Harold’s Blog: State of Cary, Legislative Meeting and More

Cary, NC – This week was a busy week for me. 

Monday – Lazy Daze Awards

My first meeting on Monday was cancelled. The town manager and I usually meet every Monday but since we just spent two full days together there was not a lot for us to meet about.

Monday evening I joined council members Bush, Smith, and Yerha at the annual Lazy Daze grants awards. Each year a committee takes proceeds from Lazy Daze and gives grants to organizations that promote the arts. This year there were 38 applicants that met the criteria and all of them received grants. In all $40,000 was awarded. Since the inception of this program there has been over $700,000 put back into community organizations. This year’s Lazy Daze will be another 2 day festival and will be held at the town hall campus.

Tuesday I taped an abbreviated version of the State of Cary address for Cary TV. Over the weekend I took the original address of 2500 words and reduced it to 700 words. IMHO the abbreviated version seemed choppy and didn’t flow well. But expecting someone to watch 20 minutes of an entire address is unrealistic. So hopefully people will watch this version.

Tuesday – Legislative Advocacy

Tuesday night the town council hosted 5 members of the Wake County legislative delegation and 1 member from the Chatham County legislative delegation. The purpose was to present our Advocacy Principles and our legislative agenda. Our Advocacy Principles are the same every year and are as follows:

  • The citizens of Cary expect us to maintain our streets to high standards, maintain the look and feel of Cary through land planning, protect our drinking water and use revenues wisely.
  • As a consequence, we need the authority to make transportation, land planning, development and spending decisions that consider the hopes and dreams of our community.

Our legislative agenda is as follows:

  • While we are taking the lead, this is a joint request with the Town of Apex. We are seeking a local bill to authorize the Apex Police Department to continue to serve Apex High School students while the school is located in Cary due to major renovations
  • We would support an option for municipalities to change their election dates to even-numbered years if that is what those communities want. For Cary, right now, we like the current system, but are would support an option for cities that want it.
  • We will support legislation that promotes small cell wireless infrastructure while retaining municipal control over the development process and local rights of way. Staff has been working collaboratively with providers to come up with a standard that could be approved in a very streamlined way. We understand that this infrastructure is important to our citizens, our businesses and economic development.
  • Protect Jordan Lake. This is the water source for Cary, Morrisville, Apex, RDU and part of RTP.
  • And, closely related, is protection of riparian buffers. Buffers prevent water quality degradation by trapping sediment and preventing nutrients and pollutants from reaching streams and rivers. Protecting these buffers from intense development also preserves floodplains and mitigates risks of flooding.
  • Support legislation to amend the Iran Divestment Act to make compliance less of an administrative burden.

I also presented information related to the Capital Area Metropolitan Organization’s SPOT 4 program to the delegation. The group had a great discussion about the urban/rural divide in the legislature. Senator Barringer and Senator Chaudhuri were especially vocal about looking for ways to bridge the divide. We adjourned after about two hours.

Wednesday – State of Cary Address

Wednesday I presented the State of Cary address to the Cary MacGregor Rotary Club. This was the second live presentation. It was very similar to the first but included extra slides and updated slides with information from the council-staff retreat. There were about 50 people in attendance and they were all very kind. I answered a few questions and then stayed behind after the meeting to meet people and answer additional questions. My visit lasted about an hour.

Thursday – Quasi-Judicial Meeting Tabled

Thursday the council held a quasi-judicial meeting for one item. The attorney representing the clients asked that the matter be tabled until the March 2nd quasi-judicial meeting because one of his expert witnesses was seriously ill. Council unanimously tabled the item and the meeting ended in a record time of 3 minutes.

Friday – Mayors Meeting

Friday I was scheduled to participate in a meeting of the Metro mayors. But since there was little action this week in the legislature the meeting was cancelled.

Town Manager’s Report

The town manager’s weekly report included the following:

Hello from NYC!

Yesterday for two days of meetings, Karen Mills, Mary Beth Huber and I traveled to New York City to meet and present to the three rating agencies. I’m so appreciative of this trip and the opportunity it affords me to meet our bond agencies as well as join Karen and Mary Beth in demonstrating the Town’s consistent approach to prudent financial management.

Cary Parkway & West Chatham Street Signal

NCDOT put into operation a new traffic signal this week at Cary Parkway at West Chatham Street. Additional intersection improvements include protected pedestrian crossings on West Chatham Street and SW Cary Parkway

Naming Town Facilities

Given discussions on the Good Hope Farm project at last week’s retreat, I looked into our naming policy and found the following, Policy Statement 171, adopted by Council in 2014. Staff is making edits to ensure current and future projects adhere to the policy.

Implicit Bias Training for Cary Police

In January, the Police Department partnered with the International Academy of Public Safety to bring a “train the trainer” session for Leadership and Implicit Bias for the Law Enforcement Instructor. The focus of the course was centered on implicit and explicit biases, recognizing bias and affecting personal strategies to recognize those biases, the magnanimous/virtuous officer, setting aside ego and maintaining self-control under stressful conditions and police dynamics in today’s policing environment. Additionally, representatives from 21 police agencies across the state (Wilmington to Charlotte) attended this training.

In light of our discussion at the retreat last week, this story is yet another example of things we do to maintain citizens’ trust and confidence in local government.

Paid Parental Leave Program 

On Wednesday, the Town’s Paid Parental Leave Program went into effect as a result of Council’s approval in January. As a reminder, this program will provide six weeks of paid leave available within 12 months of the qualifying event of birth or placement of a child through adoption, foster care or guardianship. We’re excited to have the opportunity to introduce this as another component of our comprehensive compensation package.

Successful Burn at the Bluffs

On Wednesday, the NC Forest Service, NC State Parks and our Fire Department conducted the annual controlled burn at Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve. This was the fourth burn at the Bluffs, and is part of the site’s natural resource management plan to help prevent wildfires.

Tax Collection Lawsuit Dismissed

The tax collection action Chatham County v. Kathleen A. Hampton, et al brought to collect unpaid taxes for 2014 and 2015 has been dismissed because the taxes were paid. Cary was named defendant in the action because it too had a tax claim against Hampton. Chatham County is responsible for collecting Town taxes in that county, so with resolution of this action, the delinquent taxes due to Cary have been paid.


Police Officer Lee Carter was recognized by peers this quarter for his work with one of our elderly citizens. A woman called the Total Life Center at Bond Park to advise she didn’t have any food to eat. When Officer Carter arrived at the house, he found the lady in tears. She explained that she was desperate for food and the grocery store had terminated its delivery service. In addition to doing a simple welfare check, Officer Carter went the extra mile to set up a food order with the grocery store, picked them up, and hand deliver them to the woman.

On Tuesday, I asked Jerry Jensen to serve as Acting Director for Transportation & Facilities. Lori Cove hired Jerry, and I think she would be glad to know that he’s agreed to step up.

Emails From Staff

Communications from staff this week included some interesting information about storm water runoff. Over the past twenty years great strides have been made in resolving storm water concerns around Town. Many of these successes were facilitated through Policy Statement 35 – Storm Drainage System Petitions and Policy Statement 146 – Storm Water Capital Improvements Requests which have been fine-tuned by Council over the years. Through discussion with attorneys it was found that the town’s ability to manage storm water off the rights-of-way is limited by law in North Carolina, including the N.C. Constitution. In the opinion of one lawyer in this field of expertise, the law does not permit the town to pay or provide benefits to private individuals or entities unless it serves a larger public purpose. Thus it makes it extremely difficult to help property owners around town experiencing storm water issues.

The fourth quarter report from 2016 included the following information:

  • Cary’s population is 159,167 which is a 2.08% increase in the last 12 months.
  • There were 201 single family lots and 116 townhomes approved in the fourth quarter.
  • Cary had 10.3% of all single family permits in the country which was fourth behind Raleigh, Apex, and Holly Springs.
  • The average size of a single family dwelling was 3760 square feet compared to 3925 square feet in 2012.
  • There were 312 CO’s issued for single family dwellings and no multi-family CO’s
  • Water demand for the quarter averaged 17.9 million gallons a day which was 1.2 million gallons a day higher than 2015.
  • Larceny made up 74% of all Part 1 crimes in Cary.

Emails from citizens this week included:

  • A request to do something about Trump’s immigration order.
  • A request to part a particular artist’s work on the 13 acre downtown site.
  • A question about the timeline of announced Wegmans.
  • A request to hold future council-staff retreats in downtown Cary.
  • Several requests for recommendation letters and congratulatory letters.
  • A question about the Trimble Avenue proposal.
  • A question about the potential of “Pianos on Parade”

Harold Weinbrecht giving his State of Cary address

State of Cary Address

Last week I promised to include my entire State of Cary address. So here it is:

As mayor I am honored and proud to deliver my 10th State of Cary address. I would like to take this opportunity to present the accomplishments of 2016, talk about some of the issues we face not only this year but in years to come, and provide an update of several key projects.

As we begin the year, our citizens continue to enjoy a premium quality of life, a flourishing economy, and a strong job market. Cary has an incorporated area of just under 60 square miles. Over 157,000 people from all over the world call Cary home, and we continue to have a sustainable growth rate of less than 3%. We have the lowest tax rate in Wake County and the highest quality of life.

Our citizens are well educated, diverse, and aging. Two thirds have college degrees, and about one fourth have advanced degrees. With 18 percent of our population from other countries representing sixty nationalities, Cary embraces and celebrates our diversity through numerous cultural programs that help us understand the values, experiences, and talents that each of us has to offer. Cary’s population is getting older, and it is estimated that five thousand, or 3 percent, of our residents now turn 65 every year.

2016 was another great year for Cary as we once again received numerous accolades. We are the safest municipality of our size in the nation according to the FBI. We were the recent recipient of the “Gold Medal Award” by the National Recreation and Parks Association.  This prestigious award is recognition of our ability to anticipate the community’s needs by devising, building and maintaining a diverse portfolio of recreational and cultural amenities.  Simply put, we have the best parks system in the country.

Cary was also named the number one boomtown in America, one of the best places to live in the nation, one of the most successful cities, one of the best educated communities, one of the best for middle class families, one of the best for telecommuting, one of the most cycle friendly communities, one of the best place for cost of doing business, one of the best places for a competitive labor market, one of the best places for career oriented professionals, and one of the happiest places in North Carolina. And that’s just a few of the awards this year.

Cary has benefited significantly from years of great planning, great staff, and great governance. We have created an extraordinary community that is one of the most desirable places to live, work, play, and conduct business in the nation. A big part of our continued success is our Town staff. In 2016, Cary saw important leadership changes. In February the Town Council appointed Virginia Johnson as Cary’s Town Clerk. In her first eleven months she has not only proven to be an excellent Town Clerk but has also been finding new ways to improve public records access as well as streamlining processes among the Council and staff. We are blessed to have such a great public servant in Ginny.

We also hired a new Town Manager in 2016. In our search, we made it clear to the candidates that we were looking for a leader who could take us to the next level. After an exhaustive nine-month search, the Town Council appointed Sean Stegall to the position last summer. Mr. Stegall served as city manager in Elgin, Illinois after serving in other municipalities and in the private sector. He is a graduate of the Senior Executive Institute at the University of Virginia and the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government. In addition to his excellent qualifications, he brings us a new perspective in our quest to make sure our levels of service remain the highest. Sean has been very busy in his first six months and has reached out to Council, community leaders, and citizens to learn what makes Cary great. He has been challenging his staff and the Council to think more outside the box and to consider innovative ways of doing things that may be drastically different from what we are doing today.

One of Mr. Stegall’s first questions to me was whether I would be satisfied with today’s excellent level of service for the next 10 to 20 years or would I want to improve on it. He explained that maintaining our levels of excellence will be difficult and improving upon those levels would likely require significantly more resources. Personally, I believe that our Council, our businesses, and our citizens want Cary to continually improve. If we accept our levels of excellence of today as good enough, even though they are probably the goal of most communities in this nation, then I believe we will go the way of companies like Blackberry and Sears. They were once top companies in the nation and are now fighting for their survival. So as we move forward let us evolve into something greater and constantly look for new and innovative ways to make us better.  But at the same time let us never forget those things that made us a premiere community and find ways to protect them.  Let us never sacrifice the future to ease the pain in the present.

Improving on our excellent level of service might not be an easy but it something that we are well positioned to tackle.  Cary benefitted from the rapid growth over last three decades and the infrastructure that supported that growth has begun to show its age.  Our aging infrastructure will require additional investment if we are to avoid the pitfalls of countless other communities.  Their approach was to avoid the difficult conversations which resulted in a lack of investment in infrastructure which inevitably translated into community-wide disinvestment and lower property values, from business owners to homeowners.  This will put a great amount of pressure on the elected officials to hold the tax rate down.

They will be presented with choice of cutting into the levels of service, sacrificing aesthetics and programming, finding more revenue, or all of the above. For example, future Councils could decide that our beautifully landscaped medians could be altered to lower cost by removing labor intensive trees and shrubs and replacing them with just grass or even concrete. Other cost-saving measures could include reducing our cultural programming, using less equipment and fewer people in public works, and having our police officers and firefighters use outdated equipment while trying to keep us all safe. While these actions can reduce our costs they will have a huge impact on our levels of service, the value of our homes, and our quality of life. And that is NOT the Cary way! Cary is about excellence.

As a matter of fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a local government that provides a higher level of service with fewer taxpayer dollars than Cary.

So how do we tackle maintaining excellence and moving to the next level of excellence as expenses mount? One way is by focusing on growing our economy. This will require overcoming many obstacles such as business unfriendly legislation like HB2. We can no longer wait for companies to show interest in North Carolina before recruiting them. Instead we must travel to them. I am confident that if companies in areas like Silicon Valley and New York knew what Cary had to offer, more would be very interested in growing there businesses here.  So it’s incumbent upon all of us as community leaders to tell them.

But before we present ourselves outside of North Carolina we must rebrand ourselves. Why? We need to change the perception by some that Cary is a small town in North Carolina that is no longer a progressive state, or the perception that Cary is just a bedroom community of Raleigh. We must let everyone know that Cary has worldwide headquarters of major corporations; we are America’s home for amateur sports and much, much more. Our brand needs to be known as having demographics that are incredible and a talent pool is immense. We can start before a branding campaign has even begun. For example, this year I intentionally titled this annual address as State of Cary rather than State of the Town. While we all love, embrace, and want to protect our small town values, we must realize that those places like Silicon Valley and New York might have a different perception of the Town identification. Changing this perception begins with how we brand ourselves.

Another key component moving to the next level of excellence is by focusing on our existing businesses especially the small businesses. We must find more ways to engage them hear their ideas, help them be even more successful and grow. After all, they are the backbone of our community.

Public-private partnerships must continue to be encouraged and sought out. Our citizens need to understand that their participation is vital in keeping our community great. We cannot move to the next level of excellence without their involvement and support. One way to show that support is through financing capital projects with their affirmative votes on future bond referenda.

To get to the next level, technology must play a key role. We will need to increase our leveraging of technology in our operations, which can save us time and money in the end.

If we strive for the next level of excellence, rebrand ourselves, support our businesses, involve our community, seek partnerships, leverage technology, there is no limit on how great our community can be. But if we are not proactive it will be a monumental task.

The first step of moving to the next level requires understanding where we are currently focusing our efforts today.

The Cary Community Plan, referred to as Imagine Cary, has been a major community effort for years and was approved on January 24th. This all inclusive plan includes development, transportation, housing, the environment, economic development, and other related topics. The Cary Community Plan was crafted to protect what has made us great and is insightful of what is needed to grow our economy and meet the needs of our changing population. If we stick to the Cary Community Plan as we move forward we will have strategic, balanced growth with sufficient services.

A major chapter of the Cary Community Plan is the Eastern Gateway which is bounded by Chapel Hill Road, Walnut Street, I40, and Maynard Road. It consists of an employment based mixed use, an office campus, enhanced gateways entrances to the town, a soccer campus, an aquatic/fitness campus, a commercial based mixed use, multifamily residential, and much more. While office will be a priority it will not be dominant. One of the focal points of the Eastern Gateway is the Cary Town Center mall, which is owned by CBL. Another big focal point of the Eastern Gateway is the state site which is along Cary Town Boulevard. Columbia development is working on a proposal that will likely include a Wegmans along with a vertical and horizontal mix of uses. Activity has already begun in the Eastern Gateway with a multifamily proposal in the northwestern corner that was approved last fall. And the Eastern Gateway continues to generate lots of inquiries.

Downtown Cary has been a major area of focus especially during this past year. The Academy Streetscape has been completed and not only provides an aesthetically pleasing vista to our signature street in downtown but has the infrastructure capacity to support future development and redevelopment for decades. The first phase of the downtown park is nearing completion. A library and parking deck adjacent to the park have been approved and funded and is currently under design. It is scheduled to open in late 2018. We’re seeing the completion of the completion of the Mid-Town Square building with 25,000 square feet of office and some ground floor retail There have also been a lot of business announcements and openings in downtown: Bond Brother’s Beer Company, Pizzeria Faulisi, La Farm Bakery, Jordan Lake Brewery, Pro’s Epicurean Market & Café, Annelore’s German Bakery, Chatham Street Wine Market, FRESH Local Ice Cream, Bottle Dog Bites & Brew, Hustle Fitness Studio, Everything’s Better Monogrammed, Cary Florist and new owners of Academy Street Bistro, just to name a few. In addition, the $51 million development proposal at Chatham Street and Harrison Avenue is still in the works. If approved, that proposal would include 55,000 to 75,000 square feet of retail and office, 188 multifamily units, and a 466 space parking deck.

Outside of downtown has seen a lot of activity as well with several street projects, parks, and fiber installation.

The Walnut Street at US 1 project, a key intersection in town, is complete and offers much needed pedestrian improvements and the addition of landscaped medians.

Two parks, Jack Smith Park and Carpenter Park, opened last year.

And Google fiber continues their installation and has confirmed their interest in Cary despite announcing the cancellation of several planned installations in other parts of the country. These installations, which started in Morrisville, are moving west to east but is moving much slower than anticipated. AT&T’s availability in Cary continues to be much greater than Google’s at this point.

2017 will be another busy and exciting time in Cary with several changes and challenges.

Cary launched a new and improved website earlier this month; it’s providing our citizens with more options and much improved navigation.

Three major street projects will begin construction this year including the intersection of Cary Parkway and High House Road, the realignment of the Carpenter Fire Station Road Bridge, and Green Level West construction. While the projects will certainly create headaches, once finished they will drastically improve transportation in those areas.

The approval of the Wake Transit plan should mean expansion of bus service in Cary this year. The additional connections and frequency should continue to add ridership, which means expanded employment and business opportunities for our citizens.

The decisions made at the state and national level will continue to have an impact on Cary. On a national level there is a lot of uncertainty with a new administration. On a state level, the fallout from the rural versus urban divide will once again create a lot of uncertainty.

One challenge we will face this year, along with the rest of the country, has not gotten a lot of attention in Cary. Opioid addiction is beginning to have a significant impact in Cary with over 100 overdoses resulting in some deaths last year. Now is the time to act and make decisions before this problem becomes much worse.

2017 will be an exciting time as we see many areas transforming that have been waiting years for change. Like previous years we will continue to face difficult challenges. But I am confident that with Cary’s staff, community and business leaders, and our citizen’s involvement we are well positioned to confront any challenge and remain the greatest municipality in America.

Thank you.

Next week will continue to be busy for me. Activities include several meetings with special interests, a regularly scheduled council meeting, and a meeting of the metro mayors.

Get In Touch

Well, that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday, February 12th.  Although I have Facebook and Twitter accounts those are not the best means of communications with me. Please send all Town of Cary questions or comments to Harold.Weinbrecht@townofcary.org and email personal comments to augustanat@mindspring.com.

From the blog of Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht. Photos by Michael Papich and Hal Goodtree.