Cary, NC – It was a particularly big Cary Town Council meeting this week, with new member Ya Liu sworn in, a Public Hearing on a downtown development a decade in the making and a final vote on rezoning Cary Towne Center.
Change of Town Council
The Thursday, December 12, 2019 Cary Town Council meeting, the final meeting of 2019, started with the oath of office for those Council Members who won their election: Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, Don Frantz, Lori Bush and Ya Liu.
Liu defeated Council Member Ken George to represent District D and before the oaths of office, George gave a speech thanking residents and sharing his feelings with each Council Member, and Town Manager Sean Stegall, individually.
“This has been one of the top five honors of my life,” George said.
George closed his remarks by quoting the Book of Ecclesiastes and reflecting on the passage about the optimism in the end of a life, or in this case, the end of a term.
“The birth announcement of a baby has stats and a name, but an obituary – now there’s a measure of life,” George said.
After her oath of office, Liu gave her own speech to the attendees in the nearly-packed Council Chambers.
“When I landed at the airport in Atlanta on Christmas Eve in 2003, I never thought this could be possible,” Liu said.
In her address, Liu thanked her supporters who canvassed District D for the election, and she also thanked Town Council and George specifically for working with her to prepare her for her new role.
“Running in Cary is hard, especially as a challenger. It’s hard because Cary is a great place to live,” Liu said.
With the start of the new term also comes the selection of a new Mayor Pro Tem, and former Mayor Pro Tem Lori Bush nominated Don Frantz to take that role, which Council approved unanimously.
Cary Towne Center
Town Council voted on rezoning all 87.26 acres of Cary Towne Center to a Mixed Use District, including a Preliminary Development Plan, design guidelines and conditions including streetscape reductions with an “urban” aesthetic, parking reductions and an extension on the building deadline. We’ve written about the plans more in-depth in the past.
The new Cary Towne Center will be a series of detatched buildings instead of one large mall building and will have a mix of commercial, office, institutional, hotel and residential uses, as well as a parking deck.
During Public Speaks Out, three architects and engineers working on the redevelopment talked about the plan, including the reduction in impervious services and the 1,100 new canopy trees to be planted, which will reduce stormwater runoff in this area.
Town staff estimated stormwater reduction could be 7-10 percent. They also said there will be a hybrid traffic beacon at the Walnut Street and Maynard Road intersection and a bus route will run through Cary Towne Center along the blue line above, plus a bus rapid transit route will likely run through this site.
Town Council was generally supportive in their comments. Weinbrecht said his primary concerns going into this were traffic but he said the applicants have worked with residents and Town Council and he said those concerns have been lessened. Council Member Jennifer Robinson said this plan is ultimately better than what would have happened with the golf center or even IKEA.
“I feel like we missed getting hit by a bus,” Robinson said.
The Council Member with the most concern was Ed Yerha, who said in talking with local tree experts, he does not think the promise of 1,100 canopy trees will be as beneficial as advertised, but he said he hopes the developers work with those experts to make the new trees well incorporated. Yerha also said he wants a public community center to go into the new Cary Towne Center.
The rezoning was approved by Town Council unanimously.
Citizen Board on Transportation
The only other Discussion Item on the agenda was a vote on Council directing town staff to research a Transportation and Mobility Advisory Board made up of citizens.
“What we heard from the Cary Community Plan is people want to live in a more walkable community,” Bush said, adding that she had heard from residents that it’s getting harder to be a pedestrian in Cary.
During Public Speaks Out, there was one resident who talked about concerns about too much traffic in Downtown Cary and increases in accidents. Also, a representative of a local Homeowners Association who came to say traffic and road improvements are underway in Cary. There were also concerns about traffic brought up in a Public Hearing earlier in the meeting.
Frantz had two primary questions with this board, one being what the ultimate goal of the board is or what problem they are working toward solving. The second was his hope that the board would be staffed with experts in transportation.
“I want to see experts. I want to see people with experience in this, not just the loudest person in the neighborhood,” Frantz said, also adding that he’d like board members to be selected by staff to ensure an apolitical process.
Town Council approved the direction to staff unanimously.
Northwoods and First Baptist Church Development
The only Public Hearing on the agenda that saw any speakers was the project development agreement for land owned by Northwoods Associates, First Baptist Church and the Town of Cary, to create space for two commercial buildings, an apartment complex and a parking deck. The apartment will have 180 units, the commercial buildings will be 50,000 and 10,000 square feet respectively and the parking deck will have 466 spaces. The Town of Cary will have to pay for the parking deck and other road, curb and stormwater improvements, but developers will buy half of the parking deck from the town, so the net cost for Cary will be $7,404,494.
Because of the three different land owners, Stegall noted this was the most complex development agreement he had ever seen and it has been in the works for close to a decade. Another issue was the Ivey-Ellington House on the site in question, with the decision currently to relocate the historic house to the old library property. At the start of the meeting, Town Council voted on a resolution to protect the Ivey-Ellington House.
“Every word in the resolution speaks to exactly what it’s supposed to,” Yerha said.
There were three speakers at the Public Hearing, both from the Friends of the Page-Walker and unaffiliated residents, who said their concerns were over what would happen with the Ivey-Ellington House and thanked Council for their resolution. The representative from the Friends of the Page-Walker said he wants the state Historic Preservation Office and Capital Area Preservation involved in the house’s move.
Also speaking at the Public Hearing was George Jordan, owner of Northwoods Associates. Jordan talked about his connection to Cary’s history and how long he has been working on this plan. There was also a speaker who said he had an engineering background who said the stormwater retention facility to the west was insufficiently large, too much traffic would be generated on small surrounding roads and there are no plans for solar panels on the site.
Bush echoed that last speaker and said she would like to see solar panels and “green roofs” on the site, which are not offered as conditions. The rest of Town Council was largely supportive, but Robinson said she wants something to screen the parking deck from the Academy Street view and also said large projects like this and plans for historic buildings should have details shared with the public earlier.
Town Council voted unanimously on the development agreement. First Baptist Church still has to vote on the proposal, which Town Staff said would happen Winter 2020.
Other Public Hearings
All other Public Hearings were on annexations and none had any speakers. Two annexations up for a vote were for a property on Country Lane near Reedy Creek Road and the other was for two lots on Blanche Drive, near the intersection with Blanche and Azalea Drive. Both were approved unanimously.
The other two annexations are attached to rezoning cases. One of these rezoning cases was heard at the previous Town Council Meeting, for 7.79 acres near the American Tobacco Trail. The other is for five lots near the intersection of Alston Avenue and O’Kelly Chapel Road, and that rezoning has not come before Council yet. Council will vote on both of these when they and their rezonings come up as Discussion Items.
Public Speaks Out
In addition to the Public Speaks Out comments on other agenda items, there were several other speakers. One speaker, a Downtown Cary resident, said she was concerned about a lack of historic preservation and an overall preservation of Downtown Cary’s character in recent development.
There were also two speakers who urged Town Council to pass a resolution against the quarry leased by Raleigh-Durham International Airport. One of the speakers said she researches air quality as her job and found the dust generated by the existing quarry there is already dangerous to bikers on the Black Creek Greenway and could result in the lung disease silicosis.
Other Town News
At this Town Council Meeting, Karen Mills from Cary’s finance department presented the Fiscal Year 2019 financial report. Cary spent $238 million on expenditures, which was under the budget projection. Also, Cary spent $94 on capital projects, the majority of which went to the parking deck, improvements to Carpenter Fire Station Road and other street and raw water pipeline improvements.
Also, Stegall presented the Employee of the Year award to Katie Drye in the town’s planning department and development services.
Story by Michael Papich. Photos by the Town of Cary and Michael Papich.