County-wide zoning will place lots of restrictions on Chatham County’s rural properties and farms

By Raymond Gastwaite

Pittsboro, NC – A lot has been said about the upcoming R1 and R5 zoning in Chatham County;  some have said it would not have a major impact on landowners but would protect the County from unconstrained development.

So I read through the 116 pages of zoning regulations on the county website.

farm standFirst, let us consider the so-called “Farming Exemption”. To qualify, one must have one of the following: a farm sales tax exemption certificate; a farm property tax listing; a Schedule F from the federal income tax return; an approved forest management plan; or a Farm Identification Number.

Next, these are the definitions for R1 and R5 zoning:

R5 residential zoning is primarily for very low density residential developments along the County’s rivers and streams which are compatible with protecting the water quality of the rivers and streams. New residences need a minimum lot size of two acres.

R1 residential zoning is primarily for low to moderate density residential development within the residential-agricultural areas of the County. Residences need a minimum lot size of one acre.

If a property owner wants to request a change in zoning, there is a five-step procedure to follow, all at the owner’s expense.

    1. A community meeting with all owners of abutting property to present the proposed zoning change
    2. A presentation to the County Appearance Commission
    3. Delivering a zoning change Application to the County Planning Department
    4. Presenting to a hearing of the Commissioners and the County Planning Board, but only after notices have been posted on the properties adjacent streets or highways, meeting notices mailed to adjoining property owners, and notice of the hearing published in the paper.
    5. After this the Commissioners may approve, deny, or direct changes to the application.

If you wish to erect a commercial building, you must follow the Chatham Commercial Design Guidelines.

Homes in R1 and R5 zoning also have a set of rules they must follow. Those rules include distance setbacks, open space requirements, requirements on deck design, and requiring connection to county water systems when available. Plantings should be selected from the Chatham County Design Guidelines, using xeriscaping for water conservation whenever possible. Lighting needs to follow the County Lighting Ordinance. The Planning Department may demand ‘reasonable fees to cover the administration’ of the program.

The regulation specifically lists what is allowed in R1 and R5 zoning other than housing:

  • Guest houses
  • Avocational farming
  • B&Bs with less than 2 rooms
  • Churches
  • Day care centers with less than 15 children
  • Manufactured dwellings
  • Family care homes
  • Fire stations
  • Hunting and fishing clubs
  • Public parks and recreation areas
  • Public utility transmission lines
  • Schools
  • Solar farms with less than 2 acres
  • Spray irrigation of reclaimed water
  • Streets and railroad rights-of-way

Home occupations in R1 and R5 are permitted only after receiving a permit from the Zoning Administrator. They must follow rules on the total number of employees and family who may work in the home, restrictions on how much home space you can use, prohibiting outdoor displays of goods or materials, and creating no noise, vibration, glare, fumes, odors, or electrical interference. There must be no additional vehicle traffic.

Chatham County commissioners Jim Crawford, Diana Hales, and Karen Howard

Chatham County commissioners Jim Crawford, Diana Hales, and Karen Howard are pushing for county-wide zoning and ignored the planning commission recommendation

Penalties for noncompliance are served by the Zoning Administrator. Fines for a first violation are $50 per day. The County may seek destruction of non-conforming buildings, and may put a lien on your property.

These are a lot of restrictions on rural property. They may be exactly appropriate for the urban eastern areas of the County. They constitute a huge change to the existing rural areas west of Highway 87. I am sure that the western areas are mostly unaware of the R1 and R5 zoning impacts, and we might become even more concerned about this action than we are now one once the full implications are more widely known.

Vote in November.