Wednesday, 17 March 2021 12:39

As pandemic wanes, Chatham Park going, growing in a ‘great direction’

PITTSBORO — Watching it take shape today, it’s hard to fathom that it was way back in 2006 when Tim Smith and Julian “Bubba” Rawl acquired the first parcel of land for what would become Chatham Park.

Now, after more than $200 million worth of infrastructure investment and not even halfway into the 30-to-40-year buildout plan for the 7,068-acre development, Smith and Rawl are more than eager to share an update. Prepare for an adventurous ride. At Chatham Park, 2021 has already been, and will continue to be, a landmark year. “The confluence of the market being so strong, and the home industry is growing sort of leaps and bounds … it’s really putting us in the right place at the right time,” Rawl said. “So we’re very optimistic about 2021.” They point to two notable achievements so far, the most significant of which is this: a full 17 years after the vision first took root in their minds, the first dozen or so of an anticipated 60,000 residents are now officially calling Chatham Park home.

“The biggest milestone we’ve reached is that we’re able to sell homes and to build,” Smith said. “So that’s a major accomplishment.”

The COVID-19 pandemic created a pause for Chatham Park when it began a year ago, but not much of a slow-down. Smith and Rawl say they pushed the project’s contractors throughout last summer to open up lots — beginning with 550 in The Vineyards section alone — for development. The first 30 “cottages” homes sold quickly, and three new $700,000+ custom homes are now sold. In all, Chatham Park has partnered with 10 homebuilders in Vineyards, the first of many neighborhoods to come inside the property; when fully completed, there will be room for 22,000 homes altogether.

And that’s just homes and homesites — the “live” in Chatham Park’s “Live, Work, Play, Learn” mantra. The list of other projects and goings-on within the development is lengthy indeed, creating a new, happy watchword for the entire development team.

Momentum.

It’s been hard-won. Over the last 17 years, Smith, Rawl and their Cary-based Preston Development Company team have faced innumerable challenges. Administrative roadblocks from the Town of Pittsboro (now mostly resolved, particularly with new town staff with development experience in place); loud objections from environmentalists (largely overcome, judging purely from the site’s plans for open spaces and parks); and blowback and negative publicity from a small but energized handful of detractors (some of whom, to the delight of the Smith and Rawl, are now customers at Chatham Park businesses) are just a few. Others include Pittsboro’s limited water and sewer capacity (which Chatham Park has helped bring solutions to) and simply the inertia that often stymies large-scale development.

So the optimism Chatham Park’s principals feel in 2021 is understandable.

“Things seem to be going in a great direction for us,” Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of good things going on — a lot of interest. Lots of people are coming to us wanting to buy lots. And we’re getting a lot of good, good feedback about what’s there now. I think as we start putting things on the ground, like these 30 cottages, people can see the quality of what we’re doing. It’s one thing to tell somebody you’re going to do something. It’s another thing to show them.”

Which brings the pair to its second milestone achievement thus far: the progress of Mosaic, the 44-acre “gateway” to Chatham Park, which will bring about 300,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and office space; a 121-key hotel; entertainment venues; and living space for residents in the form of 320 apartment homes and 50 condominiums.

Vanessa Jenkins, the executive vice president for Preston Development, described Mosaic as “a deal changer” for the beginning of Chatham Park. Although Chatham Park’s infrastructure has been in the process of development since 2014, having Mosaic positioned prominently near the corner of U.S. Hwy. 64 and Hwy. 15-501 north of Pittsboro is paramount to the project’s success.

“Its visibility gives the project as a whole perspective and relevance for the general public that has no idea how much is happening in areas that are not easily visible,” she said. “Mosaic will also be a first impression for what Chatham Park will look like and will spotlight many of the exemplary design principles being implemented in Chatham Park.”

In other words, as Smith and Rawl point out, growth done the right way.

Mosaic’s developer, Kirk Bradley, says he understands growth can be a worrisome concept. Most of the opposition to Chatham Park has come from those who would rather Pittsboro not grow, that it not lose its small-town ambiance, its unique aura. (Bradley, a partner in Chatham Media Group LLC, the owner of the News + Record, is not an investor in Chatham Park.)

But Chatham County’s geography positioned it for growth. Chatham Park will be the location to help capture much of it.

“The fact of the matter is,” Bradley says, “that the Triangle is a rapidly growing metropolitan area. It’s simply a matter of time before Pittsboro and Chatham experience more than they already have.”

What makes Chatham Park a “case study” in good growth, and good for Chatham County, Bradley said, is that it proves urban growth can be easier to control.

“The opportunity that Chatham Park presents is that you have entitled a significant amount of acreage where you are concurrently planning housing, commercial, schools, medical, open space, storm water, parks, and all that infrastructure,” he said.

That detailed planning — as opposed to disjointed, organic growth — is always more attractive.

“While Pittsboro will certainly be different, I think this will be a case study in how to grow,” he said. “The elements of the entitlement plan have been thoughtfully considered and create a higher standard of development and, ultimately, higher standard of living than any area in the region or state.”

One example: the network of public parks and the trail system within Chatham Park are being created and developed in tandem with developers and Pittsboro staff and elected officials. It’s a “massive undertaking,” Bradley says, which provides millions of dollars’ worth of added value amenities for all Chatham residents — not just those living in Chatham Park.

“One other point, particularly for Chatham County,” he added, “is that Chatham Park will allow Chatham County to begin to achieve a better balance of tax base between residential and commercial for the first time. The utilities have never been developed by a municipality that allowed for the type of non-residential tax base the county has sought as a strategic initiative for the last decade.”

Jenkins also said Chatham Park will ultimately be viewed as the impetus for the town of Pittsboro to grow “in a concise, confined manor.”

“The plan will appropriately place density vs. sprawling, uncontrolled/unplanned development,” she said “It will also be the reason more services, entertainment, retail and jobs to come to Pittsboro for the benefit of all.”

While Chatham Park’s full build-out is still years down the road, Mosaic’s is much closer: after five years of planning and two years of construction, it’s on the cusp of being what Bradley describes as a “functional entertainment and lifestyle center.”

“We have several years to go before we are finished, but in a matter of months, you will be able to buy a cup of coffee, eat a sandwich or taco, purchase insurance or buy or lease a home, apartment or condominium,” he said. “These will be the first of many offerings in the months to come with three buildings under construction or almost complete. By the fall there will be at least seven buildings completed or under construction and our entertainment and work yard will be having programming for at least a few weeks before full programming starting in the summer of 2022.”

And that’s just Mosaic — only a small slice of what Chatham Park will eventually be. When Smith and Rawl offer up the details about what’s planned for the development’s North Village and South Village, it’s almost staggering to comprehend — particularly for those who might not have a full picture of what Chatham Park really is.

Rawl pointed out that for most people hearing about Chatham Park for the first time over the last five years, it was likely “due to a lawsuit or zoning issue or something like that.”

That’ll change this spring and summer.

“We haven’t had any reason to invoke the general public’s interest in what we’re doing because we haven’t had anything to sell,” he said. “We’ll be a household word around this market here by this summer because we’ll have product.”

That’ll include ground-breaking on construction of the 121-room Hampton Inn and a 50,000-square-foot Lowes Foods grocery store — two things, Rawl points out, that people in Chatham County have been desiring for more than a decade.

There’s lots more: a medical campus for UNC Health Care, a new YMCA, Thales Academy, a swim and racquet club, 300,000 feet of flex space, restaurants, retail and more — much of which hasn’t been announced because deals are still in the works.

Rawl also points to the $3.5 million, 10-acre Knight Farm Community Park developed by Preston Development and donated to the town of Pittsboro as one example of a completed part of the overall project that accurately reflects what he and Smith envisioned 17 years ago.

“And that’s open for anybody,” Smith said. “We got children over playing on it every day. We’ve got a portion of a greenway open — a 10-foot wide paved greenway, which we built. And that’s open now, and people are using that.”

That’s the goal, Rawl says: for those who want to come to the area and need a place to live, he, Smith, Jenkins and the rest of the Chatham Park team “want to be the ones who provide them with the best place they can possibly live.”

“We’re in the real estate business,” Smith said. “We like to own land. And now that we’ve got this and got it entitled, we see it being a jewel in our treasure box. And I don’t think you could go to a better place, a better location than what we have in Pittsboro. We looked into the future, and we saw Pittsboro.”

See original article at: https://www.chathamnewsrecord.com/