Cary, NC — For a council that frequently passes requests and projects in unanimous fashion, the Thursday, June 24, 2021 meeting of the Cary Town Council was fairly abnormal with 2 split votes of 4-3 and 5-2.
300-Unit Apartment Project Approved with New Conditions
The 4-3 vote that got the most discussion of the night was on a rezoning request to bring 300 multi-family residential units to the intersection of Carpenter Fire Station Road and HWY-55. The request has been tabled twice by the council before Thursday’s approval, with new conditions added each time to make the project more appealing.
As detailed in previous coverage, the rezoning refers to a 14.6-acre property and the applicant would bring up to 300 multi-family units as well as 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of office space. When the matter was tabled in February and again in March, council members had cited concerns of parking, density, masonry, not enough environmental initiatives and too many conditions simply being in trust and not in writing.
To address these, the developers presented the following changes to the council on the project, which led to the slim majority approving the rezoning in the end.
New conditions include:
- Electric vehicle charging stations increased from 4 to 6
- Upper-story trees increased from 50 to 60
- Clarified 45% masonry required for building facades fronting NC-55, Carpenter Fire Station Road and Indian Wells Road
- Workforce housing condition
Now, this added workforce housing addition seemed to go a long way in gaining the goodwill of the council. This condition will mean a guaranteed 20 year period of 15 workforce housing units being offered. These will be offered to residents with income that is 60-80% of the area median income (AMI) in Raleigh, NC. This will be recorded with the Wake County Register of Deeds to ensure this promise is kept.
At the end of the presentation, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht was first to weigh in.
“The changes, while very positive and very good, just aren’t enough to overcome the intensity in my opinion, so I will not be supporting this proposal,” said Weinbrecht.
Looking at the project through a different lens at one solution it creates was councilwoman Lori Bush.
“Affordable housing isn’t a Cary problem alone. It’s a nationwide problem, it’s Wake County problem, and we cannot build our way out of it alone, either,” said Bush. “From my perspective, this is the kind of partnership that we need to see in order to address it. So, is it perfect? No. But do I think they’ve come a really long way? Absolutely.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Don Frantz also voiced his approval, which he says he would have given the proposal even before the changes were made.
“As far as the intensity goes, being so close in proximity to RTP and Apple and everything else, I actually think it makes a lot of sense,” said Frantz. “It’s the first one of these we’ve seen and I hope it’s not the last,” he added.
Jack Smith found himself to be more comfortable moving forward with all the changes made this time around, but both Jennifer Robinson and Ya Liu weren’t quite there, both sharing that they found themselves to be very torn over their vote.
“I’ve tried really hard to like this project, but I’m just not there,” said Robinson, who admitted to being more conflicted than usual. She sited a worry about how close the structures would be to the road front. Liu on the other hand said it was a lack of more environmental features for her that made it a no.
The last to comment before the vote was Ed Yerha, who was in the position to break the 3-3 tie. For him, he said he’d be happier with a reduction in units and an increase to the streetscape, but what he based his decision on was the overall use, which he liked.
“Looking at everything and thinking about this for months, I’m inclined to support the request,” said Yerha.
Councilwoman Bush made the motion and was joined in supporting the request by Frantz, Smith and Yerha. Voting against were Mayor Weinbrecht, Robinson and Liu.
Council Adopts New Voting District Map in 5-2 Vote
Another disputed voting action for the evening was the choice to approve or reject the redistricting of Cary’s electoral district boundaries before the official 2020 Census data numbers are known. According to Town Attorney, Lisa Glover, the map was designed to create “new and more balanced” council districts in an attempt to keep Cary’s election on track for October 2021.
Though, as Glover pointed out, Senate Bill 722 has been passed by the House & Senate earlier this month and would require Cary’s election to be postponed to March 2022, but only if it is signed into law by Governor Cooper.
In the council’s last quarterly meeting on May 13, 2021, map details and options were represented to the council by the Town’s nonpartisan Redistricting Team. Then, in the June 1, 2021 council meeting, a single map was presented and a public hearing was held. This discussion saw several differing opinions both from the public and members of the council.
Smith, while he admired the A-political nature that went into creating the map, he reemphasized his discontentment with the lack of communication and clarity.
“I just think we could have done that a little bit better and maybe could’ve gotten some other feedback from folks about the two options,” said Smith.
Approving this new map can be done at any time, even without the official census data, but there is a legally required review that must still be done after the receipt of census data. In a hypothetical scenario, Mayor Weinbrecht explained that if an October election were to happen and after the fact, if the census data were to come back and show that the districts were drawn incorrectly, the new data would change the districts for the next election in 2023, not having an impact on the already completed election.
To this point, Town Manager Sean Stegall said there is a very low likelihood of the Town’s data being off by more than the 5% margin that would require a redraw.
Even so, councilmember Ed Yerha did not vote to approve the map as he felt the best way to accurately and fairly move forward would be to wait for the actual data.
“We should delay the October election, just as the 30-some other municipalities are planning to do. It would be consistent with the advice of the state election board and the recent action taken by the state legislature,” said Yerha.
As the map officially came down to a vote, it passed 5-2 with council members Smith and Yerha voting no.
Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Approved Unanimously
The $400.1 million Town budget that’s been in front of the council and the subject of several public hearings since May was officially adopted by all 7 council members for the 2022 Fiscal Year, which begins July 1, 2021.
The budget calls for a tax decrease of half a penny to a rate of $0.345 but does also include a $1 increase to the monthly solid waste fee and a 2.5% increase to utility bills. Compared to the last fiscal year, this budget shows an increase of 1.8% to the Town’s operating budget, but a decrease of 6.4% to the Town’s combined operating and capital budget. Take a closer look at the details of the budget on the Town website.
More Meeting Highlights
Rogers East/West and Alley Improvements Approved
A downtown development project, sometimes called the Rogers Building East/West or Rogers Redevelopment, is proposed for property owned by Northwoods Rogers Building, LLC. This property is located at 159 and 149 E. Chatham Street, as well as 109 N. Walker Street and Roger’s Alley, a public right-of-way maintained by the Town.
The project would involve the development of an office and retail commercial building by NRB. The project also includes the development of associated public facilities including improvements to Roger’s Alley, the creation of Walker Street Alley, and streetscape and bio-retention improvements.
Following the presentation from Ted Boyd, the council unanimously approved the project request. Construction is estimated to begin in August 2021. For more details on project improvements, see the project page.
Cary History Moment
Not only a council member but also a history connaisseur, Ed Yerha presented yet another monthly history moment in honor of Cary’s Sesquicentennial year. This time, the topic was Cary at the time of the Civil War. See the video of his presentation on the Town of Cary YouTube Channel.
Story by Ashley Kairis. Images screen captured from the live, virtual meeting.
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