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In the field of community planning, health and equity play important roles contributing to creating livable, sustainable, and healthy communities.


Health is considered a fundamental aspect of community planning and its improvement is considered a key outcome. Planners can address health in the built environment by designing and implementing community plans that promote healthy lifestyles, such as walkability, access to healthy food, and recreational opportunities.


Equity is a critical aspect of planning for ensuring all individuals within a community have access to the same benefits, resources, and opportunities, such as access to affordable living conditions, promoting public transportation options, and addressing environmental justice concerns.


Chatham County recognizes the importance of health and equity in planning for the County’s future. Themes around health and equity emerged early in the Recode Chatham planning process during initial meetings with stakeholders and the Board of Commissioners, resulting in a decision to focus on seven core areas:

  1. Healthy Food Access

  2. Obesity & Inactivity

  3. Mobility & Multi-Modal Access

  4. Environment & Pollution

  5. Displacement & Gentrification

  6. Access to Health Care & Early Childhood Development

  7. Access to Affordable Housing


Health & Equity in the UDO

The County recognizes that the manner in which future development occurs has an impact on community health and wishes to ensure the new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO)incorporates best practices to improve health impacts and equity. Therefore, the County Planning Department collaborated with the County Public Health Department to set aside a portion of its Healthy Communities grant funding to augment the UDO and Recode Chatham project.


The County approached White & Smith Planning and Law Group, the consultant firm leading the development of the UDO, to prepare a standalone “Health & Equity Assessment” report. The County’s goal is to increase focus on health and equity issues in Chatham County and evaluate techniques to improve upon existing policies and objectives within the UDO that offer to enhance the quality of life of Chatham County residents. White & Smith formally kicked-off this project component of Recode Chatham on May 24, 2022 by holding a work session with County staff and members of the County Public Health Department.


The assessment gives a broad overview of each of the seven “Areas of Assessment,” or themes, and supports each theme with specific findings related to Chatham County. The assessment evaluates and prioritizes objectives that align with best planning practices, ongoing State and local initiatives, and specific Chatham County policies outlined within Plan Chatham, followed by recommended approaches for implementing these objectives via the UDO drafting process.


A draft of the Health & Equity Assessment is available here.


Project Timeline Summary


  • November-December 2021 – The White & Smith consultant team held kick-off meetings for the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) with various stakeholders and appointed groups. Though these meetings focused on the County’s current zoning- and development-related regulations, the groups began to identify health and equity needs and priorities. Meetings included the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, Agriculture Advisory Board, Appearance Commission, Board of Health, Climate Change Advisory Committee, Environmental Review Advisory Committee, Recreation Advisory Committee, the County Technical Review Committee, Planning Board, and Board of Commissioners.

  • May 24, 2022 – The White & Smith consultant team kicked off the Health & Equity Assessment project with a work session with Chatham County’s Assistant Planning Director and members of the County's Public Health Department. We began to refine and explore areas relevant to the Health & Equity Assessment and potential UDO provisions to ensure a comprehensive understanding of issues to address through the UDO’s development.

  • November 1, 2022 –Background Research and Bibliography and Meeting Summary completed and provided to County staff.

  • November 3, 2022 –Draft Health & Equity Assessment completed and provided to County staff for review.

  • February 2, 2023 – White & Smith met with County staff to go over preliminary staff review comments of the Draft Health & Equity Assessment.

  • April 20, 2023 – Second Draft Health & Equity Assessment completed and provided to County staff for review. This draft incorporated staff’s input on the previous draft.

  • May 31, 2023 – Final draft Health & Equity Assessment completed.

  • October 3, 2023 – White & Smith met with the Planning Department and Public Health Department staff to review the final draft Health & Equity Assessment.

  • October 6, 2023 – White & Smith finalized the Board of Commissioners Review Draft Health & Equity Assessment.

  • November 2023 – White & Smith and staff completed a minor update to reflect newly available U.S. Census Bureau information. The small update includes changes to relevant data in the report along with minor edits to correct formatting, spelling, and grammar.


Next Steps

The Health & Equity Assessment aligns with the Unified Development Ordinance revisions as part of Recode Chatham. White & Smith will continue to collaborate with staff on ways to incorporate the Health & Equity Assessment’s recommendations into the UDO.


The Health & Equity Assessment will be presented to the Planning Board and Board of Commissioners alongside UDO Module 2 in early 2024.


For questions regarding the Health & Equity Assessment, please contact Recode Chatham’s Project Manager, Chance Mullis.


Documents & Work Products

Health & Equity Assessment (Final BOC Draft | Updated November 29, 2023)

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