Harold’s Blog: RDU Airport Authority Land Use, Coronavirus in the County, Staff-Council Retreat and More

Cary, NC — This week’s activities were dominated by the Coronavirus and the annual council-staff working retreat.

Monday – Airport Owned Lands & Umstead State Park

Monday my photo op with Ms. Cary was canceled. I do hope it will be rescheduled.

I received an email Monday from Wake County Commissioner that was sent to him from the CEO of the RDU Airport Authority related to the Umstead Park. Here is that information:

Below is a summary that might be helpful in understanding the Authority’s position on selling land.

Michael J. Landguth, President & CEO of Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority:

“RDUAA, like the state parks system, will not sell its land for any reason. The Authority receives multiple requests from developers, adjacent landowners, businesses, NCDOT, etc. to purchase airport property and regularly rejects those requests. For example, the Authority requested that the N.C. Department of Transportation acquire small parcels of airport land by eminent domain to improve two intersections – projects RDU supports to ease traffic congestion entering and exiting the airport.

Commercial airports across the U.S. are bound by federal statutes that dictate how airport property can be used. The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits airports from selling land for a public park. This prohibition is intended to prevent federal laws that protect parks from also adversely impacting airport property use, stalling airport development or disrupting airport operations. For example, RDU is required by law to control land use on or near the airport in order to reduce wildlife hazards that might impact operations or cause an aircraft incident.

Airport sponsors (RDUAA, Raleigh, Wake County, Durham, and Durham County) execute 39 grant assurances when accepting federal grants. Two of these assurances (Numbers 19 and 21) prohibit the creation of land uses incompatible with airports, because of the potential for interference with airport development and operations. The FAA has determined that 4(f) properties are incompatible with airports. Therefore, airport land cannot create a 4(f) property.

The basis for deeming 4(f) properties incompatible with airports comes from their ability to influence or limit nearby airport development. The laws related to 4(f) properties provide a shield that protects 4(f) properties from impacts from transportation projects. The activities on adjacent airport land can be restricted, or prevented, in order to shield the 4(f) property from negative impacts resulting from activities on adjacent property. This shield can create a situation where a 4(f) property reaches onto a nearby property to restrict and control development on that nearby property.

It is the existence of this 4(f) shield and its ability to impact nearby airport property uses in combination with the grant assurance requirements to avoid the creation of incompatible property that motivates the FAA’s determination that 4(f) properties are incompatible with airports.

For at least 45 years, there have been multiple claims that airport development or operations have negatively impacted Umstead State Park, impacting the placement of runways, terminals, fencing, parking operations, a surveillance radar and other development. These claims have aimed to push all airport development and operations away from the east side of airport property. These claims are an example of why the FAA has deemed 4(f) properties incompatible with airports and prohibits their creation by airport sponsors.

RDUAA understands the value of conservation and public recreation, which is why the Authority presented the option of a third party leasing 151 acres of airport land for public recreation. A lease would comply with federal laws, permit the construction of legal trails and remove the airport’s liability for trespassers recreating on airport property.

Let me know if you have any questions and I hope you have a nice weekend.”

Michael J. Landguth, A.A.E.

President & CEO

Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority

1000 Trade Drive, Post Office Box 80001

RDU Airport, NC 27623

Telephone (919) 840-7701

This issue remains very controversial.

Later Monday I met with the town manager and chief strategy officer to go over the agenda for the working retreat that began on Friday. We talked for about an hour and a half about various items on the agenda which I will cover later. I think the manager’s message to the attendees is important, so I included it here:

Town Manager, Sean Stegall:

“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.” —Alvin Toffler, American Author and Futurist

Our annual retreat – it is my favorite time of the year. As I stated last year, very few organizations, and even fewer local governments, allow time for reflection. Usually, the imperative is to double down and work harder – don’t stop to think, just drive forward. We do things differently in Cary and with positive results.

This is the time of the year where we turn our collective conscious to the “big things.” There is nothing bigger than our collective challenge, or purpose, to Keep Cary Cary. The roadmap to keep us great is the Imagine Cary Community Plan. While we have incorporated Imagine Cary throughout our operations, this year we will step back as we jump forward – reflecting on our success to inform our future actions. Recommitting, realigning, and, yes, Re-Imagining Imagine Cary.

Truly innovative organizations all embrace bold ambition, responsibility to the community, collaboration, and learning. Our annual retreat puts these values on full display.

Cary is a community, that is plain to see. What has also become clear is that the Town Council and Department Directors have also formed a community. To form a community, members have to agree on what’s important. By shaping the group’s priorities and choices, the community’s values influence individual and collective thoughts and actions – those actions being focused on implementing Imagine Cary to Keep Cary Cary.

We are honored to have Councilmember Liu’s inclusion to this community and eagerly anticipate her insights and gracious enthusiasm for all things Cary this weekend. We have also invited Mark Robertson, who the staff and I have been working with this year on helping us better understand ourselves and the collective leadership potential that lies within us all. We think so highly of Mark that we wanted to share him with council and also ask him to observe the Council/Staff dynamic to allow for his feedback, in similar fashion to Dr. Nalbandian two years ago.

This retreat – our retreat – is designed to allow us to truly reflect, connect with each other and continue to make our highly effective community even more effective to prepare us for the challenges to come.

This is our time to get up in the “balcony” to gain the broadest possible perspective of our work together.

The retreat is meant to re-nourish, recharge, refresh, and reinvigorate. In an organization oriented toward action, it is increasingly important that our retreat time be focused more on our progress than on continually focusing on what’s next.

The success of our recent initiatives will rely on the talents of our team to lead, embrace excellence, and drive innovation. We’ve recruited outstanding new talent and promoted rising stars from within to put the right people in important roles, to elevate our leadership, and grow our potential. I can unreservedly affirm that our leadership team is the strongest we have ever had and is the right team for this critical juncture in the history of our organization and community.”

– Sean

For a high functioning team, the Cary Council and staff, this retreat is one of the most important, if not the most important, event of the year.

Tuesday – Coronavirus in the County

I was contacted by the town manager with information about the Coronavirus in the county. The town manager explained all that was happening and how they are in constant contact with Wake County authorities.

Wednesday – Staying Informed on Wake County Case

I contacted the Wake County Vice Chair to get updates about the Coronavirus. She explained in detail how they have traced the infected persons steps and the actions they are taking. She also emphasized that the CDC is involved and helping. I pledged our full support and asked to be kept informed.

Thursday – Cary Citizens Express Panic, Hospitals Encourage Prevention Efforts

Thursday started with emails from a few citizens beginning to panic about the Coronavirus outbreak. Some are suggesting closing schools, businesses, or keeping everyone at home. One said they heard from a shop owner that there were other cases. While it is important for all of us to pay attention, it is equally important NOT to believe the false information on social media or hearsay. We all need to focus on what we can control rather than what we cannot control. To be more specific, we need to follow the recommendations from healthcare professionals. That is to wash our hands and keep them away from our face.

WakeMed Statement

Information continued to pour in from organizations impacted by the Coronavirus outbreak. The following is a statement from WakeMed:

“As background, WakeMed is one of eight Level 1 and Level 2 trauma centers in North Carolina. This special designation requires that each hospital has certain specialties available, adhere to prescribed staffing requirements to support specialty services and conduct significant amounts of research. Duke University Hospital in Durham and UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill are also Level 1 trauma centers serving the region and beyond. Trauma centers are critically important to the state’s emergency preparedness efforts.

Additionally, North Carolina is divided into eight health care preparedness regions, or coalitions. Level 1 and/or Level 2 trauma centers are designated to lead each regional coalition. The Capital RAC is led by WakeMed, the Duke coalition is led by Duke University Hospital and the Mid Carolina coalition is led by UNC Hospitals. Federal funding focused on disaster and emergency preparedness efforts flow directly to the NC Department of Health and Human Services, who works hand-in-hand with each coalition for training health care responders, providing communications to health care agencies and ensuring necessary medical supplies are accessible when needed.

When thinking about a pandemic or even the flu season, we all must look beyond hospitals as the first stop for all emergencies. Prevention efforts should be the top priority. As health care providers and a critical community resource, we are working to support local public health departments and the NC Division of Public Health in communicating the importance of prevention. Efforts are focused on hand washing, staying away from crowds, taking care of your personal health, utilizing primary care options first, staying home if you feel sick, and being mindful of how you travel across the state and beyond.

The next priority when preparing for a possible emergency is to ensure a robust communication system is in place. A successful system includes health care providers, hospitals, local public health departments, with the NC Department of Health & Human Services serving as the lead agency. This year’s flu season is definitely testing our surge capacity. North Carolina’s Office of Emergency Medical Services, housed at the Department of Health & Human Services through the state’s coalitions (described above) and the Level 1 and Level 2 trauma centers have robust plans in place to appropriately handle the high surge of patients presenting at hospitals with the flu. The state receives daily reports and real time information from the health care provider community with numbers of confirmed cases, as well as all requests for needed support in local communities.

It is critically important in any type of emergency that there is a central spokesperson. In North Carolina, this is the Department of Health & Human Services via Public Health and the Office of Emergency Medical Services. The hospital community works through this established state network and with local public health departments to prepare, coordinate and communicate one message to the public. We have trained for years on how to best coordinate through past emergencies like the Ebola outbreak, measles and other events.

Lastly, in addition to communication and preparedness training drills, each coalition has a mobile 50-bed field care center, with similar capabilities to a hospital, in our active equipment inventory. These mobile centers were funded by the federal government and can be set up in extreme emergencies when the state deems necessary.”

UNC Rex Healthcare Statement

Here is a statement sent to all mayors in the area from the UNC Rex Healthcare:

“As you are well aware, concerns about COVID-19 are growing in our community and throughout the state. UNC Health, our infectious disease team, our pathologists and all of our providers have been preparing for a potential outbreak and want to offer some insight into our efforts.

This is an all hands on deck effort. Our infectious diseases experts are working with hospital staff to share knowledge and implement protocols on how to screen for COVID-19 patients and what actions to take once a suspected case is identified. At the direction of Dr. Wesley Burks, UNC Health CEO and School of Medicine Dean, we are focused on three key areas: 1) operational planning; 2) ensuring patient & provider safety and; 3) external communications.

Our Approach:

UNC Health includes 11 hospitals and 13 campuses across North Carolina, hundreds of clinics within the state and very close ties to the UNC School of Medicine (SOM), so we are taking a system-wide approach in responding to the coronavirus / COVID-19 challenge. Dr. Burks has appointed executive leaders to lead a cross-functional team charged with preparation and operational activities System-wide, in coordination with leaders at each UNC Health facility or clinic location. They include our Chief Clinical Officer, Chief Medical Officer, and Triangle Regional President.

In-House Testing & Research:

As you may have read, our team is working tirelessly on an in-house test that would help to identify and isolate patients in a matter of hours. Through the leadership of Dr. Melissa Miller, we could provide answers to a suspected patient at a much faster pace, allowing increased safety to our patients and providers. We are working with the FDA in the hopes of loosening current restrictions that would allow this test to be utilized immediately. As was reported widely yesterday and today, our own Dr. Ralph Baric has been researching coronaviruses for years, and his 30-person team is actively working with the CDC to help stem the tide of this virus’s spread. We are also working with federal officials to ensure we have the supplies we need, including swabs for Dr. Miller’s test, masks, and other critical protective equipment.

A Plan In Place:

Should COVID-19 become widespread in the area, UNC Health has identified care locations to be used for potential patients. These areas include inpatient rooms, Emergency Departments and overflow spaces for isolation if needed. You may have seen articles in the past day about field-care centers that could be set up if needed. These centers were funded by the federal government to be set up in extreme emergencies when the state deems necessary.

Coordination At All Levels:

We are fortunate to include world-renowned infectious disease experts along with many others who are consulting with us on preparations across our system, and lending their expertise to UNC Health, statewide, national, and international efforts. In addition, we are working in close collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as with colleagues in the UNC system, other health care systems in the state, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and local health departments.

Communicating With Patients and the Community:

Externally, we have deployed a COVID-19 web resource page which we are constantly updating with new and actionable information for patients to provide basic prevention awareness and to help debunk misinformation.

We are regularly updating our co-workers with the latest information, more details about our protocols and how UNC Health is proactively working to keep our community safe and healthy. We are also encouraging individuals showing any symptoms of concern to utilize our telehealth services that are available seven days a week at any time of day through UNC Health 24/7. We ask for your help with educating our community about this situation; knowledge and awareness of prevention methods will be the best way to keep our community healthy.

In short summary, we are working to protect our community and even those well beyond the borders of our state. This issue is our top priority, and we believe our success lies in the partnership we have with you all and health care leaders throughout North Carolina.

As this situation evolves, we will continue to share what we are doing to be both proactive and reactive, but in the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns. We are proud to bear the name of our state’s healthcare system and want to be as responsive as we can to you during this time.”

As of the time of this posting there are two cases in North Carolina, both in the region. If you want the latest information from Wake County (the lead agency) see http://www.wakegov.com/covid19/Pages/default.aspx. If you want the latest information from Cary see https://www.townofcary.org/projects-initiatives/alerts-closures/pandemic-information. Rest assured that we will update our citizens as soon as we have additional information to share.

Friday & Saturday – Annual Council-Staff Working Retreat

Thursday afternoon the council traveled to Winston Salem for the annual council-staff working retreat. Here are some notes from topics at the retreat that was all day Friday and Saturday:


  • Sales Tax and Vehicle renewals up and interest income down
  • Cary Tax Base grew 20% since 2016
  • Reevaluation analysis showed 3% increase in homes over $1 million, 8% from $700K to $ 1 million, 12% from $450K to $700K, 17% from $250K to $450K, and 31% less than $250K.
  • Revenue neutral tax rate would be 30 cents (my guess is it will be higher to pay for bonds approved last fall)
  • Capital costs will be a concern in the future since many town facilities need significant maintenance

Quarterly Meeting Schedule for 2020 and topics

May 21st

  • Housing
  • Imagine Cary 2.0
  • Branding
  • Watershed fees
  • Sustainability Initiatives (trees, open space, scope of efforts)
  • Cary 150thCelebration
  • Regional Legislative Agenda

August 13th

  • Downtown Parking
  • Community Centers (Western and Indoor sports)
  • NCDOT projects in Cary (especially Chapel Hill Road)

November 5th

  • Urban 3 work – final uses
  • Piney Plains study
  • Ollie’s property / housing
  • Recycling efforts

Downtown Park

  • Council shown more design features
  • Council wanted something better than concrete walls
  • Council wanted a small indoor space, perhaps glass, next to space to be rented for events like weddings
  • Construction of ponds will begin soon to be part of storm retention for Academy Park. This will be designed to handle a 500-year storm event
  • Council did not like abstract ideas presented for children’s play area and would prefer something simple
  • Spring of 2020 will see the hiring of park manager, final construction drawings, RFP for food and beverage, and Public Art Process
  • Project bid in Winter of 2021 with construction starting in Summer of 2021
  • Park will be dedicated in Summer of 2023

Indoor Community Center

  • Indoor Sports multiplex planned for the corner of Maynard and Walnut and will take about 3 acres
  • It will include a part that is a community center and a part that is the arena.
  • The sports arena plan for events (so far) has basketball (12 courts), volleyball (8 courts), E-sports (28 permanent pods), dance/cheer (4000 square feet), Pickleball (8 courts), Wrestling/Gymnastics (25,000 square feet), Martial Arts (4500 square feet), and Fencing (57 runs at 65,000 square feet)
  • Staff currently meeting with interest groups about other events
  • Current economic impact from events is expected to be $9.8 million the first year and $17.7million by year five
  • Community portion has a wide variety of things including recreation equipment, senior center, rooftop running track, etc.
  • This venue is an amenity and is not designed to be profitable (like Booth Amphitheater) but it doesn’t mean we won’t make a profit at times.
  • Design will be completed in Summer of 2022 and marketing for events will begin
  • Construction is expected to be completed in Summer of 2024

Downtown Development Update

  • Buildings that house Tapei 101will be redone to look retro
  • Cooper building current being redone
  • Rogers Motel purchased and proposal for redevelopment submitted. It will likely include Rogers Alley which is perpendicular to Walker Street.
  • The proposal includes 3 story buildings on Chatham with office and retail
  • Town will add streetscape that will include water retention features
  • There will be a street from Chatham to Cedar that is perpendicular to Rogers Alley that will probably have a section only for pedestrians initially.
  • The is a Food Hall with rooftop dining proposed for Cedar Street
  • Park Station is underway and an update of interior streets provided
  • Former library will post RFQ/P in spring, narrow development teams in the fall, and make a selection in the fall or winter

Imagine Cary Update

  • It has produced remarkable things such as the evolution of the Fenton and the mall site. The mall site had:
    • Removal of 8 acres of impervious service
    • 1100 new trees
    • Low impact design green infrastructure
  • Only 30 of 150 cases ever got to a council decision. That is the reason it appears that Cary approves many proposals. The fact is that many proposals never get to us.
  • Staff reports are more robust than pre-Imagine Cary and include information about how the plan relates
  • Next five years will be transformational and will include changes on Kildaire Farm Road and Buck Jones Road around South Hills
  • Current population is 171,851
  • An estimated 250,000 new residents will come to Wake County in the next 30 years

Building Strong Trusting Relationships in Life – Mark Robertson

  • You cannot change another person. You can only change yourself.
  • We are not very good observers of ourselves. You cannot change what you do not see!
  • If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. Different results demand different actions
  • You are always at choice.

Housing in Cary

  • We discussed four areas of housing including affordability
  • The region has an affordability deficit of 60,775 and Cary has a deficit of 6,600
  • We will look to provide housing to a portion of the region’s low- and moderate-income residents
  • We will set conditions that enable current residents to continue to live in high-quality housing in Cary without cost burden, while providing options for residents to age in place.
  • We will set conditions to preserve and create opportunities for a range of households to live in or move to Cary, including renters, young homeowners, large families, and seniors.
  • Council asked staff to come back with recommendations for these directives

Neighborhood Engagement

  • Staff gave examples of how to help with issues even beyond our authority by working with citizens and connecting them to people that can help
  • We will work to address any and all requests even though they are outside our authority
  • We will expand our neighborhood improvements program
  • We will have more meetings (like town hall meetings) in neighborhoods
  • We will change ordinances in the future so that we can address problems in certain neighborhoods with trash and abandoned cars in yards


  • We will use technology to have a home-grown, dynamic common workspace that’s accessible by all employees to show information on any project or service, allowing decision-makers to prioritize and make better decisions to implement Imagine Cary.

Each year the retreat is an invaluable time for both staff and council. Not only do we get to discuss a lot of important items, but we get to spend time with each other and grow our relationships. I believe good, strong relationships are key for good governance.

Get in Touch

Emails from citizens this week included:

  • A complaint about the RDU Airport Authority’s plans that impact Umstead Park.
  • A comment about downtown crosswalks
  • A concern about the leader of India, Modi, who is targeting Muslims unfairly
  • A complaint about online registration for a course (staff has worked with this individual and resolved the issue)
  • A complaint about trees dying in the downtown park
  • A suggestion about new public trashcans
  • A request from an 8th grader to present work on the environment (this will be scheduled)
  • Concerns about the Coronavirus
  • A request to prioritize a rail bridge on the CSX tracks on Cary Parkway

Next week’s activities include staff meetings, a meeting of the Economic Development Committee, a meeting of the Branding subcommittee, speaking on Career Day at Alston Ridge Elementary, meeting with dozens of citizens who are part of the NCCLO (North Carolina Congress of Latino Organization), and providing welcoming remarks at the Tobacco Road Marathon and Half Marathon.

Well, that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday, March 15th. Although I have Facebook and Twitter accounts those are not the best means of communications with me. Please send all Town of Cary questions or comments to [email protected] and email personal comments to [email protected].

From the blog of Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht. Featured image courtesy of the Town of Cary, Covid-19 Map courtesy of the CDC and all other photos by Ashley Kairis.

3 replies
  1. Lindsey Chester
    Lindsey Chester says:

    This looks like a typo- The sports arena plan for events (so far) has basketball (12 courts), volleyball (8 courts), E-sports (28 permanent pods), dance/cheer (4000 square feet), Pickleball (8 courts), Wrestling/Gymnastics (25,000 square feet), Martial Arts (4500 square feet), and Fencing (57 runs at 65,000 square feet)

    65,000 sq ft for FENCING? Can’t be. Fencing isn’t more popular than Pickleball or martial arts.

  2. leculdesac
    leculdesac says:

    Dear Mayor and/or Town of Cary Staff:

    Considering how many neighbors (as reflected on NextDoor) have had 24-48 hour internet outages over the past 12 months due to 5G? or some fiber being installed in neighborhoods, is it possible to suspend or be a lot more careful about this installation, considering that SO MANY CARY CITIZENS ARE TELEWORKING AND COLLEGE STUDENTS ARE HOME TELESTUDYING?

    I’ve begun a post on NextDoor about this. So many of us are having to practice social distancing with the Internet being a lifeline. To have that cut off for 24-48 hours is much more stressful and disruptive, when citizens don’t need their immune systems (or social positivity) stressed out anymore. I implore you to revisit these plans considering how disruptive these fiber installation projects are. Thanks.

  3. Kavita Katti
    Kavita Katti says:

    Dear Mayor and/or Town of Cary Staff,
    Do you have plans to reduce the number of empty busses still serving the town of Cary?
    Since most seniors who use these busses are staying home, please do look into reducing this service.
    I would want to conserve spending during times like this.
    Thank you.

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