Winning One

Tonight, after five and a half hours, Pittsboro Matters won a victory at the courthouse in Pittsboro.

With a four to one vote, our town board elected to “table” the decision on rezoning our community for Chatham Park Investors. They are the folks that want to turn our town of four thousand into a town of fifty five thousand. They are the folks that view Jordan Lake as “an amenity” to their project.

Chatham Park Investors has proposed the largest real estate development in NC history, and they would like to drop it down on the heads of those of us who live or work in Pittsboro. They are a bunch of mega rich folks from out of town who have spent over a hundred million dollars buying up all the land—from the wood yard to the lake.

Their vision is to convert the Triangle’s last wilderness into golf courses, parking lots, and manicured lawns.

The citizen’s group that has been asking to slow it down is Pittsboro Matters. They are a ragtag bunch of volunteers with mixed agendas, very little funding, and a lot of passion.

They started with meetings. Got some yard signs. Got a tent assembled for the Pittsboro Street Fair. They went door to door, lined up six hundred signatures asking our town government to “Slow Down, Rethink Chatham Park.”

In our recent municipal election, Bill Terry ran against Bill Crawford. Terry ran on a “slow down and let’s be thoughtful about this” platform. Crawford couldn’t wait for all the wonderful things Chatham Park Investors were going to bring to town. Terry clobbered him.

Pittsboro Matters decided to be apolitical and endorsed no one. As a group it is a strange blend of libertarians, Republicans, liberals, Democrats, with a few socialists on the side. Their message was clearly aligned with Terry.

Our current Mayor, Randy Voller, alienated a lot of his base by slipping a re-zoning vote onto the town agenda tonight as his last act. Randy wins every election he fights, and he is generally very good at reading the will of the people. But he missed on this one. Currently the chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, he’s got to be licking his wounds tonight.

Tonight’s vote means the Chatham Park can will be kicked down the road to Mayor elect Terry, who is not opposed to Chatham Park—nor does he see it’s development as “inevitable.”

Thirty seven people took the microphone tonight. I was the twenty second speaker. I hadn’t prepared any remarks, but Amanda from Pittsboro Matters told me I had to say something. I sat down and waited for inspiration. To force it I borrowed a sheet of paper, and a pen, and a pair of reading glasses from Amanda’s husband. I made notes but nothing came.

Then I remembered David Orr’s quote about Slow Money—about how everything has a velocity that should not be exceeded. So when it was my turn I stole a page from the David Orr songbook and talked about time. About how long it takes the planet to orbit the sun. And how we don’t control the wind speed in hurricanes. Or the rate of sea level rise. How we have no control over the rate at which the polar ice caps melt. But we can control the velocity of re-zoning.

One of the speakers was Benjamin Chavis, former executive director of the NAACP. He was horrible. He didn’t seem to know what town he was in, or what the issue was, he blathered on and on and lectured the board on how it was their responsibility to do their jobs and vote.

Surely the high light of the night was when Beth Turner, one of our Commissioners, spanked him from the stage, saying something like, “With all due respect Mr. Chavis, I wasn’t elected to this position to vote. I was sent here to serve the people of Pittsboro, and to do that I cannot vote for re-zoning at this time.”

Commissioner Foley had put forth a resolution to table the re-zoning vote. Jay Farrell agreed. He had only had two days to read the revisions and said he felt overwhelmed. Beth Turner’s support of the tabling motion was the deciding action. Pamela Baldwin sensed the mood of the crowd saw that the re-zoning vote was not going to happen, changed her stated position and went along for the ride.

Mayor Voller had a hard time coming to terms with the defeat, and blathered on about a slew of off topic items before bringing the matter to an official vote.

Tonight’s victory filled me with elation. I have been peripheral to the Pittsboro Matters effort. I’ve published some of my poorly made movies. And an article for the Rockefeller Foundation. I’ve been to a few meetings. And I’ve thrown some money into the pot. But the heavy lifting has been done by many other people than me.

Still. Tonight David beat Goliath. Passion defeated money. And ugly old democracy went our way. It felt great…

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9 comments on “Winning One
  1. Catherine says:

    Good job Lyle and Pittsboro Matters. My heart was singing a happy tune as I headed home last night.

  2. Kersten says:

    So encouraging! Thanks for posting!

  3. Cheryl Ganter says:

    Thank you Lyle… great news ! :-)

  4. Mark says:

    Thanks for all you are doing in Pittsboro. I live in Burlington but work in Pittsboro some times. I must say it is a lovely town just the way it is.

    I consider myself a Libertarian-Republican but am so very glad when people come together for their own community.

    We should strive to stop outsiders from influencing our cities and counties.

    We should have more control over our schools and local economies and push out the elitists and even the Federal Government.
    In a real sense, this would breath life back into our nation if we had more “local control” of things.

  5. Lisa Henry says:

    Thanks for fighting for Pittsboro Lyle and all that are part of Pittsboro Matters.

  6. Well done, Pittsboro … and hello, Lyle!

  7. Mayor Randy Voller says:

    We are long time allies so I will keep this brief. I think you owe a better take on Dr. Chavis than to say he was “blathering”. Ben flew down on Monday because I asked him to meet with the principals of Chatham Park. As a long time social justice activist and leader who coined the term “environmental racism” his interaction with Chatham Park was historic and part of my strategy to bring disparate groups together in order to put our values into the DNA of the project. As for my address, I have represented the Town at over 300 meetings during my tenure and after many hours of public input I decided that the citizens needed to hear the history that I have gleaned on the job as well as context. (Because it is apparent from the emails and public input that a lot of citizens are lacking basic facts and historical context.) For example, Mayor Elect Terry, whom I hired years ago as our Town Manager and supported in this past election, still believes the waste water discharge into the Haw River is a solution. In contrast I have offered numerous alternatives to this idea before, during and after the permits were issued. The question is not whether the land owner, Chatham Park, will develop a project, the question rather is whether we have the ability as a community to work together to create something far greater than the usual proposals—which is what Commissioner Fiocco, myself and others were achieving before the last meeting. I hope we can find the fortitude to work constructively as opposed to destructively.
    Best Regards,
    Mayor R. Voller

  8. Michael says:

    This is an interesting comment, but my recollection is very different about the remarks of Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. who raised the economic impact of Chatham Park on the jobless, the poor and the unemployed workers of the Pittsboro community. To say that he “blathered” ignores Dr. Chavis’s powerful and eloquent message of creating opportunity for many people now living in dire circumstances in Pittsboro – an echo of the Poor People’s campaign championed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You may have missed it, but Dr. Chavis is the author of an important environmental study on the economics of environmental policy, and he coined the term ‘environmental racism,’ a concept based on town plans that place sewage plants and landfills next to African-American communities.

  9. Ginny says:

    Chatham County is a better place today as a result of Lyle Estill’s historic work in bringing his vision of sustainable businesses and business models (and jobs) to this county.

    Given the long history of friendship, family ties and service alliances between Lyle and Mayor Voller, this occasion will soon be part of that continuing history. Assuredly, we know that all parties involved here have as their first priority the goal of benefiting Chatham County.

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