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1. Chatham County now has a Land Use Plan – indeed, a comprehensive land use plan – passed unanimously by the Board of Commissioners (“BOC”) on November 5, 2001. Its name is the Chatham County Land Conservation and Development Plan. It is 68 pages long and is available on the Chatham County website at

It is quite amazing that the current land use process has begun with no reference to the existing Land Use Plan. One would think that in connection with any proposal for a new land use plan, the question would be asked whether there are problems with the existing plan and whether it is in need of revision. But, amazingly, those questions have not been raised or discussed.
The existing Land Use Plan was developed by a committee of the Planning Board (referred to as the “Project Citizens Advisory Team”), which held meetings over the course of almost three years in 1998–2000. It was assisted by competent planners associated with the Triangle J Council of Governments. The committee meetings were all open and, in addition, public comment was sought and received. A virtually full-page summary of the Plan was published in the Chatham News/Record on October 19, 2000.
However, now it is occasionally said:

– That the existing plan is never used;

– That it has no map;

– That it does not “cover” the existing towns;

– That the existing plan is “out of date.”

But it is used. Section 17.1 of the Zoning Ordinance provides that for the issuance of a conditional use permit, the BOC must find (among other things) that “[t]he requested permit will be consistent with the objectives of the Land Use Plan.” (“Land Use Plan” is defined by the Ordinance to mean The Chatham County Land Conservation and Development Plan.) In addition, the Plan is referenced by developers in connection with the filing of proposed projects.
Although the proposed map associated with the Plan was not adopted, the provisions of the Plan clearly indicate geographical areas where certain activities should occur or facilities should be provided. Indeed, the map that was proposed with the Plan is not much more specific than are the descriptions in the Plan. For example, the Plan recommends that development be guided toward existing towns and away from areas with valued environmental or rural qualities; that public water and sewer be provided in towns and economic centers, not in rural areas recommended for low-density growth; that the 5-acre lot size be retained in watershed protection areas; and that commerce and industry be located in existing towns and designated industrial areas.
The Plan identifies eight “Economic Center Locations” as follows:

– An area south of Pittsboro along US 15-501;

– An area south of Siler City on US 421;

– The Moncure-Haywood area;

– The Goldston-Gulf area;

– The Bonlee area;

– The area just west of the Wake County line near the US 64/NC 751 intersection;

– An area just south of the Orange County line on US 15-501;

– An area on NC 751 near Durham.

These areas are fairly well-defined, even without the assistance of a map. The proposed map itself simply shows circles indicating these areas.

In any event, the proposed map for the current Land Use Plan still exists and could still be adopted or modified and adopted.

As regards coverage of the towns, the Plan has many references to the existing towns and that they should be the primary centers of commercial and residential development.
As regards the claim that the current Plan is “out of date,” The broad themes of the Plan are still remarkably applicable and valid. To the extent that the Plan requires modification and updating, this would require much less effort than the formulation of an entire new plan.
The existing Plan contains 28 “major recommendations.” Review of these recommendations shows that most of them are still current and are not out of date.They provide:

– Development should be guided toward existing towns and other areas designated for development and away from “areas with valued environmental or rural qualities;”

– “Provide public water and/or sewer service to designated high growth areas such as towns and economic centers and restrict or prohibit extension to areas designated for low-density growth;”

– Retain 5-acre lot sizes in designated watershed protection areas;

– Provide farm protection and growth by designating agricultural communities; use of agricultural advisory board; including agricultural enterprises in the economic development plan; establish a Farms for the Future program; establish voluntary agricultural district programs; and use density exchanges;

– Encourage commerce and industry in existing municipalities, designate economic development centers for business and industry and discourage commerce and industry elsewhere, particularly as strip commercial development and in sensitive resource areas;

– Develop parks and encourage other open space initiatives;

– Encourage cluster-style subdivisions and develop minimum open-space set-aside standards for conventional subdivisions;

– Take various actions to protect water sources and address impaired water issues;

– Consider carefully any additional proposed major roads or road widenings; plan road design standards that include support for pedestrian and bicycle travel where appropriate;

– “Plan for transit service, especially along the 15-501 corridor.”

Given all of the features of the existing Plan, one would have thought it would have been consulted first in connection with any consideration of a new plan. The EDC Committee has said that it was charged with developing a “conceptual land use plan.” While this term has not been defined, one would think it refers to a broad statement describing the general character of the plan, e.g., how attuned it should be to preserving rural character and farmland, how much it should encourage residential and other development within existing towns and not in the open countryside, etc.
As can be seen from the brief description above, the existing Plan provides such a “concept.” This “concept” could have been reviewed by this Committee and either provided to the BOC as its recommended “concept” or it could have been revised and then forwarded as the recommended “concept.” Of course, the existing Plan is much more than a concept. It is a comprehensive Land Use Plan.
Rather than look at the existing Plan as the starting place for a “concept,” the Committee went to Fredericksburg, VA to find “scenarios.” Since we have a fine concept right here, it is hard to understand why we would go to Fredericksburg, VA in search of scenarios.

  1. It does not appear that the process that has been followed by the Committee     will produce a “conceptual land use plan” or otherwise provide a conceptual structure for the development of a new land use plan.

The Committee is proposing to send four scenarios with their accompany maps to the BOC with apparent neutrality regarding the virtues of these scenarios. At least two of the scenarios have critical defects while the other two are each one-half descriptions of what should be a single scenario.
The “decentralized growth” scenario apparently attempts to presume there would be virtually no governmental policies regarding future growth. As such, it would be a recipe for unlimited sprawl, traffic congestion, and pollution. Any such presumption is inconsistent not only with the existing Land Use Plan but with a host of other County rules, regulations, plans and policies, as well as those of the towns. These would include the Zoning, Subdivision, Watershed, Compact Communities, Mobile Home, Communications Tower and other ordinances; the Chatham/Cary Joint Land Use Plan; and the Farmland Preservation and Chatham Conservation Plans. Such a scenario was rejected in Fredericksburg, VA. It is hard to see how such a scenario deserves inclusion in the package.
Similarly, the “targeted employment” scenario, while expressing a fine goal of increasing employment in the County, could never serve as a “conceptual” land use plan since it says nothing about the future location or character of residential developments, the preservation of rural character and farmland or, for that matter, the location of future industrial sites.
The “compact centers” and “conservation/farmland preservation” scenarios are essentially one scenario since together they would preserve farmland and environmentally-sensitive areas and encourage development in the existing towns and other centers. These descriptions begin to sound much like the existing Land Use Plan. Indeed, the “compact centers” scenario cites the existing Plan. But in their effort to mimic the existing Plan, they do so only partially and incompletely and without stating why the existing Plan is inadequate.
As regards the scenarios, more specifically, while they obviously benefit enormously from the huge amount of knowledge and experience brought to the project by the planners and professionals from the County and the towns, they still paint with such broad and incomplete strokes that they seem to be only a very rough starting place in terms of their stated objectives. But, as the other comments here suggest, attempting further and more precise detail in the existing maps may not be worthwhile.
The scenario process that has been used is based on the process that was used by the Fredericksburg (VA) Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (“FAMPO”). But the primary purpose for the scenario approach there was for purposes of developing a Long Range Transportation Plan.
The FAMPO outcome was to reject the “Decentralized Growth Scenario” and the “Greater Jobs-Housing Balance Scenario” and to combine the “Compact Centers & Growth Corridors Scenario” and the “Green Print Initiative Scenario” into a new scenario labeled the “Community Plans Scenario.” That was a completely predictable outcome since the unregulated growth model and the model that focused only on job locations were not adequate for planning purposes.
Moreover, the general themes of the Community Plans Scenario are virtually identical to the themes of the existing Chatham Land Use Plan, i.e., have concentrated development areas, limit infrastructure growth outside designated service areas and preserve working farms. (See p. 15 of FAMPO report).

3. In conclusion, instead of its lengthy and laborious process thus far, the Committee would have been better served if it had:

Reviewed the existing Land Use Plan;
Determined that generally and with certain exceptions, it is as valid today as it was when it was enacted;
Suggested certain amendments and modifications to the existing Plan as it determined to be advisable;
Recommended adoption of the original Land Use Map with appropriate modifications.

John Graybeal
Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities
April 2013
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