Cary, NC — This week was the first regularly scheduled council meeting of the year.
Concerns From Council, Public Ahead of Meeting
Monday I contacted each council member to hear of concerns or questions they might have had on the upcoming agenda. The only comments were concerns about the proposed apartments at Twin Lakes. Later in the day, I met virtually with staff to go over the agenda. They pointed out that they had received 60 negative comments about the Twin Lakes proposal.
Keeping a Pulse on Development and COVID-19 in Cary
My last meeting Monday was with the town manager for our weekly one-on-one. We were joined by Mayor Pro-Tem Frantz. Topics discussed included the RDUAA fencing at Umstead, Epic Games purchase of the mall site, the Fenton project, a future meeting with Dr. Goodnight, Dominion Energy’s project which no longer crosses the American Tobacco Trail, and how COVID-19 is impacting town staff. Our meeting concluded after about 45 minutes.
Cary’s Top 10 Advocacy Goals
Thursday the council met in a work session to prioritize the top ten advocacy goals from the North Carolina League of Municipalities. They act on behalf of all municipalities in the state that participated. Cary’s top ten included:
- Grant local governments the authority to build broadband infrastructure in order to partner with private providers and provide additional funding to help close the digital divide.
- Expand incentives and funding for local economic development.
- Increase state and federal funding for affordable housing.
- Create a permanent and adequate funding stream for local infrastructure needs.
- Provide funding to keep aging water and sewer systems financially solvent today and viable for the future.
- Ensure state funding for any new, state-mandated benefits for municipal employees.
- Improve state-wide funding and support for LEO training focused on use of force, mental health and de-escalation skills.
- Increase public safety grant funding and expand allowable uses.
- Reduce pressure on property taxpayers by expanding locally controlled options for revenue generation.
- Increase in state funding to support public transportation development and operations.
In the next few weeks, Cary will create and vote on our own goals which will be advocated for by our council, staff and lobbyists.
Council Meeting Rundown
Thursday night the council held its first regularly scheduled council meeting of the year. The meeting was opened by council member Yerha who talked about 2021 being Cary’s 150th year.
Cary’s Sesquicentennial Celebrations
He, along with the 150th committee, are working on events and activities that will celebrate our sesquicentennial year. Some of the things we can expect include:
- A website, becoming active on January 29th, with all information about activities and celebrations
- A documentary film being produced by an award-winning filmmaker
- A play about Cary’s history being performed by the Cary Players
- A big downtown celebration aimed for the end of July if the pandemic will allow
- A masquerade gala in November
- Monthly presentations on Cary’s history
COVID Update & Financial Report
The council meeting agenda included six consent agenda items, three public hearings, and one discussion item. Before the consent items, the manager gave an update on COVID-19 in Cary. Like the rest of the world, we are seeing our highest rates of infections. I joined the manager in asking everyone to do their part and be safe by following guidelines.
We also had a presentation on our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report from our staff and an independent auditor. As has been the case for many, many years, everything is in excellent shape. A big thanks to the great Finance staff at the town for creating and preserving an environment of excellence.
Twin Lakes Rezoning Calls for 230 Multi-Family Units
The only public hearing that had comments was the Twin Lakes PDD rezoning. This proposal would allow the development of up to 230 multi-family units with a maximum height of 70 feet, alternative streetscapes standards, 7,500 square feet of community gathering space, a commitment to build a public greenway from Lake Grove Boulevard to Airport Boulevard (exclusive of any wetland or stream crossings), a commitment to 50% structured parking, and a parking reduction.
This drew dozens of complaints from a social media post that inundated council email boxes. The post asked to contact council members about the loss of trees and many other things that come with development. Unfortunately, the social media post failed to mention that this site was already approved for development in 2005.
It is important to understand that the proposal was not about allowing development but was about changing what could be developed. Even if the proposal were denied, the applicant could remove trees and develop. That is, this site could be developed today by right without any proposal, council vote, or consideration. The Twin Lakes rezoning proposal will now go to the Planning and Zoning board for their review and recommendation. We will vote on this in a few months.
Town Makes Strides in Going Electric
Our discussion item was for the purchase of the town’s first electric sanitation truck and for one dual-port electric vehicle charging station. This is in support of the fleet-focused tactics discussed at the November 2020 Council quarterly meeting and reflected in the Council’s Strategic Energy Action Plan.
Cary applied for and was awarded a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, administered by the NC Department of Environmental Quality. This purchase will reduce emissions in Town operations, but more importantly, inform future decisions regarding emissions reduction, consistent with the Environmental Advisory Board Carbon Reduction Recommendations.
The vehicle costs $560,834. The grant funds paid $252,375 and Cary’s match was $308,459. The proposal was unanimously approved. The council meeting concluded after a little over an hour.
Discussing COVID-19 Relief and Transportation in Wake
Friday I participated in a Zoom call with six Wake County mayors and the Wake County legislative representatives. We discussed the North Carolina League of Municipality advocacy goals and advocated for various help in our communities. The most common requests were for transportation and COVID-19 relief. The call lasted an hour.
Town Manager Report
The town manager, Sean Stegall’s report for this week included:
Manager’s Message to Council
Given the COVID-19 statistics that I shared at last night’s Council meeting, Public Safety Director Allan Cain’s report will take priority in today’s message. You can view his report here.
As a reminder, Monday is a Town holiday. I look forward to seeing each of you at our next Council meeting on January 28.
Stay safe and have a great weekend.
Cary’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) activated virtually today and will operate through January 22. The EOC’s Incident Action Plan (IAP) will focus on monitoring and sharing real-time intelligence about any actual or perceived civil unrest events in response to the presidential inauguration on January 20.
Operational Framework & Update
The weekly operational report brings a close to the week’s operational activities. Please take a moment to review the weekly operational report.
Included below is a summary-level overview of the operational activities continuing to take place during this health emergency.
- This week, Human Resources (HR) took final steps to implement a streamlined process to document, enter, and generate required OSHA related information in partnership with Cary’s workers’ compensation administrator, PMA. As of January 1, PMA assumed responsibility for data entry and documentation of OSHA related information in their system, eliminating the manual data entry process by HR.
- This week, a subset of Cary department directors known as the Financial Foundations team began discussing capital project priorities for FY 2022 and beyond. Their work is the first step in development of the FY 2022 capital improvements budget and plan which will be presented to Council later this spring.
- The development plan was approved to covert the former Miller-Motte College to a new Wake County Public School facility titled Wake STEM Early College. The project will renovate the existing building, add outdoor recreation facilities, change circulation, and reduce impervious surface.
- On Monday, the Zoning Board of Adjustment heard two cases. The first case was a request for a reasonable accommodation to allow for a resident to keep a Nigeran Dwarf Goat as an emotional support animal. The request passed unanimously. The second case was for an appeal to a civil penalty fine for unauthorized tree removal. Following a lengthy discussion regarding severity of the violation, who was at fault, and remediation actions taken by the contractor, the Board voted unanimously to reduce the fine from to $117,600 to $50,000.
- To prepare the site for an upcoming tree planting project, three at-risk trees were removed from Dorothy Park on Thursday. Planting of a new generation of canopy and understory trees in this neighborhood park is anticipated later this season. Click here for more information about Cary’s tree planting projects.
- The Design Standards Work Group began meeting to review suggested updates to Cary’s Standard Specifications and Design Manual. The group set a goal of summer 2021 for a comprehensive update.
- Rehabilitation of the Carpenter Water Tank kicked off this week. The interior and exterior paint coatings of the tank will be reconditioned, and a containment system will be placed over the tank to ensure the nearby homes, businesses, and traveling public are protected from paint droplets and overspray. The project is expected to be completed this summer.
- Congratulations to our partners at Apex Fire Department for achieving the Class 1 Fire Protection Classification. Staff from across our organization contributed to Apex’s new rating because of our mutual aid agreement ensures that residents living in areas protected by fire departments Cary, Apex, and Morrisville receive the fastest and most capable service imaginable.
Glow– “Unseen Nature”
The second installment of the pop-up outdoor art series, “Glow” started this week in downtown Cary. The installment is an animated virtual reality mural called, “Unseen Nature.” This will be a temporary exhibit with no specific end date. The mural is projected onto the exterior wall of Kitchen & Bath Galleries in downtown Cary, at the corner of N. Academy Street and Chatham Street. The goal of this mural is to utilize the power of new media to bring light and beauty to this outdoor public space in downtown Cary. The content chosen for this installation taps into the knowledge and love of local NC flowering plants, inspiring an affinity for nature in an urban setting and beyond. Thank you to our local sponsors Cary Visual Art and Ashworth Drugs.
A Pop-Up Storywalk
A Pop-Up StoryWalk® was installed on the Paw Paw Trail at Bond Park this week. Storywalk® first started in Vermont and has since spread worldwide. Pages of a children’s book are printed onto signs which are then installed along a trail or sidewalk. Signs are spaced apart requiring users to walk along the trail and read the story, page by page, as you follow the path. The StoryWalk® installation is a collaboration between the Town, Cary citizens, and local businesses. The book pages are spaced along a .5-milesection of trail and features the illustrated story Leaves by David Ezra Stein. StoryWalk® is free and open to the public during park hours. Citizens can access the trail by parking at Bond Park Community Center.
National Day of Service
Staff was recently contacted by the North Carolina Volunteer Service Lead with the Biden-Harris Inaugural Committee that is organizing efforts for a national Day of Service on Inauguration Day.
Due to COVID-19, they are struggling to create the robust service initiative that they had hoped. They heard about the Town’s MLK Dreamfest Food Drive from a Cary citizen that signed up via myCary for “contactless” Volunteer Donation Station. NCVS has replicated Cary’s program around the state with other food bank partners and extended the program concepts to their national group as a model for safe, meaningful, and successful service.
Learning that the Dreamfest Food Drive is being replicated as a national model during a time when our country is in such great need is uplifting and positive news during these very challenging times.
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO)serves as the coordinating agency between Cary and other local governments including, NCDOT, FTA, and FHWA (i.e., they are our regional partner). CAMPO also administers and awards LAPP grants and is currently recommending Cary receive $5.88 million for two transportation projects. Learn more about our MPO and the important role they play. CAMPO is offering a MPO 101 training on Feb. 25 from 8:30 am -12 pm. If interested, you can register online.
Since beginning operation in 2014, Western Wake Regional Water Reclamation Facility (WWRWRF) has seen a steady increase in wastewater flow. From an initial flow of 2 MGD six years ago, the facility is now treating more than 7 MGD. With wastewater flow from western Cary and our regional partners Apex, Morrisville, and Wake County portions of RTP, this facility now treats more wastewater on average than Cary’s other water reclamation facilities. With a permitted treatment capacity of 18 MGD and infrastructure in place to later expand to 30 MGD, WWRWRF is in great shape to meet Cary’s and our partner’s wastewater treatment needs well into the future.
Additional Information of Interest
We found the following articles to be particularly interesting this week and wanted to share with you for your reading pleasure:
- Business Can’t Take Democracy for Granted, Harvard Business Review
- D.C. Warns the New Virus Variant Could Fuel Huge Spikes in Covid Cases, The New York Times
Mayor Responds to Calls for LGBTQ Ordinances
I, along with council members, received several requests from a social media post asking us to enact LGBTQ local ordinances. Here are my thoughts on the matter:
“Thanks for reaching out to me. I want to respond wearing 2 hats: the first as Harold Weinbrecht and the second as Cary’s Mayor.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I believe in treating every person equally. It’s part of my upbringing and the way my wife and I have raised our children. It’s also part of my religious beliefs. And it’s what I think America is all about. I believe I see value in every person. That’s who Harold is.
As the Mayor of Cary, I’ve taken an oath to uphold the laws of our country, our state, and the Town of Cary. Cary exists, like all NC municipalities, as a municipal corporation of the State of NC. As such, we can do what we’re given permission to do by the NC General Assembly and the Governor.
Having permission isn’t the same as being able to do what we want until we’re told not to. It means asking before doing.
In my opinion, and I am not a lawyer, the communities that created formal non-discrimination rules in the past didn’t ask for permission before enacting their rules, and that led to a swift and certain negative reaction by State government leadership in the form of HB2.
Even though a moratorium may have expired, that’s not the same as the State giving its permission. And with the General Assembly relatively the same in both party and ideal, I believe that taking action locally would simply produce the same result – or worse.
Our staff continues to look into this, including talking with other NC cities about their thoughts and plans. If you have information that could help them, please send it to me, and I’ll pass it along. For now, I don’t anticipate that the Cary Council will be taking local action, instead continuing our long record of celebrating and harnessing the diversity that makes Cary Cary.”
Other emails from citizens this week included:
- Several emails from a social media site asking us to adopt the EAB recommendations (We continue to evaluate and implement recommendations)
- Several complaints about the Twin Lakes rezoning proposal
Next week’s activities include a Wake County Mayors Association meeting, a presentation by Cardinal Charter Academy students, a Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organizational meeting of the Executive Board, and a meeting of the North Carolina Metro Mayors.
Well, that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday, January 24th. 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].