Conceptual Land Use Plan

Goal: To position Chatham County for sustainable and balanced growth for future generations

Chatham County Conceptual Land Use Plan Rural Preservation Targeted Employment

Current Conditions

  • Majority of employment and service needs are being met by surrounding counties
  • About half of the County is not zoned and the County does not have an agreed upon land use plan with map
  • Residential to commercial tax base ratio is 10 to 1 (91% to 9%)
  • Corporate growth and greater employment opportunities in Chatham are limited due to inadequate infrastructure, quality commercial/industrial building stock, available build-to-suit sites, and absence of a future growth plan

To mitigate these conditions and become a regional leader, Chatham County needs:

  • An infrastructure plan to accomplish its desired growth
  • An authoritative plan that guides land use decisions
  • Appropriate land use regulatory and incentive tools to accomplish the long-term plan
  • A realistic and strategic view of the County to attract future commercial/residential prospects

Guiding Principles


  • Create the right employment/housing balance
  • Limit need to travel long distances to access services and jobs
  • Focus more dense and in-fill development in and near towns and designated mixed –use development centers with public water and sewer infrastructure
  • Utilize expanded tax base to enhance services, and educational and recreation opportunities
  • Ensure diversity of housing options


  • Preserve the individuality of towns, crossroads communities, and rural areas of the County while creating a sense of overall community and connectivity
  • Preserve agriculture as well as natural, environmental and historic resources
  • Preserve and enhance the current quality of life

Economic Prosperity

  • Create economic development areas in strategic locations based on access to utilities and transportation corridors
  • Work with towns to provide infrastructure and business location to attract business, industry and jobs
  • Encourage the development of small area plans so that communities own their vision for growth


  • Ensure integration of public services among the units of local government within the County
  • Develop joint planning efforts with surrounding areas for transportation, utilities and public financing


  • Ensure ability to adapt with change
  • Maintain town and community individuality

Potential Impacts of Growth Scenarios

All of the growth scenarios assume a 2018 population of 71,101 (annual growth rate of 1.5%) and employment at 13,943 (annual growth rate of .5%). In 2018, we expect Chatham Park development to be moving ahead and for some employment to be underway in the western Chatham megasite; these factors will result in a continuation of population growth and an enhanced rate of employment growth.

Decentralized Growth
This scenario promotes dispersed development and the proliferation of moderate density housing. We would expect population growth to be higher (around 1.8% per year) and employment to be growing at 1.25%. Based on these assumptions, 2040 population would be 105,275 (approximately 13, 670 new households) and employment would be 18,326. The tax base would remain overwhelmingly residential and might actually tip further toward residential.

Conservation/Farmland Preservation
This scenario directs growth away from working farms and environmentally-sensitive areas. In this constrained scenario, we would expect population growth to remain at current levels (1.5% per year) and employment to grow at 1.25% per year. Based on these assumptions, 2040 population would be 98,657 (approximately 11,000 new households) and employment would be 18,326 (same as in the Decentralized Growth scenario). The tax base would likely remain where it is today, roughly 91% residential, 9% commercial and industrial.

Compact Centers and Growth Corridors
This scenario focuses growth into compact, walkable communities and would likely lead to increased population growth (2.0% per year) and enhanced employment growth (1.75%). It is important to note that the jobs likely to be created in this scenario would be concentrated in the retail and service sectors and large numbers of residents would still have to commute out of the county. Based on these assumptions, 2040 population would be 109,920 (approximately 15,525 new households) and employment would be 20,423. The tax base should begin to tilt toward a larger proportion of commercial and industrial property.

Targeted Employment
This scenario promotes employment opportunities into the economic development areas within the towns and at the core of compact centers. In this scenario, we expect increased population growth (2.0% per year) and significantly enhanced employment growth (2.5% per year). Based on these assumptions, the population in 2040 would be 109,920 and employment would be 24,005. The tax base should change significantly with increased investments in business and industry.

Rural Preservation with Targeted Employment Growth
By directing growth away from working farms and conservation areas and simultaneously encouraging employment in economic development areas, we would expect population to grow at a slightly higher rate (1.75% per year) and employment would grow at 2.5% per year. Based on these assumptions, 2040 population would be 108,925 (approximately 15,130 new households) and employment would be 24,005. This scenario would result in the greatest change in the percentage of tax base from commercial and industrial property relative to residential property, leading to a more balanced, and more sustainable, base.

Detailed descriptions of each scenario

Recommended Next Steps

The Chatham Economic Development Corporation, at its May 14, 2013 meeting, unanimously voted to support a development scenario that combines the Conservation/Farmland Preservation scenario and the Targeted Employment scenario. The combined scenario is called Rural Preservation with Targeted Employment. The EDC recommended that the Chatham County Board of Commissioners pursue the next steps:

  • Endorse the combined Rural Preservation with Targeted Employment Growth scenario as the strategic direction for Chatham County
  • Identify a new county-wide strategic growth development plan or merge the new strategic direction with the existing land use plan
  • Develop an infrastructure plan that supports the strategic direction
  • Consider small area planning for key targeted areas
  • Evaluate and integrate existing adopted plans and policies
  • Identify other unadopted plans for Board considerationn

The Economic Development Corporation further recommended that the Board of Commissioners initiate an educational component that communicates the rationale for the agreed-upon Rural Preservation with Targeted Employment scenario into communities and groups around the County.

At its work session on July 15, 2013, the Chatham County Board of Commissioners approved the strategic direction for a conceptual land use plan.