EDITORIAL: Chatham Park: Only fools rush in

Dec. 05, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

After six hours of intense debate and impassioned pleas from dozens of citizens, the Pittsboro Town Board ultimately did the right thing at their Nov. 25 meeting — nothing.

More specifically, the board voted by a 4-1 margin to table a vote needed for Chatham Park— a proposed 7,200-acre, mixed-use development — to proceed.

Camps on both sides made compelling cases. Proponents see the potential Chatham Park represents for Pittsboro and the region. Others recognize the inherent questions and concerns — especially environmental — raised by such a significant undertaking.

Apart from the merits or drawbacks of the development itself, many in attendance railed against the timing of the vote.

Some Chatham Park opponents will never be assuaged, but a portion may warm up to the project if, in their minds, it wasn’t being hurried through. Some of the final details had only been released the Friday before the meeting, one group claimed, and several speakers insisted they needed more time.

That postponement should not be indefinite, but the board was right to leave the decision for another day. When the future of the region is at stake, we’d prefer our leaders not to cast their “nays” or “ayes” after midnight following a lengthy, contentious public hearing.

Fans and foes can agree on at least one point — Chatham Park is huge, both in size and scope, and once set in motion, reversing course would be virtually impossible. Leaders in Pittsboro have the unenviable task of weighing the potential impact to the area’s character and natural resources against missing out on an economic boon — which promises to bring jobs and a higher quality of life for residents.

Whatever the board members decide, they should actively involve the public, thoroughly explain their thinking and give citizens ample time to process the plans.

While they put off one vote, the board did decide to hire a consultant to review the proposal. For the time being, the boil of Chatham Park has been reduced to a simmer, but the issue is certain to be a point of contention well into the future.

Stay tuned.