Letters: Please Don’t Supersize Me

Cary, NC – On Thursday June 30 the Town Council will vote on rezoning case 10-REZ-12 to allow another unplanned high density multi-family development in Lochmere. As many citizens, particularly those in SE Cary, are well aware, Lochmere is nearly built out and this infill parcel has become attractive to the investment community. If approved, this current rezoning request will allow 206 units on 9 usable acres.

Let me put this all into perspective:

In 1988 a high density multi-family development just one block from this site was proposed and built. Council at that time was swayed by promises the apartment complex would be premium, high end units that will complement and enhance all of Lochmere. They would be the gold standard for all future multi-family in Cary. Citizens realized those promises were unenforceable. They pleaded to no avail and their voice fell on deaf ears. Council approved that rezoning allowing an unprecedented 200+ units on 20 acres. What we have today are typical apartments. They’re not bad, they’re not good, and they’re just there.

Are they a gold standard? I think not. It’s been 23 years and the apartment complex is showing age. Candidly, at 10 units an acre, it still looks out of place.

Think about it. The request before Council this week is to squeeze over 200 units on 9 usable acres which is over DOUBLE what was approved in 1988.

This current rezoning case has been thoroughly vetted over the past few weeks. Citizens have appealed to this Council not to repeat history. Nearly 1500 Cary citizens signed a petition against this rezoning. These citizens know the pros and cons of maintaining the existing use for this property. The area in question is zoned commercial for a reason. It is the perfect site for small commercial uses that complement adjacent and nearby existing development. It is a use which is consistent with Cary’s long range plans for the area. It is a use that citizens who purchased in this area bought in to. Citizens recognize for every commercial worst case example of ‘excessive’ noise, lighting, height, etc., there are balanced counter examples of well thought out commercial uses such as Lochmere Pavilion. They recognize traffic and environmental data can be manipulated and subject to personal bias.

This is a land use issue pure and simple. And what is being proposed is just too big. By no stretch of the imagination does this rezoning request meet a ‘greater good or a higher standard for Cary’. It merits no serious consideration and it should be denied.

It’s like your neighbor parking a massive 18 wheel tractor trailer in his yard then explaining it meets code as he agreed to plant some bushes and instead of 8 feet, he will keep it 10 feet away from your property. The response is nonsense.

The community fully understands the implications of this rezoning request and they hope on Thursday Council will hear their simple plea – ‘please don’t supersize me’!

Jack Smith
Cary, NC 27518
Jack Smith represents District C on the Cary Town Council

3 replies
  1. Don Frantz
    Don Frantz says:

    This is going to be a long post, but I have a lot to say. I apologize in advance.

    I am sure a number of you have heard about Tryon Place – a three story 206 unit luxury apartment complex proposed at the corner of Cary Parkway and Tryon Road. A number of residents have opposed the project.

    For the project to move forward, the council must vote to rezone the property from commercial to residential. Section 3.4.1(E) of Cary’s Land Development Ordinance sets forth the following criteria that should be considered in reviewing rezonings:

    1. The proposed rezoning corrects an error or meets the challenge of some changing condition, trend or fact;

    2. The proposed rezoning is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan set forth in Section 1.3 (LDO);

    3. The Town and other service providers will be able to provide sufficient public safety, educational, recreational, transportation and utility facilities and services to the subject property while maintaining sufficient levels of service to existing development;

    4. The proposed rezoning is unlikely to have significant adverse impacts on the natural environment, including air, water, noise, stormwater management, wildlife and vegetation;

    5. The proposed rezoning will not have significant adverse impacts on property in the vicinity of the subject tract;

    6. The proposed zoning classification is suitable for the subject property.

    In simpler terms, the proposed use must do no more harm than that which could be developed under current zoning. However, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to automatically approve something just because it isn’t any worse than what could be built today. A lot of time, money and careful consideration went into crafting Cary’s land use plans and they have served our community well. We’re not just going to throw all that away. But we must also recognize that development patterns and market demands do change.

    Applicants must provide compelling reasons and offer clear, tangible benefits to our community before I or any other councilmember will consider granting a change in land use. There is greater leverage during a rezoning process as proposals are held to a higher standard.

    After careful consideration the rezoning was approved with conditions at our council meeting by a vote of 4-3. I voted for the project for the following reasons.

    Traffic: The proposed apartment complex of 206 units will generate significantly less traffic than that of a commercial project at the same location. The traffic impact analysis reports 1,370 average daily trips for Tryon Place. Commercial development however, could generate anywhere from 2800 to over 11,000 average daily trips depending on what type of commercial get’s built. For example: a gas station with 10 pumps would generate 5400 trips.

    But not being one to believe that everything presented to me is fact, I decided to do my own traffic study. I staked out the parking lots of the Amberwood apartment complex and the Wellington shopping center for 15 minutes each on a Friday afternoon from 5:00 – 5:40. I counted vehicles coming in one entrance only. I counted 157 at Wellington and 13 at Amberwood. Based on my observations, I believe the traffic studies to be accurate.

    I don’t believe there is any question that commercial development generates significantly more weekend traffic than residential.

    Increased Environmental Protection: Tryon Place will provide for reduced impervious surfaces, increased buffer protections, better stormwater management practices, and greater open space preservation than a commercial project.

    • 61% of the total site will be preserved as open space.

    • Over 2 BUILDABLE acres will be forever preserved as open space.

    • Tryon Place will be a Green Certified development

    • Nearly 50% of parking will be located under the buildings.

    • A 200 foot buffer between the adjoining residents in Lochmere Village vs. 65 feet required of commercial.

    The proposed development promotes sustainability by adding a much needed residential component to the existing activity center. Many existing businesses in the Wellington shopping center lack the traffic needed to support and grow their businesses, which leads to high turnover and vacancy rates. Adding more commercial across the street will only exacerbate this. Adding residential however, promotes walkable, pedestrian friendly development and better supports existing businesses.

    The majority of adjoining residents – those most impacted by this project – support the proposal vs. the commercial alternative. To me, their opinion carries more weight than those who do not live adjacent to the site. They are the ones who will see it every time they look out their kitchen or bedroom windows. They are the ones who will be subject to the noise, lights and smells of commercial development on a daily basis.

    The area is already saturated with commercial, and with Waverly set to reopen soon it’s only going to get worse.

    The proposed development provides for no vehicle drive access between the buildings and adjoining residents as you would most likely see with commercial development – resulting in improved aesthetics and no early morning trash trucks or late night tractor trailer deliveries.

    Those are many of the reasons why I support Tryon Place. While not perfect, it is better than what could be built today.

    I in no way want to discount anyone’s opinion or position on this issue. I listened to each and every one of you – both for and against – before making my decision and I heard a number of reasons why I should support or oppose this project and I respect all of them – I really do. Most everyone I spoke with was polite, professional and respectful.

    I must however address some of the misinformation that has been disseminated to the public by a couple members of the opposition via email or their website.

    The opposition has intentionally misled the public by choosing only to present data from those years which support their claims, by mixing staff approvals (already zoned and meets our codes)with council approvals (rezonings), and blaming this council for prior council decisions. The simple truth is that this council (we took office Dec. 2007) has approved fewer apartments than any council before us. How many exactly? 3 including Tryon Place. In fact, we have made the approval process more difficult for developers by requiring that both they and town staff participate in a community workshop with area residents and hold an additional public hearing at the Planning and Zoning Board meeting prior to council consideration – not to mention that we know the word “no” and aren’t afraid to say it.

    Their website claims we approved 1690 apartment units in 2008. This is false. This council approved ZERO apartments in 2008. Their website claims we approved 815 units in 2009. This is also false. We approved ZERO apartments in 2009. Comments such as “…there seems to be a fast track approval process for apartments”, and “the council is out of control” have no merit whatsoever and only work to destroy one’s credibility and the process.

    It is fair to say that apartment aprovals were trending up in 2006 and 2007. This council however, is reducing that trend.

    Other claims include:

    “40% of all apartments in Cary have been built or approved in the last ten years” That statement, while true is very misleading. It ignores the fact that 40% of EVERYTHING in Cary has been approved or built in the last ten years. But including that information would not help their cause, so they leave that part out. Cary grew 100% every decade until 2000, and has grown 40% since. In 1970 the ratio of single family homes to multi-family in Cary was 75%-25%. Today that ratio remains 75%-25%.

    “The applicant didn’t listen to us”. This is also false. The applicant worked with those area residents who chose to participate in the process, resulting in a number of concessions (see above) from the developer. When originally proposed, this project was 4 stories and 256 units. In an effort to respond to community concerns regarding building height and density, the applicant reduced building heights to 3 stories and capped the number of units at 206 – even though they really didn’t need to do this in order to avoid a valid protest petition (which would have required 6 of 7 votes to pass instead of 4). The majority of border residents – again, those most impacted by this proposal – actually supported the project at 256 units vs. the commercial alternative. You can’t say, “There is nothing the developer can do to make me consider apartments” and then complain he won’t work with you.

    “The applicant is using scare tactics and threatening residents with a tire store should his project not be approved.” This claim was taken very seriously by council. Councilmember Erv Portman personally spoke to all but one border resident about this. They all stated that the claims of intimidating behavior were false and without merit. In fact, Councilman Portman reported that all had positive comments about the applicant, and were surprised anyone would make such an accusation. A number of border residents have also spoken in support of this project at public hearings.

    But the reality is that if this project were denied, then yes, the property would most likely develop as commercial. Allowable uses under commercial zoning include fast food restaurants, drug stores, a hotel, gas station/convenience store, car wash, and yes, a tire store. It would never come before council and would be approved at staff level.

    “Town Staff have been unresponsive to questions.” Totally false. Town staff have spent countless hours providing detailed answers and data to residents who requested it, to include additional research and the creation of documents and spreadsheets outside the scope of their duties. Just because you don’t get the answer you were looking for doesn’t mean you didn’t get a response. The council and staff have received over 150 emails from one individual alone. There are only so many times you can answer the same question.

    The opposition complains that we even considered a change to the town’s land use plan – but ignores the fact that their neighborhood and homes could not have been built had a previous council not approved a change to the land use plan.

    The opposition has on numerous occasions stated that they would support a medium density project instead of high density. Yet in 2006, when a medium density project was actually proposed, they opposed that project as well. The simple truth is that some don’t want to see anything built there, period. They know the site doesn’t lend itself well to commercial, and that if they continue to oppose residential development it will remain trees.

    I fully understand that there are those who want to see nothing built here. What I don’t understand is the preference for more commercial, nor have I heard anyone make a compelling case for it. Tell me why we need another strip mall here. We seriously want another drug store? Heck, the majority of council that was elected in 2007 was elected to stop putting drug stores on every corner. What benefit does more commercial bring to the already struggling businesses and vacant stores across the street?

    Upscale apartment development provides additional housing options for young professionals, new families and senior living. When I moved to Cary in 1990 I rented an apartment for a year until I found a home. I am forever thankful it was there as I might not have settled in Cary. There is no data that suggests that this development will increase area crime or decrease property values any more or less than a commercial project might. I cannot make a decision based simply on the fear of “apartment dwellers”.

    I believe that given the choices before me, I made the better decision for Cary’s future. I understand there are those who do not agree and that is fine. I have never made a decision based on political consequences and I’m not going to start now. It’s actually pretty easy to make a decision when you know what your values are.

    Don Frantz
    Cary Town Council
    District B

  2. Elizabeth Adams
    Elizabeth Adams says:

    The Town of Cary could solve this problem by requiring multi-family development proposals to design to LEED-ND and Low Impact Development (LID) standards, to help protect existing neighborhoods and ensure that the proposed developments are of a high quality, energy efficient, well planned built environment that preserves green space, protects existing streams, and provides safe grade separated pedestrian crossings to encourage pedestrian and bicycle trips and reduce traffic impacts. Please vote against these types of proposals until enforceable standards are in place.

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