Cary, NC – Last night’s Cary Town Council meeting went on into the late hours of the night, with two controversial Public Hearings, feedback on the budget, a lot of comments at Public Speaks Out and more.
Urban Drive Rezoning
The item that took the most time by far at the Thursday, June 8, 2017 Cary Town Council meeting was the planned rezoning in Downtown Cary along Urban Drive off of Chatham Street. The developer was planning to rezone a 0.19 acre lot to put in five townhomes, likely totaling three stories.
The Cary Community Plan is designed to bring more residences to Downtown Cary, and particularly more dense housing in the Eastern sections. But thirteen nearby residents came out to speak against the plan, some saying they would move out of not only their homes but Cary itself if the rezoning went forward.
Among the reasons given were a lack of congruency between the single-family homes in the neighborhood now and townhomes, as well as traffic, a lack of privacy and particularly stormwater and flooding. Another reason for the concern given by speakers was the plan for a four story condominium building also along Urban Drive. This plan would not require council approval as it already fits the zoning.
Three speakers were there in favor of the plan. They said Downtown Cary needs more dense housing and said more people are needed in the area to bolster the local businesses. One speaker said the Heart of Cary Association is supportive of the plan.
During their question and comment period, Town Council questioned town staff about flooding and stormwater and were told regulations would mitigate it and this project would not result in worse flooding for the neighborhood. Town Council also said problems with homes flooding now are due to houses being built in floodplains in the past before such regulations were in place.
Some councilmembers expressed disappointment in not seeing more conditions put in place by the developers. Councilmember Don Frantz pulled up the map of Downtown Cary from the Cary Community Plan and showed how it called for a walkable corridor that got denser as it moved east, which would encompass Urban Drive.
“But it’s easy for me to say that when I don’t live there,” Frantz said.
Some councilmembers also wondered if this level of density was going too far.
“Five units on 0.19 acres works out to 26 homes per acre next to single family homes,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ed Yerha.
The plan was then sent to the Planning and Zoning Board for their recommendation.
NW Cary Parkway and Evans Road Rezoning
Urban Drive was not the only rezoning that saw a lot of discussion. Town Council also heard a plan to rezone 5.88 acres near the intersection of NW Cary Parkway and Evans Road to turn it from Office and Institutional to Residential Multi-family, with a plan to put in seven townhomes per acre. The developer argued that no one has developed this land for 20 years and said it was not suitable for office space.
There are multiple characteristics to the land, such as the stream buffers, sewer lines and it is on a hill that drops off many feet. The developer argued that residential development would be able to adapt better than office and would result in less stormwater and more environmental protection.
Three residents spoke out against the plan. Among their criticisms were that it took away office land and thus less provided less economic development for the town, it would still create stormwater and it would not be affordable housing for seniors as was being promised. Other criticisms also brought up the level of surrounding development in general and one speaker brought up a lack of confidence in the developers themselves, referencing the April 27, 2017 Town Council meeting where these developers put forth their rezoning along Carpenter Upchurch Road, which got pushback from councilmembers.
Councilmembers said they were not happy about losing office land but some, such as Frantz and Councilmember Ken George, questioned why residents had problems with what residential buildings would do to stormwater when office would do much the same. In fact, Councilmember Jack Smith said it would be possible that a developer could come in and building office space there that would make the residents even more unhappy. Though Smith himself was not enthusiastic about the plan.
“When you want to do rezoning and infill, you need to excite us,” Smith said. “If you’re going to come in and make the most out of the land and squeeze in as much as you can, it’s not exciting.”
The plan was then sent to the Planning and Zoning Board for their recommendation.
Other Public Hearings
This was the second Public Hearing on the 2018 budget, though as Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said, the budget will now be quarterly so people will have the opportunity to continue to speak out all year round and make changes to their budget plans.
Two residents spoke about wanting more resources devoted to protecting natural resources in Cary, particularly with trees and canopy. One of those residents also did not think the Champion Tree policy was being enforced and Champion Trees were being cut down with minimal backlash for developers.
Another speaker from The Carying Place, an organization that provides transitional housing and job training to homeless families, spoke to thank the Town Council for their support in the past.
And Nathaniel Greene with the Northwest Cary Community Connection spoke to thank the town for their support of the Cameron Pond Park, but also wanted to see more done about transportation infrastructure and greenways. Also, Greene said the town should try to get more detailed public comments on the budget and not rely on social media which can be overly pithy.
The only other Public Hearing was for the rezoning of 32.22 acres near the intersection of White Oak Church Road and Green Level West Road. Conditions include a limit of two units per acre, two community gathering spaces totaling a minimum of 10,000 square feet and would not be factoring riparian buffer space into their calculation of total land, which a new state law would allow them to do.
Councilmembers commended them on taking that last step, expressing their frustration with the new law, and Smith said this is an example of an “exciting” proposal, contrasting it with the NW Cary Parkway and Evans Road plan from earlier in the night.
No one spoke at this Public Hearing and it was sent to the Planning and Zoning Board for their recommendation.
Public Speaks Out
Two of the speakers at Public Speaks Out actually addressed Urban Drive, though not the rezoning on the agenda. They both talked about their dislike for the planned condominium and one speaker said speed and traffic along their road is a problem that needs action.
Two other speakers talked about the level of growth in Downtown Cary in general, saying they liked it when it started but now was it curbed. One speaker suggested larger, taller buildings should be in the North side of Chatham Street to reduce impact on homes.
Also speaking were two members of the Friends of Hemlock Bluffs, thanking the Town of Cary for funding research at Hemlock Bluffs.
But the speakers that made the most memorable impact at the meeting was a large group of seniors wearing matching shirts and holding signs to reflect their numbers. Two representatives of the group spoke about pickleball in Cary and said they want the town to give the sport more support. They said it was initially the most supportive in the Triangle but it has now lagged behind and during the Summer, they have limited court space and the existing courts need upgrading. They presented the Town Council with a petition that carried more than 100 signatures.
There was only one Discussion Item on the agenda, with a contract for GoCary to operate GoTriangle Route 300 for a Sunday service that is popular for churchgoers. Taking on this contract would not result in any additional costs for the Town of Cary and it was approved unanimously by Town Council with limited discussion.
This meeting also included two Quasi-Judicial Hearings. One dealt with a new multi-family development near the intersection of NC-55 and McCrimmon Parkway. The plan went before a Quasi-Judicial Hearing because they requested a 30 percent reduction in the number of parking spaces. The developers and their analysts and engineers presented studies to suggest the proximity to the Alston Town Center resulted in their traffic burden being overestimated and their main rental base, likely “millennials” and seniors, would not be driving as much and preferred transportation through walking or ride-sharing services.
Town Council voted for this parking reduction, as well as for the annexation and development plan attached to the project.
Story by Michael Papich. Photos by Hal Goodtree and GoogleMaps.