Pittsboro approves Chatham Park development agreement, Duke Energy project

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PITTSBORO — After months of contentious discussion, the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Monday night to enter into a 25-year development agreement with Chatham Park Investors for the 7,000-acres of the Chatham Park Planned Development District.

Only Commissioner John Bonitz, who sought a shorter 15-year agreement, voted against the measure.

Commissioners also approved a small area plan and set a public hearing for the affordable housing component of the Chatham Park development for October 25.

A development agreement allows for developers and town staff to form a strategy to take on future development, but one of the main concerns brought by commissioners with the original agreement was its proposed 40-year-long contract.

Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Baldwin said she liked what the rest of the agreement provided, but thought 40 years was too long of a window for a development timeline.

“The 40 years, I could not agree to that,” she said. “The other information in the development agreement I’m pretty pleased with that, but basically the time span could be, for me, either 20 or 25 years.”

Commissioner Michael Fiocco said 25 years would allow more time in the event delays were to occur in construction or development of Chatham Park.

“It’s a substantial burden, and I think the need for some clarity in what the future holds,” he said. “Working underneath this agreement, it is important we extend it to 25.”

“The reasonable number would be 15, which is the same number that the Sanford forced main agreement between the Town of Pittsboro and the Town of Sanford, and the other agreement between Chatham Park investors and the town hinges on that 15-year period,” Bonitz argued. “I think that gives both parties confidence.”

Chatham Park attorney Ken Eagle said a 15-year window would not allow enough time to complete the development.

“That does not give us the confidence that you may think it does,” Eagle said. “Quite frankly, that is too short of a time given the vast amount of resources that are committed to this project.”

Pittsboro Town Manager Chris Kennedy said a development agreement would help ensure decisions made in the past regarding the development of Chatham Park are upheld.

“So all of your plans that are adopted, amendments to the elements as they are needed in the future, all of those things are future approved in the language we have presented,” he said. “All this does is say for whatever term the board agrees upon that the same decisions that have been made to date are carried for that duration.”

Fiocco said he believed the town would benefit from Chatham Park’s success, so it was in Pittsboro’s best interest to make sure the project is seen through to the end.

“We have a vested interest in Chatham Park being successful, and I think the difference between 20 and 25 years could be an important piece of that success,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough the uncertainty of land development and the obstacles that present themselves along the way, and they are making an enormous, enormous investment and to give them the ability to succeed I think is worthy of those additional five years.”

Duke Energy’s report

Commissioners also listened to a presentation from Duke Energy representatives regarding outage issues in town.

Mark Spivey, the director of area operations in Chatham County for Duke Energy, said the leading cause of outages in Pittsboro was due to vegetation such as trees or vines. In June of last year, Duke Energy targeted more than 20 areas where vegetation was seen as a threat for potential power outages.

“We got the crews to go out and clear those locations we felt would cause an outage,” Spivey said.

However, the power demand in Pittsboro requires more than just maintaining the plant growth. Duke Energy is planning to build a new substation for the town to help alleviate some of the strain on the current system in place.

Micah Retzlaff is the lead transmission sighting manager for Duke Energy. He presented the plans for the new substation to commissioners. In his presentation, Retzlaff said the new substation would help increase reliability and provide more capacity for future customers as Pittsboro continues to grow.

“There is only one substation serving Pittsboro and most of the areas in eastern Chatham County,” Retzlaff said. “We have identified that our existing load there in Pittsboro and surrounding areas is driving the need for a new station.”

The new substation would be placed on a 17-acre plot already owned by Duke Energy and would construct a tap line over a mile long to connect the substation to the town. This project is projected to be completed by the spring of 2023.

Duke Energy is also in the process of rebuilding its current substation in Pittsboro, which has been in the works since this July. Rodney Hutcherson, Duke’s vice president of construction and maintenance, said this will also help solve some of the outage problems Pittsboro faces.

“The capacity needed to be increased at the substation, and while we were doing that, we decided to go ahead and rebuild the substation to some more modern standards, with some newer equipment,” Hutcherson said.

Duke Energy plans to finish the rebuilding of the substation by December.

Other meeting business

• The Boys & Girls Club of Pittsboro will officially open Monday. The club will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony, with refreshments, at George Moses Horton Middle School at 10 a.m. that same day, according to Commissioner Kyle Shipp.

Staff will be registering students all this week at the club from 3 to 6 p.m. The registration fee for the entire school year is $52.

“Anybody that can hear me is invited — and anybody else, too,” Shipp said.

• Commissioners voted 3-2 against renewing the Memorandum of Understanding with Main Street Pittsboro for the next fiscal year and decided instead to form a Downtown Advisory Board to manage the program.

• Commissioners approved a resolution permitting town attorney Paul S. Messick Jr. to evaluate the viability of legal claims against PFAS chemical manufacturers and other actors, as well as assess whether the town should move forward with any litigation.

Under the resolution, Messick will also consider and perhaps identify potential law firms to serve as outside counsel on a contingency fee basis should the town decide to move forward with litigation. The attorney must present his recommendations to the board within 90 days of the resolution.

PFAS, a family of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, can lead to several negative health effects, including elevated risks of thyroid disease and testicular and kidney cancer. Many studies, including a national investigation by Consumer Reports, have identified PFAS concentrations in Pittsboro’s water — drawn from the Haw River — as among the highest in the country.

During Monday’s meeting, several Pittsboro residents urged the town to continue working toward ensuring the safety of Pittsboro’s drinking water. Among them, resident Jessica Merricks expressed cautious support for the resolution — with a caveat.

“It seems to imply that the town attorney needs to assess the viability of such legal claims,” she told the board during the meeting’s public comment section. “We were under the impression that that viability has already essentially been established, so I’m wondering if there is still doubt or question in terms of whether or not we need to be pursuing litigation. Obviously the folks here in town are in support of folks moving forward.”

Reporters Taylor Heeden and Victoria Johnson can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com and victoria@chathamnr.com respectively.


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