Tuesday, January 31, 2017

2017 Town of Cary Council/Staff Retreat

This past weekend the council traveled to Wrightsville Beach for our annual council/staff retreat.

We began the retreat with a tradition we started a number of years ago where the council heads up the night before and has dinner together in an effort to get to know each other better. We ate at the Blockade Runner Hotel restaurant. The food was terrible. Seriously, $16 for a burger that tasted like it was frozen a half hour before I ate it. Hamburgers are my favorite food in the world. I eat probably 10 hamburgers a week - I know a tasty burger when I eat one. They need a Crosstown Pub, Tribeca or an Abbey Road in Wrightsville Beach bad. Anyways, we enjoyed each other’s company and learned a little more about one another.

Over the years Cary has grown from a suburban boomtown to an established city that now competes with the likes of Raleigh, RTP, Charlotte and other cities across the country in regards to economic development and jobs. More people actually work inside town limits now than those who commute outside of Cary for employment.

Our Parks system is second to none. We offer an amazing array of cultural and arts programs. We host numerous festivals such as Lazy Daze (which has now grown into a two day event), the Chinese Lantern Festival, Diwali and Spring Daze just to name a few.


2016-2017 Chinese Lantern Festival

Cary’s strict development standards and good planning have helped to ensure that development met or exceeded our community’s expectations and reflected our values. Were there some mistakes along the way? Sure there were. But I think as a whole folks would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful or well planned community.

Cary is also less homogeneous than ever. 30% of Cary’s population is now “not white” with our fastest growing demographic being Asian/Indian.

I could go on, but the bottom line is that Cary is one of the greatest communities in America to live, work and play.

So how do we stay that way?

THAT was the primary focus of this year’s retreat.

Town staff shared a Buddhist saying (at least that’s what they told us – it could have been an internet meme for all I know 😉 ) that spoke to Cary’s challenges well; “If you want to know your past, look into your present conditions. If you want to know your future, look into your present actions”.

Cary didn’t grow into a city of 159,000 residents overnight and like it or not, Cary will continue to grow. We are too darn awesome a place not to. That presents challenges; the most significant being our infrastructure.

Our present conditions are that a large portion of Cary’s infrastructure is 30-40+ years old and in need of repairs/replacement now and/or in the foreseeable future (more on this in just a bit). Our present actions include maintaining that infrastructure while at the same time planning for infrastructure that hasn’t even been built yet to accommodate future growth and development.

This isn’t news to anyone at town hall or the council. We have been doing this for years. Take water mains for example: In 2008 the town implemented a program to better identify those water mains in need of replacement and take care of them BEFORE they fail. This has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of water main breaks. In 2007 there were 15 separate water main failures. Since the initiative that number has dropped to an average of 3.75 failures per year. Believe it or not, 15 water main failures per year is less than average for a community of our size – but we don’t settle for average here in Cary.

While Cary is no spring chicken (you can’t have a Cary blog without using the word chicken once and a while), our boom years were predominantly in the 90’s and early 2000’s. A LOT of Cary’s existing infrastructure was built during that period. Cary currently has 1035 miles of water mains – 24% of which are 40+ years old and reaching the end of its service life. So while the good news is that 76% are less than 40 years old – the bad news is it won’t be too long before everything built in the 90’s hits the big Four O. With each passing year the number of mains that will need repairs or replacement will continue to increase and is something that we must better prepare for. The same holds true for all of our infrastructure such as roads, stormwater management devices, parks, greenways, town facilities, sewers etc…

As the need to maintain this infrastructure to Cary standards grows, so will the pressures on the town’s budget. What that exactly means yet we do not know. What we do know is that we remain committed to providing Cary quality infrastructure, services and amenities for our citizens at the lowest possible cost to you the taxpayer.


Working away at the retreat

Infrastructure isn’t the only thing aging in Cary. Nearly 50% of all buildings and homes in Cary were built from 1980 – 1999. 14% were built prior to 1980. Now just because something is old doesn’t mean that its broken, right Jack? 😉 Heck, Cary’s older neighborhoods are one of the things that makes Cary great – I wouldn’t live anywhere else. They typically have larger lot sizes, mature trees, and they don’t look like they were built by the same builder on the same day. But just like anything else that ages, our older neighborhoods will need more attention if Cary is to remain the premier community that we are.

12% of homes in Cary are rental. 22% of homes inside the Maynard Loop are rental. Now not all renters or landlords are bad at maintaining their property just like not all homeowners are good at it. We do have some really crappy looking owner-occupied homes in Cary. But the fact remains that rental properties do present different challenges. Renters are far less likely than homeowners to invest in their home as that is the landlord’s responsibility. Landlords typically aren’t going to invest in their rental property as long as the rent check keeps showing up. The landlord might not be local to our area and may not even realize that their property needs work. We can better educate them about that.

We discussed and will continue to work on ways to improve the condition and appearance of older neighborhoods either through greater code enforcement, infrastructure improvements, expanding Cary’s Neighborhood Improvement Grant Program and our Housing Rehabilitation Program or possibly even expanding Cary’s Project Phoenix to single family communities to address minimum housing issues. Targeted redevelopment initiatives and strategic capital improvements may also help.

Our infrastructure is aging, our buildings and neighborhoods are aging and guess what? So are you, our citizens. In 2000 the median age in Cary was 33.7 years old. The median age in Cary today is now over 40 years old with 11% of our citizens aged 65 or older. Of the 14 largest cities in North Carolina, Cary now boasts the highest median age of any of them.

The good news is that more and more folks are choosing to stay in Cary well into their retirement. The bad news is that they have less money to do that with than in previous years. In 2011 the national medium retirement income was $32,800. In 2015 that number has dropped to $26,600.

Whether through increased affordable housing options, senior/assisted living facilities, housing rehabilitation initiatives, parks and cultural programming, public transportation or other initiatives we must continue to look for ways to make Cary more livable for our growing senior population so that not only can they afford to live here, but enjoy living here.

One other retreat item we discussed outside of the scope above was the naming of Cary’s agricultural park, Good Hope Farm. The site is located at the corner of Morrisville Carpenter Road and Louis Stevens Drive in west Cary directly north of the new Carpenter Park. I am pleased that we used the word “farm” in the name instead of “park” as the site will focus primarily on Cary’s agricultural history and farming practices and provide educational opportunities for students and our citizens.

For the record, I along with Councilman Yerha voted against the name but for different reasons. I preferred the name “Brightleaf Farm” as this recognized the significance that tobacco farming played in the region’s history – and I just thought the name sounded really cool. Some council members however opposed this as they didn’t want the name to have anything to do with tobacco or it reminded them of Brightleaf Square in Durham and they wanted nothing to do with that. Whatever… Mr. Yerha voted against the name as he preferred the park’s original name, A.M. Howard Farm.

Another reason I voted against the name Good Hope Farm was more process than anything else. The naming of the farm had already been tabled twice so that council members could consider other options - none of which was Good Hope Farm. This name came up at the last minute and I would have preferred more time to research what someone was telling me – especially when I perceive someone to have a personal agenda on this item. That said, now that I have had that time to do just that, I am satisfied with the name.

One last note on the retreat – I truly believe this retreat was one of, if not the best retreats we have ever had. This was due largely in part to the involvement of all town staff members who attended – not just a select few.

I have been to retreats where six or seven staff members gave presentations and/or participated in the discussion while the other 15 or so sat there and did nothing for two days because the discussion topic wasn’t under their department’s purview. Yet regardless of responsibility - Police and Fire, Planning, Water Resources, Public Information, Clerk’s Office, Manager’s Office, Engineering, Finance, Technology Services etc… they are all experts on many things Cary and should have a greater role in the process. This time they did and I know why.

If you'd like to learn even more about our retreat please feel free to visit Councilwoman Lori Bush's Blog here or Mayor Weinbrecht's Blog here. Lori's is good. 😃

No matter our challenges, it is great to be Cary. I love this place. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Stuff, Stuff and Stuff! Jan 2017

Hello!?! Is this thing still on? So, ya, it’s been a long time since I blogged. I know. Sorry about that. I have tried to keep everyone informed on town stuff via Facebook. Life is busy and what little free time I did have I found myself working on the race car. Ya, ya, I hear ya, “If you would quit crashing the car you wouldn’t have to fix it so much”. #racecarproblems

Anyways, after we finished the season at Wake County Speedway we decided to run races at Carteret County Speedway and Southern National Motorsports Park so that took a lot of time and preparation. We had a blast and did ok for our first time at both tracks. Shortly after that the holidays rolled around and, well, here we are. Good things come to those who wait right? ;-)

So without further ado (is that how you spell that? Spell check says its right but I thought it was some weird French word or something?) here is an update on some of the things that have been happening over the last few months.

Imagine Cary

Well, it only took four years but we did it. At our last meeting the council unanimously adopted the Cary Community Plan. The Community Plan is the result of Imagine Cary – a comprehensive planning effort led by our citizens, town staff, consultants, business and community leaders, planning and transportation experts, our town boards, commissions and council members to develop a single integrated update to Cary’s long range plan and set the course for our community’s future. The plan focuses on growth, development, transportation, economics, the environment and other related topics. It is way more than just a land use plan, the plan articulates Cary’s values and vision and will serve as our guide as the community grows over the next 20 years or so.

While that sounds all sunshine, puppies and rainbows, this was no easy task I promise you. There were a lot of hiccups and distractions along the way; a major one being the Eastern Gateway Plan. This is the area near Cary Town Center Mall and Cary Town Blvd. Developers were/are interested in developing this area with shopping, residential and office (to include a Wegmans Grocery) and we needed to have a plan in place that reflected Cary’s vision for that area fast. Imagine Cary was put on hold for a while so that we could focus on developing the Eastern Gateway component and adopt that first so that what gets developed here is Cary quality and meets our expectations.

On a related note, I cannot comment on the rumors of IKEA coming here. All I can say right now without running the risk of getting myself in trouble is that we hope to announce that a major global retailer will be coming to the Cary Town Center Mall area in the near future. You figure it out ;-)

Now as with any plan, I am sure that over time we will find a few things we got wrong. That’s what plan amendments are for. But we also tried real hard to build flexibility within the plan so it is our hope that any amendments will be far and few between. I can honestly say I am pleased with 90-95% of the plan. I didn’t think I would be able to say that two years ago. I love it when a plan comes together ;-)

Thanks so much to everyone who worked so hard on and participated in the Imagine Cary process – especially our citizens. This plan is a better product because of everyone’s involvement.

Downtown

If you have been downtown lately – and I know you have because where else would you want to go? – you have surely noticed that the Academy Street Streetscape Project has been completed! About dang time right? It looks absolutely beautiful! If you haven’t yet walked the street and taken a look at some of the artwork please do – the benches are amazing! Phase one of the downtown park (the town square) is nearing completion and we hope to have that finished by March.

The Downtown library and parking deck have been approved and will begin construction soon. You can learn more about that here and here.

The construction at Midtown Square is nearing completion and we recently broke ground for the new Annelore’s German Bakery on Chatham Street. LaFarm Bakery is also currently under construction at the corner of Harrison and Chatham Street. A number of other businesses that have announced plans to come downtown or that have already opened include: Pizzeria Faulisi, Pro’s Epicurean Markey and Café, FRESH Ice Cream, Bottle Dog Bites and Brew and Hustle Fitness Studio. If I forgot anyone I apologize – it’s a lot to keep up with!

There are a number of other plans and projects in the works and we hope to be making more announcements soon! Exciting times in downtown Cary!

Cary Matters

Councilman Ed Yerha and I taped a winter weather preparedness edition of Cary Matters so if you’d like to learn more about what the town does when old man winter shows, click the video below (assuming it shows up correctly - I think I did it right?). We had fun with this one ;-)



WOOF!

Cary’s newest K9 officer, Lemm was sworn in on December 20th. Lemm is a 16 month old Belgain Malinois from Poland. Lemm is named after fallen serviceman Joseph Lemm who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2015 – the same year that Lemm was born. Lemm replaces Cary K9 Robby who unfortunately was forced to retire early due to an issue with his hips. Robby served for 5 years as a patrol and drug detection K9. The council approved a resolution that allows Robby to serve out the remainder of his life with his best friend and handler, Officer Humphries. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the North Carolina General Assembly – especially NC Representative Gale Adcock – who worked with cities and towns across North Carolina to pass a bill that allows service animals to remain with their owners/handlers once they are taken out of service.

Funding for Lemm was made possible thanks to the generous donation of $7500 from Richard and Judy Hendrickson of Cary. If you happen to see the Hendricksons please make a point to say, “Thank You!” We are forever grateful.

Cary got its first K9 in 2005. Since then Cary’s K9 program has expanded into a pack of three dogs, each with its own handler: K9 Chase and Officer Seth Everett; K9 Tayber and Officer Scott McInerny; and now K9 Lemm and Officer Phil Humphries. K9 Robby joins K9 Axel and K9 Max as members of the Town’s retired K9 Unit.

Retiring K9 Robby with Officer Humphries
Cary Wins Gold!

In October 2016, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) in partnership with the American Academy for Park and Recreation, awarded the Town of Cary the 2016 Gold Medal Award for Excellence in the field of Park and Recreation Management.  This is the highest award a community can receive within the field of parks and recreation.

Founded in 1965, the Gold Medal Awards program honors communities throughout the U.S. that demonstrate excellence in parks and recreation through long-range planning, resource management, volunteerism, environmental stewardship, program development, professional development, and agency recognition. Entries are judged on their ability to address the needs of those they serve through the collective energies of citizens, staff, and elected officials.

This is HUGE. Simply put, Cary has THE BEST Parks and Recreation Department in the nation among cities our size (population of 150,000 – 400,000). There is only one gold medal award winner - we don’t share this award with any other city. That is how big of a deal this is.

Cary takes tremendous pride in providing the best Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources amenities as possible and our parks system is one of the things that makes Cary the great place to live, work and especially play that it is. This doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a total team effort from our town employees, board and commission volunteers and most importantly, YOU, our citizens. Cary Rocks!

You can learn more about this major accomplishment here.

Simply The Best!

Alston Ridge Middle School

Cary is getting a new Middle School! At our December Quasi-Judicial meeting we approved the development plans for the new Alston Ridge Middle School in West Cary. The school will be located just south of Alston Ridge Elementary School. I know, creative name right? ;-) Anyways, it will be a 230,000 square foot three story building complete with athletic fields and an outdoor basketball court.

Cary has been in desperate need of another middle school for years and this will help (key word being help - not meant to imply solve) alleviate current overcrowding conditions in West Cary. 

Retreat!

This past weekend we held our council-staff retreat in Wrightsville Beach, NC. I will write about this in a future blog as there is so much to talk about and this topic really deserves it’s own post – and y’all are probably running out of interest on this one right about now ;-) I will say it was one of our best – if not the best - retreats ever!

That’s all for now. I’ll post again as soon as I get done working on the race car ;-) Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

My thoughts on HB2 and Charlotte

Cary has been in the news a lot over the last week. Unfortunately it hasn’t been good news. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve surely heard about the NCAA’s decision to eliminate seven championship games from North Carolina in protest of HB2. The majority of these events were to be held in Cary.

Cary is – or was – an NCAA Championship City and has hosted 24 NCAA Championship tournaments since 2003 generating millions in economic impact to our town and the region. But truth be told, we’d probably host these events regardless of the economic impact – it’s what we do and who we are. Amateur sports has always been a big part of Cary.

I always looked forward to hearing from student athletes and their families regarding their experiences here in Cary. Win or lose, they always had wonderful things to say about their visit and Cary’s hospitality. Families of student athletes from many of our area universities also appreciated having the tournaments so close to home so that the whole family could participate.

At present, it appears that Cary’s chances of hosting any future NCAA tournament events is slim at best.

Student athletes, their families and our community is paying the price for something they had absolutely nothing to do with. This stinks.

So how did we get here?

House Bill 2 (HB2) was a direct response to the City of Charlotte’s “Bathroom Bill”. It is bad legislation in response to bad legislation.

Little has been reported about what exactly the City of Charlotte’s law actually did. In my opinion, Charlotte’s ordinance was a solution in search of a problem as I honestly have no idea what actual problem Charlotte was trying to solve.
Most people think that Charlotte’s ordinance simply allowed transgender people to use the restroom, locker and shower facilities of the gender they identify with.

Yes and no.

First off – and this is important if you believe in separation of powers – Charlotte knowingly exceeded their constitutional authority when they passed their ordinance. Cities are creatures of the state and only allowed to do that which the state allows them to do. The regulation of anti-discriminatory laws are a state and federal responsibility, not a municipal one. Charlotte ignored repeated warnings by the state and passed their ordinance anyway.

Charlotte’s ordinance allowed transgender folks to use the restroom, locker room and shower facilities of the gender they identify with and required that private businesses provide accommodations. But the manner in which the law was written allowed anyone who “identified” or “expressed” themselves as the opposite sex the “right” to use restroom, locker room and shower facilities of the opposite sex. The latter is what concerns people – including me.

Now no one is afraid of the legit transgender and why would they be? No transgender has ever raped, assaulted or spied on anyone in a restroom that I am aware of. I actually know a few – they are good people. And quite frankly nor do I think most guys would care if a woman came in the men’s room either. But unfortunately we do live in a world where evil exists and we have a lot of sick people out there who might feel empowered by this law to dress up like a woman and go hang out in the ladies room knowing they would have legally protected access.

Yes, we already have laws against assault, rape and voyeurism; and yes, people could disguise themselves and enter restroom facilities of the opposite sex regardless of Charlotte’s ordinance. But unless one could demonstrate illegal activity, they would have every right to be there under Charlotte’s ordinance.

The bottom line is that people have a right to privacy and security in bathroom, locker room and shower facilities.

Now the NCGA basically had two choices to respond to Charlotte’s ordinance. They could sue them which would take years and cost a fortune – especially considering we haven’t really had an Attorney General for quite some time - or they could convene a special session and handle the matter themselves… or so they thought.

Now I’m no lawyer, but what I still don’t understand is why the General Assembly couldn’t have simply legislated Charlotte’s ordinance out of existence, clarified any and all anti-discriminatory matters to be a state issue and gone home. Heck, they take away our municipal authority all of the time – why was this any different? But that would have been too simple I guess. I mean, these are politicians we’re talking about.

HB2 actually does allow transgender individuals to use the restroom facilities of the gender they identify with….. IF they changed their birth certificate to reflect their new gender. Ya, like that’s not difficult or anything. Driver’s licenses could have been a bit more reasonable but still….

And if a non-transgender is found in the wrong restroom for the wrong reasons, what exactly is the punishment? Why is there no penalty associated with HB2? Or are they leaving it up to the folks that caught the sick bastard(s) to drag him out and beat the crap out of him? I mean, if that’s the case I’m cool with that, just don’t punish the good guys when it happens.

One can make the argument that HB2 discriminates against the transgender community. But contrary to what many folks believe, nothing in HB2 specifically discriminates against the gay community. HB2 is actually all-inclusive in its discrimination as it eliminates every North Carolina citizen’s rights to sue for discrimination in state court. I have yet to hear one legitimate argument as to how this benefits North Carolina citizens.

And the NCGA couldn’t stop there. They also included legislation prohibiting municipalities from setting their own minimum wage levels - which isn’t really a bad idea as this should be a statewide standard, but they felt the need to include this in anti-discriminatory/discriminatory legislation? Really?

This is the kind of crap that happens when lawmakers craft complicated legislation in such a short period of time without citizen input and adequate study. Sadly Republicans and Democrats were actually working on a compromise a couple of months ago until a certain candidate for Governor killed that idea. Nice.

So what should be done?

“IF” Charlotte and the NCGA genuinely care about the impact that this is having on our state, BOTH Charlotte and the NCGA should agree to eliminate BOTH laws, start over and work together to come up with something that both sides can be satisfied with and works for our state.

Personally I’d like to see both laws eliminated and be done with it. Like I said earlier, I’m not sure what problem they are trying to solve, or if government should even be a part of the solution.


In the meantime I am sure that both sides will continue to use this issue as a political football further degrading our great state and reputation in the hopes of winning a political campaign or two and everyone else will continue to suffer for it. Oh how I long for the days when grown-ups were in charge…

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

FY17 Town Budget

After three budget worksessions and two public hearings the council unanimously approved the Town of Cary’s FY17 Budget at our council meeting this past Monday. The budget totals $319 Million - the operating budget totals $227.8 Million and the capital budget is $91.4 million.

Some of the budget highlights include:
  •          Cary’s property tax rate will decrease 2 cents to 35 cents per $100 of valuation to remain revenue neutral after the Wake County property revaluation. Cary’s tax rate remains the lowest in Wake County by an even wider margin than before.
  •          No increase in fees for Cary garbage, recycling and yard waste fees
  •          Water and sewer rates will increase 3.8% to continue to cover the costs associated with the state mandated Western Wake Water Reclamation Facility and other utility capital requirements.
  •          Construction of Cary Fire Station #9 – Walnut Street
  •          Construction of restrooms at MacDonald Woods Park
  •          Master planning for phase 2 of the Downtown Park and Morris Branch Park
  •          25 new positions to include police, emergency communications, yard waste and recycling crews and technology services personnel. This will bring the total number of town employees to 1254 or roughly 8.1 staff members per 1000 residents – one of the lowest ratios in the state and southeast. Cary continues to do more with less.
  •          $3.25 Million for traffic and intersection improvements
  •          $5.9 Million in street resurfacing projects 
  •         Completion of the White Oak Greenway
  •          Downtown Parking Deck
  •          $5 million to upgrade aging water lines
  •          Thermal imaging cameras and a new pumper truck for the fire department

While I was generally pleased with this year’s budget, as always there simply wasn’t enough money to do everything our citizens would like us to do and we had to make some difficult decisions. One decision that was particularly difficult was having to choose between Morris Branch Park and Cameron Pond Park. The council selected Morris Branch due to staff analysis that it would serve more citizens at a lower cost. This of course did not go over well with supporters of Cameron Pond Park. Had we selected Cameron Pond Park instead, I am sure that supporters of Morris Branch Park would have been just as upset.

Morris Branch/Cameron Pond Park Locations
I don’t want to make any promises but the council has discussed a possible bond referendum in 2018 that could include Cameron Pond Park along with a host of other projects. Stay tuned.

We also discussed possible projects for the FY18 budget to help town staff better prepare as they begin planning for next year’s budget process….which pretty much started the day after we approved this year’s budget.

One in particular project that drew a lot of discussion was the proposed road widening and sidewalk construction along Reedy Creek Road. Sidewalks are desperately needed along Reedy Creek Road especially given the middle and elementary schools. Other council members however preferred prioritizing road improvements and sidewalks along Louis Stephens Road instead as that road also has an elementary school. At my suggestion we reached a compromise and agreed to forego the road widening on both roads and construct sidewalks on both Reedy Creek and Louis Stephens Roads. Neither road is in need of road widening yet but both need sidewalks now. I am very pleased with how well we work together as a council to work toward solutions that everyone can be satisfied with.

I want to thank Interim Town Manager Mike Bajorek, Budget Director Karl Knapp, Department Directors, and everyone in the budget office for all their hard work to craft a fiscally responsible and balanced budget. I also want to thank all of our citizens who reached out to us to let us know what was important to you. We received more citizen input regarding this year’s budget than ever before. Government works best when citizens are part of the process.
If you would like to learn more about the Town of Cary’s FY17 budget, you can do so by clicking here .

Friday, May 27, 2016

Town Manager, Publix and Downtown

Town Manager

After a nearly nine month long process that included over 80 applicants from all over the country we finally have a new Town Manager. The council unanimously selected Mr. Sean Stegall who comes to us from Elgin Illinois where he has served as their city manager since 2009.

Mr. Stegall’s first official day on the job will be August 4th, but he will visit a few times prior to that to better familiarize himself with the town organization, staff as well as our community….and probably try and find a new place to live ;-) His experience and success in local government, upbeat and energetic personality, and a fresh set of eyes will serve Cary well.

While this process took a lot longer than we had hoped, I believe it was worth the time and effort. Selecting a town manager is one of the most – if not the most - important decisions a council can make for their community. Get this one wrong and we will face the consequences for years to come. I am confident we made the right decision.

I want to thank Deputy and Interim Town Manager, Mike Bajorek and his staff for their hard work to keep Cary moving forward during this process. Mike is a good man and I have the utmost respect for him personally and professionally. He will play a key role in helping Mr. Stegall transition into his new position and I am confident both he and all of our town staff will do an excellent job just like they always do. Cary town staff are an amazing and dedicated group of public servants and it is an honor to work with them.

You can learn more about Mr. Sean Stegall here and here.


Publix

At our council meeting this past Thursday we approved the Lewter property rezoning (Publix) at the corner of Green Level Church Road and Carpenter Firestation Road by a vote of 6-1….oops, I mean 5-2. A second “no” vote came in a little late and caught most of us by surprise….especially since the majority of that person’s comments were positive. But I digress….

When this project first came to council I didn’t believe it would garner majority support without some significant changes. I applaud the applicant and area residents for working together to do just that. Sure, the residents didn’t get everything they wanted. Neither did the applicant. But at the end of the day they worked to craft a project that the majority of the surrounding community could support and is worlds better than the high density apartments that could have been built today.

The overwhelming majority of complaints the council receives from west Cary residents includes traffic, lack of shopping/services and school capacity. Eliminating residential development at this location helps in regards to school capacity and lack of shopping/services. And while traffic in the immediate area will increase, the number of vehicle miles traveled will decrease as area residents will not have to travel as far for goods and services as they do today.


I realize not everyone is pleased with our decision. Quite frankly I don’t think some ever would be no matter what the applicant offered. But when so many who were originally opposed to the project now support it, I am inclined to do the same.

Downtown

Much of the public investment in downtown Cary over the last 8+ years has been done with the goal of incenting private investment. We are beginning to achieve that goal.

The Mid-town project along Chatham St. near Walker St. is currently under construction. Jordan Lake Brewing Company is also under construction. Bond Brothers Brewery recently finished construction and is open for business (I highly recommend their Cary Gold. Yumm…..). Crosstown Pub and Kababish Café are doing very well and a number of other businesses are either on the way or looking for sites – a few of which I really wish I could talk about but can’t….yet – sorry!

We are also experiencing record numbers in regards to home improvements/remodel permits and new home construction in and around the downtown area. Residents are now comfortable investing in their own properties since that the town has demonstrated our commitment downtown. The residential market in an around downtown is better than ever!

But “the big one”; that one development project that will really put downtown Cary on the map may soon become a reality.

Northwoods Associates has proposed a $50 million project at the corner of Chatham St and Harrison Ave that would include high density residential, office and restaurant/retail along with structured parking adjacent our downtown core. This would be a joint partnership with Northwoods Associates, The First Baptist Church and the town. The town would be a partner in the public parking component and assist with road construction and/or improvements to the tune of $5 million.


As with everything, I have heard from folks that are concerned with the proposal; some solely due to the impact on the historic Ivey Ellington House. The overwhelming majority of folks that I have spoken with however enthusiastically support it because at the end of the day they realize that we aren’t going to get the number and types of restaurants, businesses or employment centers we are looking for without an increase in density. They also understand that we aren’t going to see property values increase to a point that incents owner occupied housing vs rental in our surrounding neighborhoods unless downtown continues to redevelop and becomes a destination.

In regards to the Ivey Ellington House, I support relocating the home to another site where it can be restored and utilized either as a private business, home or possible town amenity. Academy Street, Park Street or maybe even the downtown park are some places that come to my mind.

A few others – to include a council member - have expressed some concern with the “look” of the proposal. I would caution against judging the appearance at this time as what has been illustrated thus far is purely conceptual in nature and will likely change as this moves through the process. I remember a number of folks who were also critical of the first sketch of The Mayton Inn and look at it now – gorgeous. Ya, the road is still a mess. As someone who drives through it multiple times a day I am as sick of it as most of you. Thank you again for your patience.

We have a number of beautiful and established single family neighborhoods in and around downtown. We have no intention of changing that; in fact it is just the opposite, we intend to protect those neighborhoods. But those neighborhoods alone are not enough to support increased business development and growth we hope to achieve downtown. So again, we need some density where appropriate.

Exciting things are happening in downtown Cary, and if all goes as planned, this project will be the first of many significant investments to come.

Well that's about all for now. As always thanks for reading!

Friday, February 26, 2016

February 2016 Worksession, Council Meeting and Town Clerk

On Tuesday the council held a worksession to discuss a number of items - half of which we never even got to as time ran out. It never ceases to amaze me how some things that seem so simple become so complex and vice-versa.

On the agenda was a review of quasi-judicial proceedings, consideration and discussion on a number of Imagine Cary chapters, and the impact of House Bill 44 on development adjacent to stream buffers.

House Bill 44 is entitled “AN ACT TO REFORM VARIOUS PROVISIONS OF THE LAW RELATED TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT” was approved and became law on September 23, 2015.

This law sucks.

Some of the “reforms” in this law include:

§ 143-214-23A.  Limitations on local government riparian buffer requirements.
(e)     Cities and counties shall not treat the land within a riparian buffer area as if the land is the property of the State or any of its subdivisions unless the land or an interest therein has been acquired by the State or its subdivisions by a conveyance or by eminent domain.  Land within a riparian buffer area in which neither the State nor its subdivisions holds any property interest may be used by the property owner to satisfy any other development-related regulatory requirements based on property size, including, but not limited to, residential density and nonresidential intensity calculations and yields, tree conservation purposes, open space or conservation area requirements, setbacks, perimeter buffers, and lot area requirements.

(f)      When riparian buffer requirements are included within a lot, cities and counties shall require that riparian buffer area be shown on the recorded plat.  Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to require that the riparian buffer area be surveyed.  When riparian buffer requirements are placed outside of lots in portions of a subdivision that are designed as common areas or open space and neither the State nor its subdivisions holds any property interest in that riparian buffer area, the local governments shall attribute to each lot abutting the riparian buffer area a proportionate share based on the area of all lots abutting the riparian buffer area for purposes of development-related regulatory requirements based on property size, including, but not limited to, residential density and nonresidential density calculations and nonresidential intensity calculations and yields, tree conservation purposes, open space or conservation area requirements, setbacks, perimeter buffers, and lot area requirements.

What all of that gobbledegook means is that for individual lots platted adjacent to a stream buffer, the area within the stream buffer must be treated as part of the lot for the purpose of determining compliance with lot size, setback and perimeter buffer requirements, and there isn’t anything Cary or any other municipality in North Carolina can do about it.

So if you’re a fan of development occurring closer to buffers, smaller lot sizes, increased storm water runoff and reduced environmental protections, you’ll love this new law. I don’t.

The council also had a refresher course on quasi-judicial hearings with Town Attorneys. The Council holds quasi-judicial hearings primarily for special use permits and certain subdivision and site plan applications – typically when minor modifications to town code is requested. In a quasi-judicial hearing, the council acts as judge and jury during deliberations. The council can only consider factual testimony from “experts” in our decision making process. Applicants and attorneys present their case and both sides can be cross-examined much like in a court of law. I believe the refresher was helpful both for existing council members and especially our newest council member, Ken George who hasn’t had much experience with the quasi-judicial process.

The council also discussed the proposed Green Level Special Planning Area and the types of development and uses we would like to see occur this area. We unfortunately did not have time to discuss the Carpenter Special Planning Area or the Shape Downtown Chapter – that will occur at a future worksession.

Town Clerk

I am pleased to announce that after a nation-wide search - of which there was 119 applicants, the council unanimously selected Virginia Johnson to serve as Cary’s Town Clerk.

The Town Clerk is responsible for giving notice of Council meetings; preparing the Council agenda; recording Council proceedings; serving as custodian of permanent Town records; keeping the Town Seal, attesting all Town documents; maintaining the Town Code; managing the citizen advisory boards and commissions; administering Hillcrest Cemetery; and providing support services to the Town Council. Staff includes the town clerk, the deputy town clerk and two administrative assistants. This position is only one of three that the council is directly responsible for hiring - the others being the Town Manager and the Town Attorney.


Virginia – or Ginny as she is known to most everyone – has served as our interim town clerk for the past couple of months as we went through the selection process and has done a phenomenal job. We are all confident that she will do Cary proud!
Ginny and her family with council members after her swearing in.
On Wednesday I taped the March edition of CaryMatters with Councilmember Jennifer Robinson. The topics of discussion were infill and redevelopment and the Eastern Cary Gateway Plan which is the area around Cary Town Center Mall to I-40. You’ll have to watch the episode if you want to know more!

Council Meeting

Notable items from our council meeting this past Thursday include consideration of the comprehensive plan amendment for the Lewter property (the intersection of Carpenter Firestation Road and Green Level Church Road) and a rezoning on High House Road for 10 single family homes.

The Lewter property is where an applicant has proposed a Publix grocery store on land that is currently designated as medium/high density residential.

There has been a lot of confusion on what exactly the council was voting on. The only thing before us was consideration of a request to amend the comprehensive plan from medium/high density residential to medium density residential and/or commercial and to include the property in the Cary Park Mixed-Use Community Activity Center. The council was not considering the rezoning or approving any specific site plan. That will be considered at a future meeting.

Also note that the council does not consider the specific business(s) proposed during the comprehensive plan amendment process – only the type of use. Businesses come and go and plans can fall through. Sometimes applicants obtain entitlements and then flip the property to another buyer.

In its simplest form, the question before council was, “do we believe that medium density residential and/or commercial uses to be a better use for this site than medium/high density residential?”

Given the amount and intensity of residential development in the area versus commercial, the answer for me – and 5 of my council colleagues – was “yes”.

That does not however mean that we support the current site plan that has been presented to area residents thus far. I think we all are looking for something better than your typical shopping center - we are looking for something that creates a sense of place, promotes walkability and better protects adjacent residents.

Adding the property into the activity center is also a huge benefit to area residents as the required zoning would now be MXD (mixed use). MXD zoning requires the applicant to include a preliminary development plan (general site plan layout) which also becomes a zoning condition. It raises the bar in regards to gaining council approval as we get to see their site layout prior to approving or denying their request. If we don’t like what we see, we can simply say “no”. It also gives area residents a greater voice in the process.

Without the requirement of a preliminary development plan – as exists today – and as long as the applicant met Cary’s land development ordinance, the applicant could build high density apartments and there is absolutely nothing that area residents or the council could do to stop it.

There is still a lot of work to be done on this and I am optimistic that the applicant and citizens can work together to craft something both sides can be satisfied with.

The High House Road rezoning in itself wasn’t that controversial as it is only ten homes. The rub however is that a few other properties along High House have been approved for development – none of which met the threshold to trigger a traffic study. Had they all been considered at the same time however, it would have triggered a traffic study and possible transportation improvements.

The town is limited in what we can and cannot do by state law and NCDOT. Please know that council members are already meeting with area representatives and town staff, and will be meeting soon with NCDOT to see what solutions might be available to resolve resident concerns and improve traffic safety and movement.

That’s all for now. As always, thanks for reading!

Monday, February 1, 2016

RETREAT! 2016

This past weekend the council and town staff traveled to Greensboro, North Cackalacky for our annual council/staff retreat. The main focus of the retreat was on infill development and redevelopment.

Redevelopment is exactly what it says – the redevelopment of existing development to include the demolition of old buildings to make way for new construction, or the repurposing of older structures into new uses.

Infill development is the development of vacant land that is surrounded by existing development.

Infill and redevelopment is, and will continue to become more of an issue in Cary as there isn’t much undeveloped land left available for new development (roughly 15%) and as older development ages out (Cary Town Center Mall for example).

While Greensboro and Cary are very different cities, Greensboro has experience dealing with many of the challenges of redevelopment and infill development, and provided a good example for us to learn from. What did they do right? What went wrong? What would they do differently if given the opportunity?

We began the retreat with a session to better familiarize ourselves with planning updates in the Triangle region. We first heard from Mr. Lee Worsley, Executive Director of the Triangle J Council of Governments about how communities can better work together to achieve their goals. Mr. Bob Geolas, President and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation spoke about Research Triangle Park’s plans for a mixed use development project at the park. And after that we reviewed the land use plans of other Triangle communities and adjoining jurisdictions to not only better understand their plans are, but also how that might impact what we do here in Cary.

We then visited Center Pointe, a redevelopment project in downtown Greensboro that used to be the home of Wachovia Bank. It is a 17 story building that had sat vacant for a number of years and was falling into disrepair. The building was ultimately redeveloped into luxury condos and has become a huge success story for downtown Greensboro. The first floor of the building also includes a restaurant. This was a very impressive project, and while Cary thankfully does not have any abandoned 17 story buildings, we do have a number of empty shopping centers and buildings that we are concerned about. Center Point was a good example of how a city and a developer working together could achieve something remarkable.

The building also provided a great look at Greensboro’s new downtown library which has a parking deck adjacent to their new Downtown Park and arts center. Sound familiar? ;-)

After our visit to Center Pointe we heard from Greensboro’s Planning Director, Mrs. Sue Schwartz, about their efforts to amend their development ordinances, policies and procedures to better incent redevelopment and infill development in and around Greensboro’s downtown area, and how they worked to manage a number of challenges to include inadequate infrastructure, community opposition/cultural tension and the economic viability of such projects.
Some of the key takeaways include:

·         Growing inward is harder than growing outward as the development of greenfield sites is much easier than redevelopment of existing properties. Ordinances and policies must be different for redevelopment vs new development.
·         Change can be very uncomfortable for folks.
·         Public/Private partnerships are an important part of redevelopment.
·         Historic preservation is also important – you don’t have to knock every building down to accomplish something great.

The following day began with a bus/walking tour of downtown Greensboro to see firsthand and learn more about many of their redevelopment and infill projects. I was impressed at how well they blended into their surrounding communities – you wouldn’t have guessed it was new development.

Now the fun part, right Ed? ;-)

Afterwards we headed back to the hotel for a hands-on exercise with our staff. Each council member was teamed up with a few staff members and were given a large aerial photo of an actual 18 acre site in Cary that we would like to see redevelop one day….. and Legos…..yes, Legos.

The Legos represented different types of development, and each Lego block represented 2500 sq ft. Red blocks were commercial, blue was office, orange was multi-family and so on… Each council member then redeveloped their site by placing the different color Legos where they thought they were best suited on the site. We also had to account for things like road access, parking requirements, buffers etc…


Here is my development.


The orange is multi-family very similar to what we have at the Arboretum to include structured parking wrapped with residential. The yellow is townhomes with garages underneath. The red and blue blocks are commercial on the first floor with office above. The tall blue building represents a hotel or office building and the dark gray around it represents structured parking. The green is a small park and/or gathering space, and last but certainly not least, the single red buildings are a Chili’s and a Red Robin. Hey, this is my development remember? ;-)

So, ya, it needs work. I only had an hour to work with ok? And trust me, nobody’s Lego development was perfect. But the jist of this exercise wasn’t to design a perfect development – it was to better identify what is important to us, and more importantly our community, when it comes redevelopment or infill. What types of uses do we want and where? How dense are we willing to allow those uses to be? Structured parking or surface – or maybe both? Things like that.

Each council member then presented their development to the group and explained why they developed it the way they did, and then we talked about it.

It was a good discussion with few surprises - it’s not like we haven’t had similar discussions before. We prefer a mix of uses and development that creates a sense of place. We value protecting the character and charm of adjacent communities but could support increased densities where appropriate. We support transit friendly development yet understand that the car is and will continue to be the predominant means of transportation for folks. We love structured parking. We would consider public/private partnerships. We expect public gathering spaces – stuff like that.

We also understand economics. We get that in order for redevelopment to occur, it has to be economically viable. Like it or not, the reality is that if the developer can’t make a buck, he aint gonna build it; and while market forces might be beyond our control, regulatory reform isn’t.

Cary’s land development ordinance has historically applied to new, green-field development – and the overwhelming majority of Cary’s development over the last few decades has been exactly that. But if we want to encourage the redevelopment of older, underperforming sites in Cary – and we do – it will require changes to Cary’s land development ordinances to make it happen.

With the ongoing Imagine Cary process to include our recent worksession to discuss the Eastern Cary Gateway Plan, it was a very timely discussion and I look forward to seeing the work that comes of it.

Thanks so much to our town staff for all their efforts to make this year’s retreat a success and to the city of Greensboro for their hospitality. It is greatly appreciated.

2016 Town of Cary Council/Staff Retreat

Monday, November 23, 2015

November 2015 Update

Sorry it’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been trying to dig myself out of a honey-do hole since the election ended. ;-) It has also been nice to get back in the swing of things at work and get my hands dirty again. I am thankful I get to make a living doing something I really enjoy, and plus I get to work with my wife so that’s awesome – if we didn’t work together we’d hardly ever see each other.

There’s a lot to talk about since I last posted. I’ll do my best to keep it short and sweet but I’ll also go ahead and apologize in advance for it running long. ;-)

Post-election

Congratulations to Cary’s newest council member, Ken George. I look forward to Ken joining the council and participating in a meaningful way. Ken is a long time Cary resident having raised his family here and he owns and operates his business here. Ken has a good feel for the community and the Cary way and will serve District D and Cary well.

Thanks again to the 60% of District B voters for your faith and trust in me to serve as your representative for another four years. To the 40% who preferred one of my opponents, I promise to work even harder to earn your support.

Here is our new council group photo.


Just kidding ;-)

Congratulations also to my good friend, Michael Schlink on his reelection victory to the Morrisville Town Council and also to Satish Garimella for his election victory. Michael is a great guy. I don’t know anyone in Morrisville who cares more about their community than Michael and he deserved another term to continue his work to make Morrisville a better place. I also had the pleasure of getting to know Satish during the campaign and he, like Michael, also brings a community over politics attitude to their council. Given the partnerships and regional interests of both our communities, a quality council in Morrisville is important.

Who’s got Spirit?

Anne B. Kratzer, Brent Miller and Desiree Kettler that’s who! Anne, Brent and Desiree were the nominees for this year’s Hometown Spirit Award and who are all extraordinary folks who give so much of themselves for our community and are deserving of such recognition. I’m glad that council members aren’t on the awards committee ;-) The winner of the 2015 Town of Cary Hometown Spirit Award Winner is……….., Anne B. Kratzer!!! Congratulations to Anne, Brent and Desiree for being nominated and thank you for all that you do for Cary!

Desiree, Brent and Anne

The “That is so cool Award” however goes to Brent Miller. Brent nominated Anne. How cool is that? ;-)

Veterans Day Celebrations

I had the honor and privilege of participating at Cary’s Veteran’s Day Luncheon at the Herb Young Community Center and Cary’s Veteran’s Day Celebration at the Veterans Freedom Park Memorial. Both events were a moving tribute to our nation’s veterans and their families. We are forever grateful for their service and sacrifices.

I also had the privilege of speaking to Cub Scout Pack 208 about elections and my service on the council. I always enjoy speaking to kids. I especially enjoy the questions they ask! Kids don’t sugarcoat a thing – I love it. I do my best to answer those that I can without scarring their minds or upsetting the parents or teachers ;-) But once in a while I do find myself staring at them for a few seconds before I smile and say, “next question” ;-)

The funniest political question I ever got - While speaking to 3rd graders I had a kid ask me, “What is the difference between a Republican and Democrat?” I looked at the teacher with a smile and said, “Can I answer that?” She thought about it for a few seconds and said, “Probably best you don’t”. Smart…. ;-)

Next question!

Downtown Library Update

The council held a worksession to discuss design considerations for the new downtown Cary regional library, an update on Imagine Cary, and to talk about the upcoming council retreat.

While the topic that received the greatest discussion was the library building and parking layout options, we also learned a little more about the library itself.
The new library will be between 22,000-25,000 sq ft and two stories tall. It will include large and medium sized multipurpose programming rooms as well as a quiet study lounge. There will be 11 librarians on staff - compared to 3 at the existing library - and over 125,000 books along with increased public computer space.

In order to stay on schedule and not jeopardize Wake County’s Bond funding requirements the library needs to be completed by the fall of 2018. To make this happen Wake County needs to begin design work by January. If we do not hustle, the downtown library will have to wait until Wake County passes another Library Bond referendum, and all of our work to get the downtown library included as a bond project will be lost.

The council affirmed previous decisions. The library will go where we always said it would and we will be constructing a 4 level, 350 space parking structure in conjunction with the library. The deck will not only serve the library; but also provide public parking for the Cary Arts Center, the park, downtown events and future private development.

The council also agreed to invest in a façade that disguises the deck as a residential/office building to soften the views from the park. In a perfect world we would have preferred to wrap the deck with residential and office development, but given Wake County’s time constraints and the complexities of bringing in a private developer to make this happen, well, it just isn’t going to happen. And that’s OK.

The end product will be remarkable. Private development will occur between the deck and Walnut and Walker Streets similar to the image below. Private development – especially office or commercial – needs the visibility and access from the street to be viable.


Council Retreat

The council will be traveling to Greensboro for our retreat. Our main discussion topic will be redevelopment and infill development as this will be one of Cary’s biggest challenges from here on out as there aren’t many large undeveloped tracts of land left in Cary. The majority of future development will be infill or redevelopment of older properties and we need to better understand how to support that while protecting the character of existing development and especially neighborhoods.

Town Manager Search

The council has spent a great deal of time reviewing potential candidates to be Cary’s next Town Manger. After narrowing a large field of quality applicants down to our “top ten”, we then whittled the field down to six. After a day and a half of interviewing those six candidates we then narrowed the list down to three finalists so we’re getting close! Unfortunately there isn’t much more I can tell you as this is a confidential personnel matter, but please know that we are working as hard as we can to find the best person possible to be Cary’s next manager.

Council Meeting

We had a long meeting this past Thursday. Highlights include:
The council held a public hearing for the proposed Lewter property rezoning at the intersection of Carpenter Fire Station and Green Level Church Roads. The land is currently zoned for medium to high density residential. The applicant is proposing commercial to include a Publix grocery store.

A number of folks showed up to speak in opposition to the project with a couple of folks speaking in support of the proposal. Council has also received a number of emails on the topic and those run about 50/50 for and against.

At the end of the day, the question for me is do I believe the best use of this property to be commercial development or more apartments? I have my thoughts but will let the process run its course before commenting further. Cary’s Planning and Zoning Board will review the case and make a recommendation to council prior to our decision.

The council also approved a new connectivity ordinance that creates three tiers to determine whether or not connectivity to adjoining properties would be required. This – hopefully – will provide greater flexibility to applicants and neighborhoods who oppose connecting adjacent properties when public safety and traffic flow requirements are adequately addressed.

In a nutshell, new development adjacent to older properties (those approved prior to 1999 that were not planned for connectivity and have adequate public safety and traffic access) would not be required to connect to the existing development. Pedestrian and utility connections however would still be required.
Newer developments however (those planned for connectivity to include those with street stubs) would still be required to connect. Another bonus is that this decision can now be considered at the time of rezoning and not have to wait until site plan giving residents more security that what is proposed will actually happen.

The council also approved the concept plan and phase two for Mills Park as well as the next phase of the Panther Creek Greenway. The greenway connections will create a continuous trail from Cameron Pond to Cary Park developments, Mills Park and Mills Park Middle School.


The second phase of Mills Park with include a playground for children, new restroom facilities, a 30 car parking lot and picnic shelter.

That's all for now. As always, thanks for reading and I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!!!