Harold’s Blog: Panel Discussions, Commuter Rail, Road Improvements and More

Cary, NC – This week’s activities were shortened due to illness earlier in the week. My first activity was on Wednesday.

Wednesday- Last day as Chair of Metropolitan Planning Board

I chaired the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Executive Board for the last time. I have been the Chair for the last two years and Vice Chair the previous two years. The new Chair is now Sig Hutchinson from the Wake County Commissioners and the Vice Chair is now Mayor Vivian Jones from Wake Forest. Those are two great people and they will do a fantastic job.

The meeting had two consent items and six discussion items. One discussion item was a report on a study of the Greater Triangle Commuter Rail. They stated that a new set of tracks would be needed to handle the volume for commuter rail and the cost of that would be over $1 billion dollars. It will be interesting to see what happens next with the commuter rail.

Thursday- Panel Talk with Mayors Schewel and Baldwin

I participated in a panel discussion along with Mayor Schewel of Durham and Mayor Baldwin of Raleigh. This was held by the Triangle Community Coalition at their annual meeting. A series of questions, which were provided to us in advance, were asked of all the mayors. Here are the questions and notes that I spoke from:

What’s Cary’s approach to access to housing affordability?

  • This is a complex national issue that affects our region.
  • Our first task is to come to an agreement on what “housing affordability” means in Cary.
  • We are in the process of a year-long effort with staff and consultants to gather data to know exactly what our housing inventory is and what the gaps might be.
  • We talked about this in our November quarterly meeting and will talk about this at our annual retreat in March.
  • Real solutions will come from working together and making this a problem for the government to solve. Who in this room is willing to sell their home or property for less than market value? No one. And that’s our challenge.

Cary passed a Transportation and Parks Bond in November. What will this bond accomplish for the Town?

  • Three years ago, we adopted the Cary Community Plan which was our citizens’ vision for the next 20 years.
  • It took over 1000 people to create it and we take it very seriously.
  • With the 2019 bonds our citizens overwhelmingly said they wanted to implement that plan.
  • $113 million for transportation:
    • Street improvements programs
    • NCDOT betterments
    • Several road widenings
    • New sidewalks and sidewalk improvements
    • Grade separation on highway 55
    • Downtown parking
    • Fenton infrastructure
  • $112 million for parks:
    • $20 million for open space
    • Phase II of the downtown park
    • Three new parks
    • Veterans Freedom Park enhancements
    • Playground upgrades and park improvements
    • Historic preservations
    • New greenways
    • Tennis court replacements
    • SK8 improvements

Cary is seen as the most stable Council in the Triangle. What do you attribute to that? What advice would you give to other towns? How do you build a team?

  • We’re very blessed to have a community that, for the most part, thinks their government is doing a good job, and we don’t take that for granted.
  • We’ve been scientifically surveying our citizens every 2 years since 1998, so we keep a check on what they’re thinking and feeling beyond each election cycle. In fact, our next survey begins this weekend.
  • We focus on the business of Cary- the things we can affect and stay away from state or national issues that we can’t control or influence.
  • We are nonpartisan. Truly. We leave party politics outside of Town Hall, which helps us come together to work on Cary.
  • I think of us as a family. We have bonds that go beyond one issue or one vote. And just like families, we sometimes fight and pout. But we get over it.
  • We also have an incredible Town Manager, Sean Stegall. Sean believes in us, in each of us and in all of us. He thinks we can do anything, and he inspires us to be our best selves. He also instills this in his staff who support us in the very same way.
  • Our team is the Council AND Sean AND his staff. Sean’s very much our coach, and he sets us up to accomplish our goals.
  • As for giving advice to others, I don’t like to do that. I don’t walk in my fellow Mayors’ shoes. Every community is unique with their own set of challenges.
  • It’s a special time in Cary right now for sure, and we don’t take it for granted. We’ve seen it turn on a dime before, and we know it can happen again if we go too far one way or another.

Crime rates seem to be increasing. How are we keeping the increased crime rate from derailing the growth and success of our region?

  • Crime really isn’t significantly increasing in Cary. We’re an anomaly, and I’m grateful for that every day.
  • That’s also something that can turn on a dime, so I’m hesitant to offer advice.
  • We all have great law enforcement professionals working for us. Of course, I’m partial to ours…But they all work hard and do the thing no one up here will do: come to work willing to die to preserve the integrity of our communities and our democracy.
  • I will say that, just like housing, safety is regional. People in Cary commit cries in Raleigh and Raleigh people in Durham and Durham people in Cary and on and on. So having our law enforcement folks working together across city boundaries is important, and it’s something I think they do well.
  • But I think we all know that crime occurs for a variety of reasons and is tied to our social fabric. Poverty, mental health, education, opportunity – these are all factors in crime rates, and too often we just look at policing to solve those problems, which they can’t and don’t.

As the leaders of the Triangle’s largest cities, what other concerns do you all have for the region? And how can we apply “best practices” to other parts of the Triangle?

  • I think each of our cities have great staff who are always looking to apply best practices and learn from other places. We need to be sure to keep encouraging that and actually paying for them – and ourselves – to go places and learn.
  • Recycling – the industry is falling apart on a global scale, so what can we do, will we do with our solid waste? It’s cheaper now to landfill many recyclables, but that’s not socially acceptable.

We have many leaders from other municipalities in attendance today, and there are many new members on each Council. What advice would you give them?

  • Accept that you don’t really know very much, even though you think you do. Local government is complex, and you need to give yourself time to learn.
  • Lean on your Manager and your colleagues. Seek out their advice.
  • Leave party politics outside of city hall. You represent everyone now, not just those who voted for you.

The panel discussion lasted about an hour.

Town Manager’s Report

The town manager’s report for this week included the following:

Chinese Lantern Festival

The Chinese Lantern Festival wrapped up its annual run at Booth Amphitheatre where 121,654 visitors passed through its gates between November 22, 2019 and January 12, 2020. Visitors from across North Carolina and beyond enjoyed the magnificently crafted lanterns, each one comprised of hundreds of parts and thousands of LED lights. Organizers have announced that not only will the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival will return to Koka Booth Amphitheatre next November, but also that the festival will continue annually through 2024.

TCC Mayors Panel

Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, along with Raleigh Mayor Mary Ann Baldwin and Durham Mayor Steve Schewel, participated on a discussion panel at the Triangle Community Coalition Annual meeting in Cary on Thursday. They discussed topics important to Cary citizens and the region, including housing affordability, bonds, crime, transit, downtown redevelopment and improvements in local government service delivery.

Biennial Survey Commences

On Saturday, January 18, Dr. Kevin Baker and his team will begin contacting Cary residents to collect data for the 2020 Biennial Citizen Satisfaction Survey. Residents will be asked to share their opinions on how well Cary’s government works for them. The survey report is expected in the spring. Cary has been conducting this research since 2000, and past surveys are available online.

MPO 101

Interested in learning more about the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and deciphering all of those transportation-related acronyms? CAMPO is offering an MPO 101 training class on Friday, February 21, 2020 from 8:30 to noon at its downtown Raleigh office. This brief training course is a primer on the core functions of the MPO and how they relate to member agencies. It applies to both new and experienced elected officials and staff. Bagels and coffee will be provided. Registration is required.

Multipurpose Indoor Sports Complex

Congratulations to staff for successfully submitting a proposal to Wake County for hotel occupancy funding for the future Multipurpose Indoor Sports Complex to be located at Cary Towne Center. We just learned that our proposal was the only one submitted for this funding. The next step is a presentation of our proposal to Wake County on January 23.

Chapel Hill Road Improvements

NCDOT began constructing intersection improvements on Chapel Hill Road at Bowden Street and Sorrell Street. Improvements include road widening to provide left turn lanes onto Bowden Street and Sorrell Street and associated drainage improvements. These improvements were identified due to safety concerns with vehicles using wide pavement to illegally pass vehicles turning left. These changes will improve safety and eliminate deep rutting on the shoulder of the street. This improvement was designed and funded as part of Cary’s FY2016 Intersection Improvements Project. We leveraged our strong relationship with NCDOT to negotiate a cost-sharing agreement for NCDOT to build this project, allowing the Town to see it constructed for 20 cents on the dollar. Construction is expected to take about two months.

Flooding Chances Recede

Nine months of adaptive stormwater work at the intersection of Warren and Pleasants has nearly come to a close, and the frequency and severity of flooding has been abated. Data from the basin model set the course for addressing existing conditions beyond standard engineering practices. We combined the results from the dynamic Walnut Creek Basin Model with work done through our Pilot Maintenance Program, a partnership with nearby citizens, and a consensus to use Public Works staff to manage this legacy problem. Work to reduce the frequency and severity of flooding at nearby properties and streets, improve public safety and protect Town infrastructure within and beyond the right-of-way was estimated to cost $1.6 million based on new development design standards. Using an adaptive approach and the expertise and experience of Public Works staff, the work was done for less than $50,000.

Employee Rap Session

The first Diversity and Inclusion Rap Session of 2020 kicked off on Thursday, January 16. This is the third year of our employee rap sessions, and Tru Pettigrew returned as facilitator to assist Cary staff with conversations on this year’s theme. In this first session, staff defined diversity and inclusion and discussed why it is important to the Town. They also shared their own experiences, discussed ways the Town could improve and suggested ideas to begin these efforts. Diversity and inclusion efforts will require a OneCary approach across the entire organization to ensure that we are diverse and inclusive, allow employees to be their authentic selves and remain a great place to work.

CERT Training

To help citizens better prepare for weather emergencies, the Cary Fire Department hosted basic training this past weekend for Cary’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Members of the community completed basic training, which consisted of classroom lectures and practical exercises related to disaster preparedness, fire extinguisher use, emergency medicine, light search and rescue, and disaster psychology. For more information on Cary CERT or how to become involved in this vital support service, visit http://www.carycert.org.


Joy Ennis presented at the North Carolina Recreation & Parks Association Business Management Summit. She shared her expertise in creating and using a facility business plan with Parks and Recreation professionals from all over the state.

Sea Cadets Visit Cary

The Town of Cary hosted the Raleigh Battalion Sea Cadets on January 11 for their annual Public Safety Day. Among the fun and informative activities was a presentation by Josie Johnson from Animal Control, a tour of the 911 center, hands-on tours of a Cary Fire rescue truck and a Cary EMS ambulance, a drone demo by the Fire Department’s Jose Mendez, and a K9 demo by the Police Department’s Scott McInerny and Tayber. Riley Godley organized the event for the 25 cadets.


Officer Ken Collins partners with residents and management staff of Bell Preston Reserve Apartments, becoming involved in community affairs and tailoring services to the unique characteristics and needs of Bell Preston Reserve. According to Community Manager Tricia Casey, “Project Phoenix is an incredible program. Officer Collins is always willing to help when we have any issues and is great to work with.”

Emails from Citizens

Emails from citizens this week included:

  • A request to help with a permit problem (staff resolved this issue)
  • A concern about the town taking over HOA land with a conservation easement (staff contacted this person and helped with a large amount of misinformation)
  • A complaint about the RDUAA’s fence at Umstead.
  • A complaint that RDUAA is violating Bald Eagle protection act
  • A request for several environmentally friendly policies
  • A request to save the Old Library site for an arcade (this site is scheduled for redevelopment)
  • A complaint about a rezoning proposal for more multi-family on Piney Plains

Next week’s activities include a meeting of the Wake County Mayors Association, staff meetings, the Lazy Daze Grants reception, the State of Cary address at Prestonwood, and the second regularly scheduled council meeting of January.

Get in Touch

Well, that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday, January 26th.  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 courtesy of Sean Stegall.

1 reply
  1. Brent
    Brent says:

    The Mayor’s own words illustrate the folly of the so-called “non-partisan” timidity of the Council.

    For example, the Mayor wonders “what will we do?” About recycling. One thing the Council could do is take a stand on tariffs, which are a root cause of recycling woes.

    But no, the Council won’t take a stand, even though this directly affects Cary citizens.

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