Cary, NC — In last night’s Cary Town Council meeting, the discussion focused on a rezoning request and correcting misinformation tied to it.
Lilly Atkins Rezoning Pulls Concerns
Before heading further in the process to Cary’s Planning and Zoning Board, a 38-acre rezoning request was brought to the council last night with a public hearing.
The site is made up of 5 parcels of land, including a section of state-owned land and rests in a flood plain area at the corner of Lilly Atkins Road and Holly Springs Road. If later approved, this property would be annexed and rezoned from Residential 40 Watershed to Transitional Residential Conditional Use.
Zoning Conditions Proposed
The applicant in the case plans to develop this area with housing that would include the following conditions:
- Use: detached dwellings & neighborhood recreation
- Density: max of 2 units per acre (about 76 units)
- Age restriction: At least 80% of dwellings with at least 1 person aged 55 or older
- Dimensional requirements
- Minimum 6,000 square foot lot sizes
- Lot area shall not include area within the riparian buffer
- Side yard setbacks: minimum aggregate side yards of 9 feet (min. 3 feet on one side)
- Community gathering space, minimum 2 acres
The main concerns brought to the Town on this rezoning were its location in a floodplain/stream buffer zone and traffic. To address these, Cary’s Stormwater Development Manager, Matt Flynn chimed in on the conversation and results of a traffic study were also presented.
“The Town’s rules prohibiting development in flood plains and stream buffers are well above and beyond any federal or state requirements,” said Flynn.
With this site in mind, he said a significant portion of the properties are “undevelopable and would remain undisturbed.” If moving forward, he assured the development plan would be subject to numerous environmental regulations.
Traffic Study Findings
The developer also voluntarily conducted a traffic study. These are some of the main findings.
- Site traffic not expected to degrade the level of service at the Holly Springs/Lilly Atkins intersection
- Turn lanes into the site will allow site traffic to shift out of through lanes
- There is existing peak hour congestion
- Future projects will improve traffic including the new NC 540 Triangle Expressway interchange opening in 2022 and improvement projects coming to the intersections of Holly Springs Rd. with SE Cary Parkway and Penny Road
Public Weighs in on Hearing
Principal Planner, Katie Drye shared a summary of 78 comments received by the town — all of which expressed opposition to the rezoning. These primarily noted concerns of traffic, environmental impacts, preservation of wildlife and wildlife corridors, impacts to drinking water and keeping the character of a “rural area.”
Council later noted that many of these complaints were copy and paste form letters that did not express unique concerns.
Three members of the public called in to speak during the live meeting. These comments included traffic concerns from a representative of the nearby Lochmere Association, further details from one of the traffic engineers and opposition from a Cary resident of 30+ years, citing inconsistency with the Cary Community Plan.
“The plan states that as a Town, we value protecting nature and the environment. Requesting a rezone of a Residential 40 Watershed District contradicts this very value, plain and simple,” said the call-in speaker.
Council Sets Record Straight, Gives Opinions on Use
Starting a lengthy council discussion was Cary Mayor, Harold Weinbrecht.
“I think there’s a misunderstanding between the type of use and whether development can occur or not,” said Weinbrecht, explaining that the only question before the council is whether they approve the proposed type of use.
As this request moves through the process and comes back to the council for a decision in a couple of months, Weinbrecht encouraged citizens to contact and work with the Town directly, particularly the staff liaison, Katie Drye. Councilmember Jack Smith also urges citizens to “keep feedback real and not make it personal.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Don Frantz said it’s been unfortunate to see a lot of misinformation spread through the community on this one. To citizens who commented with concerns of traffic, noise, lights and environmental impacts, he says there aren’t many uses better than low-density senior housing.
“I do believe this specific use meets a need in our community,” said Frantz.
The rest of the councilmembers in attendance also made comments.
Jennifer Robinson posed a question of how the Town could maintain the housing’s age restriction. In short, Interim Town Attorney, Lisa Glover said the Town would not be in charge of enforcing this. Instead, the developer would have to place restrictive covenants on the land and it would be enforced through a Home Owners Association.
“It’s refreshing to see something like this come along with just two units per acre,” said Councilmember Yerha who had no problem with the “what” part of the proposed development, but said it’s the “where” that’s more of an issue since it’s an environmentally sensitive area.
Councilmember Ya Liu did not see much reason for concern with traffic, but does want to see the environmental impacts the development would cause looked into more based on citizen concerns. On the other hand, Jack Smith did pose concerns on the topics of traffic levels and potentially restricting left turns.
“I think it’s time for us as a town to step up and if we’re going to consider this application that we look at ways that we can improve on this cancer that’s over there,” said Smith. “If I’m just not comfortable that those things are being improved, then I’m going to think long and hard on this one.”
Smith also mentioned concerns with the flood plain aspect, saying the homes in Lochmere have seen impacts exacerbated by the rainy seasons of the past two years.
Following the conversation, it was unclear what the councils’ vote count might be on approving the request in the future. Based on their comments, this request will likely develop and change throughout the process before returning to council at a later meeting.
Final 3 Public Hearings
After more than one hour of discussing the Lilly Atkins Rezoning, the council conducted the following three public hearings in just 15 minutes:
- Long Beverage Annexation Petition
- Coan (6012 Farmpond Road) Annexation
- Act 16 Joint Chatham Cary Land Use Plan Amendment
These public hearings received no public comments or call-in speakers and all will go to the P&Z board next.
150th Historical Moment & Finance Update
At the start of the meeting, Councilmember Ed Yerha presented the unique story behind Cary’s name. This video segment of the meeting can be viewed on Cary’s YouTube Channel.
Also making her monthly presentation was Cary CFO, Karen Mills. Her comments focused on sales taxes, pandemic grant revenues, financial assistance for utility customers in Cary and an updated revenue budget dashboard. For the latest in these areas, view her presentation.
Celebrating 44 Years of Service
Mayor Weinbrecht also took a moment at the meeting’s start to acknowledge a long-time, committed employee of the Town of Cary, Sammie Garris, who is retiring after 44 years.
“No Cary employee has ever served citizens of Cary that long,” said Weinbrecht, who led a round of applause for his service. He also said once meetings are no longer virtual, the council plans to honor him in person.
As Sammie completed his final week on staff as a Solid Waste Equipment Operator, he was honored with balloons and hand-made signs from residents along his route.
The next regular meeting of the Cary Town Council will be at 6:30 PM on Thursday, February 12, 2021.
Story by Ashley Kairis. Photos screen captured from the live meeting.
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