing element for Chatham Park

BY TAYLOR HEEDEN, News + Record Staff
Posted 11/23/21

PITTSBORO — After almost two hours of discussion, the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to approve the last of Chatham Park’s “additional elements” component …

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Pittsboro approves affordable housing element for Chatham Park

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PITTSBORO — After almost two hours of discussion, the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Monday to approve the last of Chatham Park’s “additional elements” components — requiring 7.5%, or 1,650, of the planned community’s 22,000 market-rate housing units — to be affordable housing.

Only Commissioner John Bonitz dissented, saying he was “astonished” the board favored moving ahead with the controversial element without additional discussion.

With the vote, the board approved the affordable housing element with the changes the rest of the board agreed to during Monday’s evening. 

Bonitz said he didn’t feel comfortable voting on it without further discussion on concerns about the elements he’s received from the public, as well as changes some board members suggested on Monday night — such as not requiring parks or recreational space among affordable units. 

“This is highly inappropriate policy making to be editing an important document like this that has massive implications for decades to come,” Bonitz said. “I am astonished that the board went along with it again — approving an element based on verbal edits not yet put in writing, I’m just astonished. I’m kind of horrified, really.”

Affordable housing was the final element of 12 approved for the Chatham Park development after the initial approval, back in 2015, of Chatham Park’s master plan. The additional elements address specific issues related to things such as lighting and tree protection and cover. 

Pittsboro’s governing body would be allowed to revise the affordable housing element in the future if it were needed, but Town Manager Chris Kennedy encouraged commissioners to make sure all of the edits they wanted were voiced before voting on Monday. 

“Elements can be amended over time, but I think it is in everyone’s best interest to have them as correct as possible when you adopt them,” Kennedy said. “I think we can all agree to that.” 

Commissioner Michael Fiocco made the motion to approve the Chatham Park affordable housing element, with the amendments Chatham Park presented to the board. Commissioner Pamela Baldwin seconded the motion. 

“This meeting is the last one where I will be participating in votes, and this item is one near to my heart,” Fiocco said while making the motion Monday. “I would like to work through it, and I would like make a decision tonight.”

Fiocco’s reelection bid failed earlier this month, ending a 12-year run on the board. He finished third in the commission board’s Nov. 2 general election race which saw Baldwin reelected and newcomer James Vose, who will take office Dec. 13, finish second.

In the original proposal in 2016, Chatham Park offered to make 1% of its residential developments affordable housing units. Monday’s approved plan had Chatham Park agreeing to 7.5% of residential properties being affordable homes — a major increase. Of those, 90% of the affordable housing units would be multi-family homes, such as duplexes, apartments and more, while the other 10% would be allocated for single-family homes. 

The policy will also allow for Chatham Park developers to receive a density bonus for developing affordable units, which can be beneficial if the town were to pursue affordable housing tax credits or applying for funding for public transit, according to town officials. 

The amended proposal from Monday also allowed for Chatham Park to create affordable housing developments up to half a mile outside its borders. Pittsboro will also create a housing trust — which would operate as a non-profit — as well as work with the county tax office to ensure 2.5% of town tax revenue paid by the Chatham Park property owners over the next 30 years will go towards affordable housing. 

After the meeting, Fiocco said he felt it was a crucial step for the town of Pittsboro, adding that an affordable housing policy would help to diversify the types of housing Pittsboro has to offer. 

“We’ve heard that one of the things that is really lacking in Pittsboro is apartment-style living,” he said. “We’ve recently had some apartment complexes come in, but those tend to be naturally occurring affordable housing because of the type of product that it is, so this will increase the amount and opportunity for folks to have lower costing, good housing.”

Bonitz supports a mandatory affordable housing requirement for the Chatham Park development, but thinks the policy passed on Monday won’t be enough for Pittsboro. 

“The first proposal [back in 2016] offered only 1% of the total as affordable housing, whereas the version last night promises 7.5% affordable,” he said. “This is better, but experts said we needed 15%.”

Bonitz also didn’t like the way the policy was ultimately passed. He said approving a document before seeing verbal edits were provided in writing is not the way a high-impacting policy, such as the Chatham Park Affordable Housing Element, should be passed. 

“The edits had not yet been written, they were verbal, the final document had not been published, and I don’t think we all truly understood all the complexities and implications,” Bonitz told the News + Record. “We received expert input mere hours before the meeting, and with the stress of knowing the vote would be forced left me incapable of voicing all of these detailed and complex issues and problems under those circumstances. Good policy cannot be crafted under duress.”

Fiocco, on the other hand, felt the policy wasn’t rushed; discussions regarding affordable housing in Chatham Park have been ongoing for almost 10 years. 

“I was involved early on with Chatham Park since 2011, 2012 when they started talking about the master plan,” he said. “I knew back in 2012 there was going to be an affordable housing component to Chatham Park, and it was a matter of working through the details. Here we are, 2021, and the final details for us that were put in place last night (Monday).”

Even after the vote on Monday night, Bontiz said he feels pushing the vote to Dec. 13 would have ensured what he called “a better policy for all parties.” Dec. 13 is also when mayor-elect Cindy Perry and commissioner-elect James Vose will be sworn into office — with Fiocco going off the baord — and Bonitz said he thought the transition of power would have helped to create a better policy. 

“I am confident that the board to be organized on December 13 could have gotten a better policy for all parties, if only because the language would be complete, finalized, published and we could have all understood it better and possibly reached a broadly shared trust,” Bonitz said. “Instead, because of a rushed process, this policy will carry the stain of having been negotiated largely behind closed doors, rushed through the public process, and overall been given less effort and attention than the Landscaping Element.”

Fiocco said passing the policy before he left the board was of upmost importance to him. 

“The town is serious about providing for lower income housing and working hard to be a caveat for such housing,” he said. “I’ve worked extremely hard on all of the elements, and I was really happy to be able to put a bow on this one.” 

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com.

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