Cary’s Summit on the Future


Story and photos by Lindsey Chester.

Cary, NC – Nearly 700 people filled the Embassy Suites grand ballroom at Cary’s “Summit on the Future”  Thursday night (May 2)- the largest gathering of its kind ever to take place in Cary’s history.

Imagine Cary

The event marked the public kick-off of Imagine Cary– an 18 month process in which the town’s planners and consultants will hold a series of public meetings as they craft a unified long-range planning guide for the town.

The guide, known as the Cary Community Plan, will help shape the Town for the next 20-30 years. The Town Council will view the results for approval sometime in the Fall of 2014.

Why Now?

In his opening statement, Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht gave his thoughts on why this planning guide is important.

“It’s our turn to Imagine Cary for the next 20-30 years…and set the tone for the direction of housing and development.”

He went on to mention that “one of our biggest strengths is citizen involvement, which makes our community a better place now and forever.”

Objectives For the Summit

Facilitator Jamie Green of ACP summed up the three main objectives for the Summit:

  1. Launch Public engagement activity
  2. Gather initial insights. What do we as a town believe and feel are the values of Cary residents?
  3. Collectively learn from each other to understand the opportunities before us for the future

Fast Approaching Build-Out

Cary is fast approaching build-out, which raises many questions that need to be answered when the Town looks to its future. Currently about 89% of land within the town’s limits are built – and some of that available land is difficult or impossible to develop.

That means, to fuel future housing and retail demands, some areas will need to be reinvented.


Cary Lacks Millennials

In a very polished presentation, headline speaker Chris Leinberger opened the conversation outlining national trends, which were then backed up by statistical analysis presented by Leigh Anne King.

The audience reviewed Cary’s own past, current and future  population and demographic statistics. It’s common knowledge that Cary  grew rapidly through the last quarter century, but with the recession and other economic drivers, our rate has slowed.

Our demographics are shifting. The town’s age has shifted toward a majority of 45-65 year olds, with a serious lack of young adults, the nation’s largest population: the Millennials.

Cary has the 3rd oldest community in all of North Carolina, only behind Ashville and Gastonia, two towns that are retirement destinations.

Folks in their twenties actually shun our town in favor of life in either Durham or Raleigh.  This new generation will be leading the new “Knowledge-Experience” economy,  according to Leinberger.

Millennials like walkable communities. Empty-nesters also prefer walkability. But, with a few exceptions, Cary is not a walkable place.

Not only are our demographics shifting, but building preferences are also on the move. Much of our existing development is aging toward the need for major repair, renovation or demolition.

2nd American Economy

Leinburger  highlighted how Cary was built in the era he called the 2nd American economy, one that relied heavily on the automobile, cheap gas and plentiful land. Dads worked in factories or large corporations and families aspired to single family detached homes in suburban landscapes.

But as our population enters the Knowledge-Experience Economy, preferences are shifting. People work closer to home, or from home. We are time-poor, with less and less care for keeping up lawns and homes, much less a desire for hours of commuting time.

Gathering Info From Attendees

To warm up the crowd, the facilitators asked a series of questions to learn about the attendants.

Here’s a sampling and the answers:

  • How long have you lived in Cary? (Results: 32% between 10-19 years, 19% had been in town more than 20 years)
  • Where do you work? (Results: 38% worked in Cary, and 25% were currently not employed).
  • Why do you live in Cary (Results: Job was only 12%, and 42% answered quality of life)

The Summit used a handheld survey device to gather instant info from all the attendees. As a series of multiple choice questions were asked and attendees pushed buttons to register their answers. Within 10 seconds of each query, the audience could see stats on where their answers fell when compared to all the answers from the room.


The Future of Cary

Can Cary keep up with these shifting demographics and preferences, or do we even want to? The presenters made a good case, and the audience for the most part was buying into the notion of denser, New Urbanist development. It’s just hard to know if 700 attendees truly represent the community as a whole, which numbers close to 141,000.

The cross-section in the room was a good age representation of town, but the racial demographics were not a good fit. According to the town’s own stats 20% of residents are Latino or Asian, and a quick glance around the room, revealed a very white audience. The actual volunteer board for Imagine Cary has been chosen to more accurately represent all ages and demographics of Cary – having been selected at random from a large pool of applicants.

We will have to see how the Imagine Cary Plans pans out over the next year and a half. Where will this new Urbanism occur? Downtown,  at major suburban interchanges? Re-development at under utilized shopping or industrial office parks? Only time will tell.

15 replies
  1. Allen
    Allen says:

    Imagine Cary – Is this how you envisioned downtown Cary in the future that we were promised?
    *For 10 years the town has planned a park for downtown
    *Keep the historic home sites in-tack
    *The park will be a visual and cultural focal point not only for
    the downtown, but also the entire town, serving as one of the magnet destinations that might draw people downtown.
    *The Park could include satellite parking for events at the Arts Center.
    *The land might be laid out with trails, trees, low-key recreation sculptural and water features and a possible performance area.
    *Outdoor amphitheater

    Sounds pretty good. So let’s build the park, right? WRONG?

    Everything has changed. What is being proposed is a “walkable urban community development. NO PARK. High density mixed use of sustainable private development. Subsidized private hotel development. Minimal parking. It is a scam and our tax dollars are paying for it. Why? The government is pushing UN Agenda 21 and International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Bottom line – It doesn’t work. Don’t buy the sales pitch.

    Albuquerque, New Mexico bought the sales pitch and tried it eight years ago on the recommendation of Christopher Leihberger (speaker at the Cary Summit meeting). Lawsuits flying everywhere. High vacancy, lofts unsold and high crime. You want that for Cary?

    What can we do about it before it is too late?
    1) Contact your town council person and/or the mayor and tell them to stop this madness and build the park as promised.
    2) Attend all meetings associated with the development and express your opposition. Next meeting is 6-8 PM on June 4th at the Cary Senior Center.

    • Brent
      Brent says:

      Although there is debate about how many acres of the downtown site will be devoted to a park versus other potential uses, no one, but no one, is planning, or even suggesting, that there should be no park.

      In fact, the bonds passed in last year’s election include funding specifically for the downtown park, the detailed planning for which is imminent.

      You might have valid objections to some of the ideas being put forth, and I agree with you that all citizens should make sure to express themselves at upcoming sessions.

      But please don’t mix up those arguments with incorrect information about “no downtown park”. There will indeed be a substantial downtown park — no question about it.

      • Allen
        Allen says:

        Brent, what exactly do you consider to be a “substantial town park”? A proposed 3-acre park (no park IMHO) on approximately 14 acres surrounded on all sides with buildings and diminished public access in NOT what was originally proposed.

        What happened to the proposed amphitheater, overflow parking areas, the water structure, and room for various downtown gatherings? How many stories will the proposed buildings be–two, four, nine? I’m trying to imagine what this development will look like. Nine-story buildings surrounding a 3-acre park doesn’t seem to look too attractive to me. It certainly is NOT what was originally planned and presented to Cary citizens!! Why should tax payer money be used to subsidize private development? This is a question that must be answered to all our citizens!
        Somehow the original drawings presented to Cary citizens look very different than what is now being proposed. Look carefully at the differences between the two illustrations below. Cary citizens, when made aware of these unfortunate changes, will be very displeased and will register their discontent in many ways–especially in next year’s elections when details of this “bait and switch” are made public.
        The first illustration (Photo 7-1) taken from Don Frantz’s blog ( looks very attractive. The second one taken from Don’s blog (Photo – Charette Team Concept) does NOT!!

        • Brent
          Brent says:

          Many of these questions are ones that deserve more community discussion.

          I was reacting to your original statement, “NO PARK”. As I said earlier, there are many things to debate, but to state that there will not be a park is not accurate, and it doesn’t advance the discussion.

          There have been many opportunities for public input on the downtown park and there will be more. There are things some people will like and things that some people won’t like.

          Nothing is a final decision at this point.

          Except that there will be a park.

          • Allen
            Allen says:

            Thanks for getting back Brent. When I looked at the two pictures on Don’s blog I was extremely disappointed. One picture with a 14 acre park and one with a 3 acre park told the real story. With only 3 acres the outdoor amphitheater and all of the other proposed nice amenities are off the table. Therefore, it is no longer a park but a playground or perhaps a courtyard behind the proposed hotel. Not the park we were led to believe. Due to the significant proposed change to the size of the park I suggest that another referendum should be voted on regarding the new plans. What we originally voted on is not what is being proposed. It is a classic “bait and switch”. Is that legal, honest, fair or ethical? An increasing number of citizens are aware of these unwanted changes and are NOT happy.

            BTW the major downtown public Summit meeting that was held a few weeks ago allowed no public input in terms of asking questions. I certainly hope the next meeting at the Cary Senior Center allows questions from the attendees. We don’t need the consultants asking the questions. We “The Citizens of Cary” deserve the right to ask questions. Also, I suggest that the Town of Cary should hold open meetings announced in the newspaper, on websites, flyers, etc. to announce the change in plans for this space so ALL citizens can give input on whether they agree to the switch from an open park to private development on public land that Cary has bought with taxpayer money.

  2. Ian Henshaw
    Ian Henshaw says:

    I think that the event was well worth the effort for the Town and for all the attendees. There are a much larger number of Cary Citizens that now have some idea of the regional and national trends. A few of us that keep track of these trends did not see anything new. How Cary reacts to these trends and changes development policy will no doubt have a “Cary feel” to it. Town decision making will only be better with an educated population.

    As property owners in Cary we should all be interested in the threats and opportunities that will change the prosperity of the Town and our property values in turn.

    I hope that the Town will load the program onto their YouTube channel so that many more citizens can see what the issues are.

  3. Robert Bush
    Robert Bush says:

    I’m sorry Laurie feels the event is predetermined. As one of the table hosts, the feedback I received was universally positive about the experience. As the article notes, Cary is entering a new phase of growth. We have few remaining farms that can be developed, and the original neighborhoods will be approaching 50 years old. If Cary is to continue to grow, it must be through redeveloping existing areas, and the question then becomes how should those areas redevelop?

    A big concern is the exodus of young Millennials. There is little to hold them in Cary. If we want to continue to be a vibrant community, we need to figure out what we’re lacking – housing choices, destinations, activities, that will make this a place where the next generation wants to be.

  4. Laurie
    Laurie says:

    The town had over 900 people registered for this summit. This was a wonderful opportunity to get real input from citizens about what they envisioned for the future of Cary. But they wasted that wonderful opportunity and pushed their own predetermined direction. The feedback they got was tainted. Our table host was a Raleigh planner who told us they (planners) could see where things were headed (high density, walkable, rail) and how it was important. Each table host was supposed to be neutral. The town should apologize to everyone that took the time to attend.

    • Dean
      Dean says:

      So, your table had someone who was pushing high density walkable rail communities and you believed that each table host was supposed to be neutral?

      Welcome to Agenda 21 and the Delphi Technique. They never really wanted your opinion, they were trying to tell you what it was.

  5. TJ Cawley
    TJ Cawley says:

    This was a very well run and thought out event. I look forward to participating in the next phase “Area Conversations”. Although I am a Morrisville resident I recognize that actions that Cary takes to enhance our greater community affect me and vice versa. As more residents of both communities become engaged in helping our leadership make sound decisions the better off the future will be for all of us.
    TJ Cawley

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