Town Council Takes “Giant Leap” in Environmental Commitments

Cary, NC — The meeting’s two main points of discussion, whether planned or coincidental to be announced on Earth Day, had to do with environmental programs and funding.

“This year will mark the delivery to Cary of the first electric sanitation truck in the state of North Carolina. The Tesla Pilot represents the next step in our Green Fleet Program,” said Danna Widmar, Cary’s Director of Special Projects.

Three of five total initiatives would involve a commitment and vote to allocate $650,000 in funds.

The following 5 initiatives were unanimously approved and focus on key areas of energy, transportation, natural resources, composting & recycling, and education/advocacy.

1. Solar Installation at USA Baseball

Installation of solar panels over the covered practice facility at the USA Baseball Training Complex is recommended. This would reduce carbon emissions equivalent to the amount produced by 17 homes in one year.

This is a $300,000 Town investment.

2. Tesla Pilot Program

Staff recommends piloting 2 all-electric Tesla Model Y all-range vehicles with Cary’s traffic safety team.

These would be fully upfitted, similar to other police vehicles and are estimated to be in service by this fall. Each Tesla would reduce carbon emissions equivalent to the amount produced by 1 home per year.

This is a $150,000 investment, that will be allocated from Cary’s federal drug forfeiture fund balance to the Police department’s operating budget.

3. Creating Urban Forestry & Open Space Master Plans

Widmar pointed out the need to create two master plans to guide Cary’s natural resources of urban forestry and open space. This would include topics of greenway connections, management of open spaces, flood retention, clean air and carbon emissions.

These would initially provide valuable analysis and inventory of Cary’s natural resources that can help inform future environmental decisions.

This is a $200,000 Town investment.

The final two initiatives shared did not require fund allocation from the council and will move forward with the other recommendations.

4. A Recycling & Composting Assessment

A strategic assessment of Cary’s needs related to recycling and composting will provide metrics, benchmarking and forecasting.

“Current market factors demand that Cary take innovative approaches and strategic planning for our solid waste services,” said Widmar.

5. Updating Environmental Language in Rezoning Cases

The final recommendation takes a step in the direction of aligning official Town planning processes with their goals for environmental awareness.

This means that starting in May 2021, staff will make two changes to zoning staff reports:

  1. A new standard language of regulations that are used in the development plan review process
  2. A new “environmental section” to report all environmental conditions offered by the applicant such as EV charging stations and solar panels

Council Discusses, Unanimously Approves Environmental Spending

Councilmember Jack Smith opened the discussion, saying “This doesn’t just happen with a magic wand. It took a lot of effort.”

He continued to say thanks to Cary’s Environmental Advisory Board and put his full support behind the recommended allocations. Smith also hinted that there are more exciting actions related to the environment in the works.

Councilwoman Ya Liu also applauded the staff’s efforts to get to the point of last night’s vote.

“We’ve been talking about increasing our efforts in preserving our environment and now, finally, we are doing that,” said Liu.

She continued on to say, “It’s a giant leap in showing our commitment to our environment.

Liu also expressed an interest in learning more from experts in the area of composting and potentially starting up a pilot program in the future.

Councilwoman Lori Bush noted the neat coordination that these matters fell into an Earth Day meeting and thanked citizens for the patience as these efforts made their way into an actionable vote.

“Sometimes it takes a lot of time to get things done in government,” said Bush. “I hope that our citizens feel like they are beginning to see the kind of movement that they wanted.

The council unanimously approved the allocation of funds and moved to their next environmentally-related discussion item

Food Waste Drop-Off Pilot Project Also Approved

The Town of Cary has been awarded a Community Waste Reduction & Recycling Grant by the state. This $13,500 in funding provides for materials needed to establish and operate a pilot food waste drop-off site at the Citizen’s Convenience Center.

According to Srijana Guilford, Cary’s Environmental Communication Specialist, the pilot program will provide a location for drop-off food scraps and other compostable organics that will be processed into compost at an NC facility.

The purpose of this project and bringing more awareness to composting is to lessen the impact food waste has on our landfill. Right now, food waste accounts for roughly 27% of our local landfill.

This pilot is expected to start up efforts in July with a target opening in October 2021 and will collect monthly metrics of participation and tons collected, among other statistics.

To officially approve the pilot process, the Town Council was asked to recognize and allocate the $13,500 of grant funding. The council did so unanimously.

Financial Update from CFO Karen Mills

Since the start of the pandemic, the financial updates from Cary’s Chief Finance Officer, Karen Mills have become monthly occurrences. In last night’s meeting, Mills started by saying that Cary’s financial position “is on firm footing.”

Current sales tax revenues for the Town are outpacing that of 2020, though revenues stemming from Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources continue to remain under budget. Mills says she’s starting to see these rise again, though, with the reopening of certain parks programming.

Utility disconnections for residents who have not paid their bills were put on hold in March 2020. Following a series of payment plans and notice letters, the Town will be reinstating the disconnections in May.

The recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2022 will also be presented in May. This will include the operating budget for Cary’s general fund, utility fund operating budget and capital budgets intended to fund various maintenance and bond projects.

Cary 150th History Moment

Town council member and history buff, Ed Yerha made his fourth monthly historic presentation, this time on Cary’s Historic Landmarks.

The full segment is viewable on the Town’s YouTube channel.

Resident Speaks Out Against Demolition of Mt. Zion Church

The Public Speaks Out portion of the meeting, which has seen significantly fewer commenters since going virtual early last year, heard from a single speaker — a Downtown Cary resident named Robert.

“I appreciate the presentation on the Historical Structures, but I was disappointed to hear about the permit to destroy Mount Zion Baptist Church,” said Robert.

This permit was mentioned in the most recent weekly report from Town Manager, Sean Stegall which said,

“A building permit has been submitted for the demolition of the Mount Zion Baptist Church building, located at the northwest corner of North Academy Street and Chapel Hill Road. No development plans have been submitted for redevelopment of the property.”

Robert went on to say how he’s noticed many small, affordable houses being demolished and always replaced by larger, more affluent-type housing.

“I think I know of one affordable housing building constructed for seniors. I’ve seen no affordable housing for the younger, working families with children who are being displaced in my neighborhood,” said Robert.

At the end of his comments to the Council, he asked what impact the 2020 affordable housing plan had on multi-unit housing currently under construction in Downtown Cary and big plans in the foreseeable future.

While the council makes a point to not respond directly to citizens during the Public Speaks Out session, Town Manager Sean Stegall, said staff would definitely be following up.

6 Public Hearings, No Public Comments

Outside of a few remarks from a lawyer representing a client in a rezoning case, no other community members called or wrote in to speak in the public hearings. These hearings included 3 annexations, 2 rezonings and Town plans to address housing and community development needs through a federal grant program.

Due to the lack of speakers, the council and presenting staff members made it through 6 public hearings in just 18 minutes. These hearings included:

  1. Annual Action Plans for FY 2021 and 2022 Community
    Development Block Grant
  2. 21-REZ-02 Town Property (Greenway and Utilities Connection – Dominion Estates Subdivision)
  3. 21-A-02 Annex Town Property (Greenway and Utilities Connection – Dominion Estates Subdivision)
  4. 21-REZ-03 Pleasant Grove Church Road and
    ACT 18 Comprehensive Plan Amendment
  5. 21-A-06 Page Road Investments LLC Annexation
  6. 21-A-07 Balaji Commercial, LLC Annexation

The only council member question came from Lori Bush who wondered if the Pleasant Grove Church Road rezoning is the first Cary rezoning where the corporate limits of Cary land would stretch into Durham County. Turns out, it is the second, with the Long Beverage case being the only other one.

The meeting wrapped up in an hour, followed by a 30-minute closed session.

Story by Ashley Kairis. Photos screen-captured from the live meeting. See full Cary Town Council meetings on YouTube.

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1 reply
  1. Gary Brown
    Gary Brown says:

    Please, Town of Cary:
    Take a giant leap and commit to ensure all this electrical stuff has batteries sourced from the USA!

    Go ahead, take some money from the Sharrow Paint funds!

    Thanks in advance from a Vietnam veteran that loves the USA.

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