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…