Cary Town Council: 2/23/17

Cary, NC – Council chambers were packed as Cary residents showed up in droves to speak on a proposed rezoning in the Scottish Hills neighborhood. Also, there are big changes for non-consentual car tows and other items Town Council voted on.

Trimble Avenue Rezoning

The biggest item on the Thursday, February 23, 2017 agenda was a Public Hearing for the rezoning of around 2.58 acres in the Scottish Hills neighborhood. The property in question lies along Trimble Avenue near the intersection of West Chatham Street.

The land is owned by Bethel Baptist Church and they have a contract with Habitat for Humanity, who are asking for the rezoning to build affordable housing. This would be the first rezoning since the passage of the Cary Community Plan.

While hundreds of people, both for and against the rezoning, showed up with the proposed plan in mind, they were faced with a big change early on. Kevin Campbell, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Wake County, said because of buffer requirements on the land, the already-amended plan for 15 units had to be changed. Now, the proposal is to build nine single-family detached homes with a 30 foot buffer between them and the rest of the neighborhood. The lots would be 8000 square feet on average.

The property is near the stub for Palmetto Drive but there are no plans to extend it.

The approximate proposed location of the Habitat homes

More than 20 people spoke on this Public Hearing. Sentiment spanned a wide spectrum, though the majority of speakers were opposed.

The most common reasons given to oppose the rezoning were stormwater run-off and whether the new homes would match the character and integrity of the neighborhood. According to residents, flooding has been a problem in that neighborhood and several people cited a 2006 study into flooding and stormwater in that area.

When it came to the houses being congruous with the neighborhood, residents talked about how much they like Scottish Hills and want the homes to fit in. These concerns ranged from the density of nine homes on fewer than three acres, all the houses looking too bland and opposition to townhomes and attached housing. At one point, a large number of residents stood up to show who supports only single-family homes, which is now the new plan from Habitat.

Several speakers were also in favor of the rezoning and talked about the importance of affordable housing. One speaker was not from the neighborhood but said she lives in a Habitat house and talked about the benefits. Topics brought up by supporters included wanting to see new families in the neighborhood and the lack of affordable housing in Wake County.

At the beginning of the Public Hearing, Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht asked speakers to consider only the rezoning and not Habitat itself or affordable housing. This was true for most of the opposition speakers though two near the end talked specifically about affordable housing. One speaker said he works hard to live in his current home and was not “handed an opportunity,” saying people who want to afford housing should work harder. Another said Scottish Hills is already affordable housing because “I can afford to live there” and argued that there are no plans for people such as him to live in affordable housing in more expensive neighborhoods in Cary such as Prestonwood.

The rezoning falls in Cary Councilmember Ken George’s district and he said he has seen the flood damage and wants that addressed. Other councilmembers agreed and wanted to see studies and reports on the stormwater there, though they expressed skepticism that nine additional homes would increase the stormwater risk.

“Those older homes were build on floodplains and there were no stormwater regulations back then like we have now,” Weinbrecht said.

George said he thought the development could be a “win” for all parties involved and thought getting matching homes would be doable. Other councilmembers said they were glad to see so much community engagement and hoped people would continue to come to them with concerns and questions.

The item now goes to the Planning and Zoning Board, which will also have a Public Hearing where people can go to share their thoughts.

Ordinances for Towing Cars

After the Trimble Avenue Public Hearing, almost everyone left Town Council chambers and missed out on the discussion of new rules related to non-consentual towing of cars from public lots. Cary police said there have been more than 100 complaints in the past six years related to towing.

“In the past, we had little ability for the police to negotiate disagreements,” said Cary Police Chief Tony Godwin.

Now, there are a number of new rules in the ordinance for towing companies and property owners to follow. Those include, but are not limited to:

  • Signs about parking and towing must meet certain requirements for clarity and visibility
  • All tows must be reported to the police
  • Towing companies and lots must maintain a phone to give people information and respond to requests
  • Receipts must be clearly understood
  • Towing companies must accept multiple forms of payment
  • Drivers can get pre-tow release if they come to their car while it being hooked up
  • Drivers can retrieve personal property from cars even if they are not being released

This would apply to any tow done in Cary, not just by Cary-based towing companies or Cary-based lots. Captain Steve Wilkins with the Cary Police Department said state law means they cannot do anything about fines in their ordinance.

The Cary Town Council passed the ordinance unanimously. They go into effect Thursday, June 1, 2017.

Other Discussion Items

Town Council also passed several other items. One of which is a lease with the county school system to build a Greenway Trailhead near Green Level High School, which is currently under construction. The trailhead would include typical amenities as well as a parking lot. The rules would not allow for students to park there during school hours but Town Council and staff admitted it would be difficult to convince students to follow that. The lease passed unanimously.

Town Council also unanimously awarded the bid for water main replacements. There is no current damage but this is a proactive infrastructure improvement. In addition, Town Council also voted to wave the one-year waiting period for a rezoning application. The project in question would link two rezonings so it can be part of one property.

Public Hearing

There was one other Public Hearing aside from Trimble Avenue for the annexation of a small piece of land near Morrisville Parkway. No one spoke on this item.

Also, no one gave comments during Public Speaks Out.

Story by Michael Papich. Photos by Michael Papich, Google Maps and the Town of Cary.