Thursday, August 31, 2017

Eastern Cary Gateway Update - IKEA and Wegmans

Eastern Cary Gateway Update

Both the proposed IKEA and Wegmans’ projects continue to work their way through the approval process and barring any unforeseen issues should receive council approval/rezoning in the near future – the IKEA project sooner than later.

IKEA

At our most recent council meeting we conducted the public hearing for the proposed IKEA rezoning and associated preliminary development plan. This was the public’s opportunity to offer comment on the proposal and associated conditions.


Here is an image of the subject property and future IKEA site. Note that only the proposed IKEA site and associated parking was under consideration and not the entire Cary Towne Center Mall site. Mixed-use redevelopment plans are in the works for the rest of the mall site and we expect to consider a rezoning for the remaining property soon.

IKEA site at Cary Towne Center Mall
Zoning conditions offered by IKEA include:

Limiting building height to 60 feet

Limiting building to 380,000 square feet of retail use

Providing a 150 foot building setback from the eastern property line adjacent to the Ivy Meadows subdivision

Preservation of the landscape buffer area between the proposed building and the eastern property line

Architectural design will look like this:


Notice the building signage says “sign” and not “IKEA”. That is because we cannot by law consider who the applicant of any rezoning is – we can only consider the use and associated conditions. Although given the request and conditions offered it is obvious who the end user will be.

All of the citizens who spoke at the public hearing were supportive of the proposal although a few did express some concerns regarding increased traffic, light pollution and the condition of the existing buffer. IKEA has agreed to make many traffic improvements as identified in the traffic analysis report and also agreed to reduce the height of site lighting to address lighting concerns. The remaining issues are minor and can easily be addressed.

Cary’s Planning and Zoning Board will now review the case and make their recommendation before the case comes back to us for final decision in a couple of months. I look forward to supporting it. This is a big deal for Cary and especially for the revitalization of the Cary Towne Center Mall and surrounding area.

Wegmans

The council recently visited Alpharetta, Georgia to visit Avalon, a successful mixed-use development project similar to that which is being proposed on the state-owned property along Cary Towne Blvd. across the street from the future IKEA and Triangle Aquatics Center.

There we toured the project and heard from a number of stakeholders both private and public about the project. What were some of the lessons learned? What did they get right? What would they do differently? How can we be sure that what they delivered in Alpharetta can be delivered here? Stuff like that. This was clearly the most valuable part of the visit and I believe helped to alleviate some of the doubts folks might have had.

Avalon nightlife

Apple Store at Avalon negates the need for street lights ;-)
Christmas at Avalon - photo courtesy of Avalon

As you can see, Avalon is more than a mixed-use development. It is an experience. It’s a destination – which is exactly what we are looking for on the state property. But keep in mind that we aren’t trying to copy Avalon. Cary isn't Alpharetta. The state property is one of Cary’s last primo pieces of undeveloped land adjacent to I40 suitable for class A office development. Therefore, while a high quality project like Avalon and a Wegmans can surely work on this site, the plan MUST include a healthy amount of office development.

The good news is that is exactly the direction this proposal is headed. The bad news is that it is going to take a little more time to iron out all of the details.... because if grandma’s world-famous chili recipe says to let it simmer for 10 hours, you let it simmer for 10 hours. You don’t rush it because the end result won’t be as good as it could have been. Same thing here. We’re going to make sure this project is fully cooked before we say it’s ready. But once it’s done, man it’s gonna be good!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

FY18 Budget, Downtown Park Phase 1 Dedication and Reedy Creek Road Widening

At our meeting this past Thursday the council approved the fiscal year 2018 Budget. The budget totals roughly $311 million with $242 million for operations and $68 million for capital projects. The FY18 budget is 2.9% LESS than the FY17 budget.

Budget highlights include:

·         Cary’s tax rate remains unchanged at 35 cents
·         Solid waste fee remains unchanged at $16 per month
·         Funds a new Police Detective Position to help address the growing opioid crisis.
·         $3 million for a grade separated crossing at Carpenter Firestation Road and the CSX Railroad
·         $1 million for historic preservation initiatives
·         Funds the design of the new Cameron Pond Park
·         Reedy Creek Road Widening Project (more on this later!)

This will be our first budget year shifting away from an annual budget event to one that more closely resembles the corporate model where our town staff will present quarterly updates to council using rolling forecasts of both revenues and expenditures. Should we discover during the quarterly update process that our revenue forecast is beating budget, we might be able to fund another project before the next budget cycle. Should we discover that our revenue forecast is lower than budgeted, we could decide to put a project on hold. This will provide for greater flexibility and responsiveness to our community’s needs.

The completion of the Higgins Greenway project for example is one that could be considered at the next update as we are waiting for more information regarding Parks and Rec payment-in-lieu funds. The Higgins Greenway project would provide a greenway connection to downtown for a number of area neighborhoods and is something that both Mayor Pro Tem Yerha and I have been trying to get completed for years.

I can’t thank our town staff - especially the fine folks in budget and finance - enough for their amazing work in helping us craft a fiscally responsible budget that meets our community’s goals, advances the policies and vision set forth in the new Cary Community Plan and keeps taxes low – the lowest of any municipality in Wake County btw ;-)

Downtown Park Dedication

This past Saturday we FINALLY dedicated the new downtown square and fountain. About time right? This was a wonderful event despite the fact that somebody forgot to tell Mother Nature it wouldn’t be a good time for a severe thunderstorm. I was completely blown away at how many folks chose to weather the storm in nearby businesses and CAME BACK once the rain stopped. The place was packed before and after the storm!

Both Mayor Weinbrecht and myself spoke prior to the ceremonial coin flip and fountain light show.

My remarks were brief (I know, surprise right?) and can be summarized as follows: 1) Heck yeah this is awesome and 2) You aint seen nothing yet!

The downtown square and fountain (phase 1 of the downtown park) is but one acre of what will be a seven acre park in downtown Cary. We still have six acres to go. So if this is what one acre of the downtown park looks like, I can’t wait to see how the remaining six acres turns out! You can read more about the plans for phase 2 of the downtown park here.

We were also thrilled that NC House Representative and former Town Council Member, Gale Adcock could join us for the festivities. Gale was on the council when we approved the park and was also a big part of making this happen. While we greatly appreciate everything she is doing for us in Raleigh, we still miss having her on the council - oh boy do we ever. 

Great things are happening in and around our downtown and with your continued support we intend to keep it that way!

Downtown Park Dedication Ceremonies

On a related note – Cary’s Downtown Manager, Ted Boyd will be giving his third “Ted Talk” at The Cary Theater on July 19th. He will be updated folks on current and future projects downtown to be followed by a question and answer session at the end. You can learn more about the event here.

Reedy Creek Road Widening

At our meeting this past Thursday the council approved the Execution of the Locally Administered Project Agreement for the Reedy Creek Road Widening Project with NCDOT.

The Reedy Creek Road Widening Project will:

·         Widen Reedy Creek Road between Harrison Ave. and Maynard Road to a consistent three lane cross-section
·         Provide sidewalks for pedestrians
·         Provide bike lanes for cyclists
·         Provide a 12’ landscaped median where turning lanes are not required
·         Include roundabouts at both the entrance to the Middle and Elementary Schools as well as the intersection of Reedy Creek Road and Dynasty/Electra Drive to reduce vehicle speeds and better protect pedestrians – especially school children.


Improving Reedy Creek Road has been a priority of mine and the surrounding community for a long time. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to finally see this project move towards construction. Thanks so much to the fine folks in Cary’s Transportation and Engineering Departments for all of their hard work, the surrounding community for all your input and NCDOT. This has truly been a team effort.

Conceptual image of the Reedy Creek Road Improvements
The proposed roundabout at the entrance to Reedy Creek Middle and Elementary Schools
Well that's all for now. As always, thanks for reading!



Friday, May 5, 2017

Downtown Park Design Firm Selection Process

At our workesession last night the council agreed to move forward with a new process for selecting a design consultant to work with the community, town staff and the council to design phase 2 of the new downtown park.

In a nutshell, four nationally recognized design firms will be competing for the job.

Why do we want to engage a nationally renowned award winning design firm with this project you ask? Well, if you want to build the best park in the country, you look for the best park planners. While Cary absolutely has some amazing and beautiful parks throughout town, we are cranking this one up to 11 😀

An interdepartmental team of town staff members researched a number of design firms who have created award winning parks and public spaces across the country and whittled that list down to four that they recommended the council consider. They presented this list along with examples of their work for council to consider.

The four design firms recommended are being considered because of their proven record of repeated success and commitment to shared design goals which include:

  • ·         The importance of engaging the community and incorporating unique features from the community into the park design.

  • ·         Emphasis on the development of large and small spaces creating the right balance for each unique park setting.

  • ·         Experience working with a variety of funding models to include public/private partnerships and/or community foundations to support design and construction of the parks.

  • ·         An understanding of the relationship of the park’s immediate proximity to its surroundings be it a museum, a performing arts center, restaurants, shops, commercial and residential development so  the entire area thrives along with the park.

Each firm will visit Cary to learn about our community, visit the park site and review current plans and meet with staff and council. They will return at a later date to present their ideas and proposed approach to working with our community to create the master plan for phase 2 of the downtown park. Upon the completion of this process, the council will select one of the four that best demonstrates our community’s vision and values.

So, ya, you could say that I’m a little excited 😀 I can’t wait to see how this process plays out.

I do want to be clear that this specific process in not to design the park – only to select the best design firm possible. Design will occur after this process is completed and will include significant community input. This will be your park after all.

Thanks to everyone who has worked to get us to this point and special thanks to the members of the interdepartmental team who spent extra time outside of their usual responsibilities and maybe even stepped outside of their comfort zone a little to be a part of something remarkable. You all never cease to amaze me! It’s great to be Cary!

Oh, and since I know you are going to ask 😉 the four design firms selected to participate and some examples of their work include:

James Corner
Previous park projects include The High Line in New York City, Public Square in Nashville and Navy Yards Central Green in Philadelphia

Office of James Burnett
Previous park projects include Klyde Warren Park in Dallas and LeBauer Park in Greensboro.

Nelson Byrd Woltz
Previous park projects include CityGarden in St. Louis and Centennial Park in Nashville.

Hargreaves Associates
Previous park projects include Belo Garden Park in Dallas and Discovery Green Park in Houston

Thursday, April 20, 2017

2017 Bad Bills of the Year

I wanted to bring to folk’s attention a number of bills that are working their way through the state legislature that, if passed have the potential to negatively impact Cary.


This bill revokes Cary’s and other North Carolina municipality’s abilities to charge impact fees on new development.

Impact fees help to offset some of the financial “impact” that new development places on our infrastructure as well as the costs of providing public services to new development.

Proponents of impact fees claim they ensure that growth pays for itself. Opponents claim that they raise the cost of housing or doing business.

They are both correct.

I believe that a balance of fees and new tax revenue best works to ensure that growth pays for itself; and in Cary we have worked very hard to strike that balance so that we do not burden existing taxpayers while at the same time keep Cary an affordable place to live and do business as possible.

Let’s be honest, more often than not developers do not pay impact fees anyways – the end user does. And in Cary, if a developer makes a transportation improvement for example above a collector road standard and they enter into a developer agreement with the town, we credit the costs of that improvement towards the fees they would otherwise pay - but I agree that this gets very complicated and hard for folks to totally understand.

Apparently other cities or counties in North Carolina have not been as responsible with the manner in which they assess their fees and have drawn the ire of state legislators. It only takes one bad apple I guess. The “impact” to Cary’s budget - and you the taxpayer - should this bill become law would be in the neighborhood of $11.5 Million annually. That equates to roughly 5 cents on our property tax rate. However, since the majority of these fees are for water and sewer, the greatest impact would be on folk’s utility rates.

The bottom line is that existing Cary citizens should not have to pay for infrastructure or services that are directly attributable to new development. If this bill passes, that is exactly what will happen.

UPDATE – After writing this blog but before posting we learned that H436 was heard in Finance Committee on Thursday, April 20. NC Representative and Finance Committee Vice-Chair, Nelson Dollar along with NC Representative Robert Reives spoke out against the proposed bill as written. Mr. Dollar specifically mentioned the negative impact this bill would have on Cary. An amendment was offered to make this a study bill instead and that amendment passed. While this is good news for Cary we will continue to keep a close eye on this one. Thank you Representatives Dollar and Reives!


This bill would further restrict Cary’s local authority regarding wireless communications facilities.

It would eliminate local zoning authority related to small cell wireless installations. It would also force Cary and other cities to expedite all wireless application review processes, limits the amount we can charge them for such services and reduces our authority regarding installations in the public rights-of-way.

I sure hope they kiss us first. Man they have good lobbyists.

Now we all want better cell service, but we also want to protect the beauty and character of our community too. I think Cary has done a pretty good job at balancing both over the years, but what do we know…

A growing trend in telecommunications equipment is to mount them on traffic signals or power poles – something like the images below. If this bill passes there will be little to nothing we could do to regulate the appearance of such installations.




Makes that fake tree cell tower not look so bad huh?

S94 and H64

These bills would change all local offices currently elected on a non-partisan basis to partisan and moves local elections to the same year and date as national and state elections.

One of the things that this council takes great pride in is how not-partisan we operate. That’s because there really isn’t anything partisan about roads, water, sewer, public safety, parks etc… I’ve never seen a Republican pothole or a Democrat traffic signal have you? We simply don’t allow partisan state and national issues to impact our decisions or our relationships with one another and we only focus on those things that are within our control. It’s part of the reason we have been so successful. But apparently we could do so much better if we put partisan labels on everyone.

Now let’s be honest, political parties today are active in local non-partisan elections and they do work to get their candidates elected…. if you consider primarily handing out slate cards at the polls “working”. But the great thing about odd-year elections is that voters can actually focus on local candidates and issues and not get lost in all of the noise of a presidential, gubernatorial or congressional election.

Another negative is how this change could discourage unaffiliated candidates from running for local office. Candidates not affiliated with either political party would now be required to collect the signatures of at least 4% of eligible voters in the district they are running for before they would even be allowed to file for election – but if you’re a member of a political party you don’t have to. That’s fair right?

Oh, and if more than one candidate of the same political party files for the same office, a primary election would now be required before the general election. And I still don't understand what would happen if a Democrat, Republican and two Unaffiliateds all ran for the same seat and nobody reached the 50% threshold. Would a runoff election still be required possibly resulting in three separate elections for a council seat?


This bill amends environmental laws by limiting a local government’s authority to require riparian buffers larger than what the state requires.

So those strict riparian buffer laws that Cary enacted years ago that have led to improved water quality and reduced stormwater runoff? Ya, screw those. Developers need that land to meet minimum lot size requirements. (rolls eyes)

These are just some of the bills making their way through the North Carolina General Assembly right now that would have a negative impact on Cary citizens and how we operate. There are others. I would encourage everyone to contact your state legislators and let them know your thoughts. We need all of the help we can get. Thank you.

You can reach state lawmakers who represent at least some portion of Cary at the email addresses below.

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Inter-City Visit to Scottsdale and Tempe Arizona

On Wednesday the town council along with members of our town staff, our economic development agency, business and community leaders and members of the Cary Chamber of Commerce traveled to Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona for an inter-city visit. Our mission was to learn from them about their experiences – both positive and negative - regarding economic development and redevelopment. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What would they change if they could do it all over again? Stuff like that.

Our first stop was to a public/private redevelopment project in South Scottsdale called SkySong.

I can’t describe SkySong any better than they can:

SkySong, The ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center is one of the premier economic engines in the Valley of the Sun. The project’s success is a direct result of a focus on innovation and technology that attracts companies ranging from some of the world’s best known brands to one- or two-person startups.
These companies come to SkySong because of its strong connection to Arizona State University – including the ASU SkySong incubator – as well as the exceptional facilities and ideal location in Scottsdale.

The goal of SkySong is to attract cutting-edge and innovative companies and their base of knowledge workers from around the world, integrating the resources of ASU with the opportunities of the private sector. SkySong is a true epicenter of economic activity in the state of Arizona. The 42-acre mixed-use development will include more than 1.2 million square feet upon buildout. SkySong 1, 2 and 3, all approximately 150,000 square foot of continuing education buildings, are near full occupancy.


Skysong and artistic shade structure. Photo courtesy of Skysong

Corporate tenants at SkySong include, Cannon, ASU, Ticketmaster, GroupOn, CenturyLink, Workiva, Yodle and Pearson.


Scottsdale Mayor, Jim Lane, city planners, SkySong personnel and Plaza Companies – the project developer - spoke about the public/private partnership forged between the city of Scottsdale, ASU and SkySong; and how that without the commitment from the city and University the project would not have been possible. They also talked a lot about branding; specifically their efforts to re-brand South Scottsdale.


Cary Delegation Learning About Skysong

It was fascinating to hear about South Scottsdale’s past and see firsthand how far they have come. It wasn’t too long ago that South Scottsdale really wasn’t a desirable place to be. Businesses had fled to other areas of the city and there were a lot of abandoned properties. Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s “Tent City” was nearby. But since the development of SkySong and a commitment by the city to improve South Scottsdale, they are experiencing significant growth in both new development and redevelopment. South Scottsdale, as they like to say, is "humming".
South Scottsdale is Humming!

Afterwards we boarded the bus and headed to Tempe for a working lunch with the Mayor of Tempe, Mark Mitchell and their Public Information Officer, Nikki Ripley. They too were undertaking a rebranding campaign and spoke to us about the initiative and their efforts to engage citizens in the process so that their “brand” truly reflects who they are. Good stuff.

We also had the pleasure of hearing from Dr. Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, and learn about his efforts to transform ASU into a “New American University” that combines the highest levels of academic excellence, inclusiveness to a broad demographic and maximum societal impact. ASU isn’t just working to make their university better – they are working to make the surrounding community and Arizona better. Dr. Crow has worked to transform ASU from a bureaucratic, faculty focused institution to one that is student and community focused.

ASU also partners with area high schools to improve student success and graduation rates which in turn provides for greater access to higher learning. Unlike most universities, ASU actually LOWERED admission requirements. ASU now accepts EVERY Arizona high school student who applies that has a B average or better while at the same time graduates a higher percentage of freshman students in four years than most every other university in the nation. They support and participate in economic development initiatives that create opportunities for students, citizens and businesses and improves the community’s quality of life.

Hearing from Dr. Crow was one of the highlights of the trip. I could have listened to him talk for hours. It is absolutely amazing what they have accomplished at ASU and their continued efforts to make ASU a “New American University” and redefine the landscape of higher education – so much so that I texted my wife, Lisa that we should consider ASU for our daughter, Elizabeth. Seriously. Google him and watch some of his online videos. This guy is amazing. A few of us even commented afterwards that this guy should be Secretary of Education.

After hearing from Dr. Crow it was back on the bus to head to Tempe’s Transit Center to meet with their Community Planning Director and Transit Director for a discussion about transit and transit oriented development. While it was a very informative discussion, I really can’t say I learned much of anything new here as I have heard about how transit will influence development many times before – but I believe that it was valuable for some of the others on the trip and I did take away a few nuggets.


Tempe Transit Center. Photo Courtesy of Tempe, AZ

For dinner we got to have a little fun. We went to Scottsdale Stadium to watch the San Francisco Giants play the Seattle Mariners. Scottsdale is the spring training home for the San Francisco Giants and boy do they love their “home team”. The game was sold out… for a spring training game! The stadium hot dogs were excellent and really complimented the beer ;-)


Scottsdale Giants baseball game. From L-R Council members Jack Smith, Don Frantz, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, Lori Bush, Ed Yerha and Police Chief Tony Godwin

The following morning our first stop was Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. The museum is owned by the city of Scottsdale and operated by a non-profit. The museum has a number of exhibit spaces both indoor and outdoor as well as an auditorium and facilities for special events.

Then it was back on the bus to go meet with Scottsdale’s Assistant Manager, Brent Stockton and their Planning Director, Randy Grant along with the developer of Scottsdale Waterfront to learn about Scottsdale’s amazing waterfront redevelopment and mixed use projects. I know what you’re thinking – waterfront in Scottsdale Arizona??? It’s like that song right? I was surprised too. But I gotta say this place was really cool. High rise condos, office and retail adjacent to Scottsdale’s waterway – it was an amazing mixed use project that was 20+ years in the making. It also makes one wonder what can be done with flood prone areas of a community to turn water problems into amenities.


Scottsdale Waterfront Redevelopment Project(s)

A really interesting tidbit that we learned was how difficult it is to get any tall building approved in Scottsdale. Nobody wants their view of the mountains blocked – which after seeing the mountains I can understand. They are absolutely beautiful.


Beautiful View of the Mountains

They are however very flexible in regards to design guidelines. For example, you can paint your building any color you want to...as long as it is Navajo White. ;-)

They also love their public art in Scottsdale, and the really cool thing about most everything that I saw was that you can actually tell what it is without having to read a plaque. This particular project was fascinating in that once inside it becomes a kaleidoscope and you see like 20 of yourself….including the bald spot on the back of your head…. That your wife said wasn’t bad…. She lied. ;-)


Scottsdale Door Kaleidoscope Art

This however was my personal favorite. Killer right?


Statue of Indian outside of Scottsdale's Museum of the West

The afternoon was “free time” for everyone to explore Scottsdale or Tempe on your own. Council member Lori Bush and I chose to explore a new outdoor mall adjacent to our hotel. Ya ya…, I know what you’re thinking. NO, I didn’t go shopping. I don’t shop. The mall is a mixed use project with residential and office above retail or restaurants and we wanted to see the project firsthand as this type of development is exactly what we have been trying to encourage in certain areas of town such as downtown, the state property off of Cary Town Blvd. and the Cary Town Center Mall property. The project was very walkable with a number of small, green areas peppered about for folks to relax and enjoy that shake you just got. Shake Shack is awesome btw. ;-) The one pictured below was extra amazing in that it also offered an outdoor LED screen that showed movies for kids – the kids can watch movies while momma shops. Awesome.


Pocket Park with play space and movies for children
The majority of dinner was spent discussing everything that we saw and learned and how that relates to what we are trying to do – or not do – in Cary.
Cary and Scottsdale/Tempe are very different places – VERY different – but we also have a lot of things in common like:

Encourage the redevelopment of older or distressed properties
Promote walkable sustainable development
Public/private partnerships
Branding – Cary will soon undertake a branding effort - especially in regards to economic development
Transit and transit oriented development
A commitment to parks, greenways and open spaces

In all I found the trip to be very educational and worthwhile. It also recharged the batteries a bit. I really want to thank everyone at the Cary Chamber of Commerce and our town staff for all of their efforts in planning the trip, and special thanks to both the Scottsdale and Tempe town staff and elected officials for taking time out of their busy schedules to meet with us. We really appreciate it and I hope that we can return the favor one day.

All that said, It’s great to be home!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

NO PARKING


Non-consensual Towing

Odd term right? What it means is that your vehicle was towed and you didn’t consent to it.

Let’s say that you and your friends are going out to dinner. When you get to your favorite restaurant you find that their parking lot is full because the place is awesome. You notice a lot of available parking at a closed business across the street so you park there and go inside the restaurant. You’ve had a wonderful evening – that is until you return to where you parked your car and its gone. Your first reaction is that your car has been stolen, and only after searching for your vehicle do you discover a small, inconspicuous “no parking tow-away sign”. You’re angry and rightfully so. Had you actually seen the dang sign you wouldn’t have parked there.

So you call the towing company to try and get your car back only to be told that their fee is $175.00 and that they only accept cash. And on top of that they tell you that if you can’t get to their lot in the next 10 minutes, they won’t be able to give you your car back until 8:00 the next morning. Nice…

Angry just became infuriated. Who carries that much cash? Where is the closest ATM? And like they expect you to get to both an ATM and their storage lot on foot in the next 10 minutes? Even Uber isn’t that fast.

You’ll show them! You call the police department…. only to learn that there isn’t much they can legally do to assist you. You did after all park in a tow-away zone, and NC general statutes prohibit the regulation of fees that tow companies may charge. The towing and release of private vehicles is largely a civil matter. About the only thing the police department can do is respond with an obligation to help prevent a fight between you and the towing operator.

Unfortunately this scenario has happened far too often in Cary. Cary PD has been called over 150 times for situations just like this since 2010.

It’s sad, especially in an area like our downtown where parking for some businesses is challenging as the current use – a restaurant, brewery etc.. generates more traffic than the original use was designed to accommodate. That happens a lot with redevelopment. Since we all want to see downtown Cary succeed you would think that businesses that are closed in the evening and don’t need their parking would allow adjacent businesses that really need extra parking in the evening to use theirs right? We do. But no….some people gotta be a #&$@ about it.

While unfortunate, there are some things we can do to hopefully limit situations like the one above from occurring.

Thanks to the hard work of the Cary Police Department and our legal department, we were able to pass a new non-consensual towing ordinance that complies with North Carolina general statutes and better protects vehicle owners, property owners and tow operators.

The new non-consensual towing ordinance does the following:

Requires the posting of visible signage in prominent locations that clearly notifies motorists of any parking prohibitions. Signage must also include the contact information for the specific towing company as well as on-site release requirements.
Towing companies must notify the police of any non-consensual tow along with the vehicle make, color and license plate number so that if a motorist calls the police, the police can inform them of the appropriate towing company information.
Towing companies must respond in person to a motorists call within 30 minutes of receiving a call.
Towing companies must respond to the vehicle storage location within two hours of receiving a release request. Exceptions include between the hours of midnight and 6:00 am.
Towing companies will now be required to accept cash and at least 2 major credit cards – one must be a VISA or Mastercard.
Vehicle storage lots may not be located more than 15 miles away from where the vehicle was towed.
Should a motorist return to their vehicle while a towing company has initiated a tow, the tow truck operator must release the vehicle on site upon the payment of a release fee.
Establishes penalties for towing operators who do not comply with the ordinance. $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second, $500 for the third, $750 for the fourth and so on.

We really hope that this new non-consensual towing ordinance helps alleviate some of the problems that motorists, and in some cases towing operators have experienced. We will also continue to work to better educate business and property owners – especially in our downtown – about the benefits that shared parking affords the surrounding community. Rising tides do lift all ships.

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!