Cary, NC – At our last council meeting the council unanimously approved Fenton, a signature mixed-use project which will be located along Cary Town Blvd. across the street from the future IKEA and Cary Town Center Mall.
The “state property” (it is owned by North Carolina) has been on Cary’s radar for years. We have always had concerns that one day the state might choose to develop the site as an underwhelming government building or worse, an NCDOT fleet vehicle storage/service facility. So you can imagine our excitement when we learned that the state was putting the land up for sale.
The first developer to put the property under contract proposed a residential project similar to the Inside Wade project in Raleigh. While a quality proposal, the majority of council did not believe that met Cary’s vision for the site – an employment based mixed use center – and the project was ultimately denied.
Not too long after that, in 2015 Columbia Development put the property under contract and proposed a Wegmans grocery store and a sea of surface parking – another good project, but one that again fell short of our vision for this property and Cary’s Eastern Gateway. The state property is one of Cary’s last prime undeveloped properties suitable for large class A office development – centrally located between Raleigh and Durham and in close proximity to the airport. To allow anything less than remarkable on this site would be doing our community a disservice.
To Columbia Development’s credit they bought into our vision for Cary’s eastern Gateway, rolled up their sleeves and spent the next two years working with Cary Town Staff and the council to do just that.
The result is Fenton.
Fenton includes up to 2.5 million square feet of office, commercial and residential development with office being the primary user. Retail and residential however will be developed first in an effort to create a sense of place and an attractive destination where office tenants will want to locate. That said, there is nothing that prohibits an office user from coming in sooner than later.
The majority of the proposed buildings that include retail uses – except for the Wegmans Grocery – will be vertically integrated with a mix of uses – that being restaurant or retail on the ground floor with either office or residential on the floors above. This will create an experiential “main street” to include “jewel box” retail and restaurants in the medians between the buildings – very similar to what we saw at Avalon in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Six community gathering areas integrated into the development to provide both passive and active opportunities for residents and visitors. Eight parking decks are proposed with buildings designed to screen or wrap the decks. The Wegmans even gets a table-top parking structure.
The main entrance into the site will be on Cary Town Blvd. where the “road to nowhere” that is always blocked off is located. In case you are wondering how that road ever got there, the town built it years ago when NCDOT granted the access point on Cary Town Blvd. to ensure access to future development and the Soccer Park just in case NCDOT changed their rules/criteria later on.
Other access points will include extending Quinard Drive from Maynard into the site, East Chatham Street from the north and a new access road along the eastern boundary of the site from Quinard Drive.
The project will provide for bike, pedestrian and transit facilities and the future IronGate Greenway from downtown will also provide access to the site.
The applicant, Columbia Development, voluntarily offered over 100 different zoning conditions with this rezoning to ensure that what is promised is what gets built. This is unprecedented for a development in Cary. Conditions offered include transportation improvements at 13 intersections, phasing and vertical mix of uses, building and use location, parking structures, public art, streetscapes and buffers, accommodation for a pedestrian bridge from this site to the Cary Town Center Mall site, bike/ped/transit facilities, etc.
Two unique conditions offered include a design guidebook and developer agreement with the town.
The Design Guidebook is offered as a commitment that the development of all buildings, structures, hardscape, site furnishings, lighting, screening, landscaping, signage, and public art (the “site elements”) shall be “substantially similar” to characteristics and features promised by the applicant and “sold” to the town via their marketing materials and our trip to Avalon. Many elements of the design guidebook far exceed town standards.
If you want to see the entire Design Guidebook, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Design Guidebook link – it’s a 12 MB PDF.
A development agreement is a legal agreement between the town and the developer. The agreement provides a level of certainty to the developer regarding what can be built when and what mitigation measures will be required. It also provides the Town with the opportunity to look at the long-term horizon and ensure that the development will fit with the Town’s comprehensive planning efforts and local policies in more detail than a rezoning allows. In addition, development agreements give the Town greater flexibility in determining conditions and requirements for the project, and allow greater latitude and more creative solutions to address impacts, including potential Town contributions.
Since the development agreement is a condition of the rezoning, no development may occur unless it complies with the development agreement. The development agreement provides the opportunity to address a variety of topics related to this project in greater detail, including but not limited to provisions related to timing, phasing, intensity of development, and funding of infrastructure construction. We hope to have the developer agreement completed by late February or March.
All this seems pretty complicated, right?
It is – which it is why it too so long to get here. To those of you anxious for the Wegmans, Thank You for your patience. It’s coming 😉
In a previous blog post I compared the process to making Grandma’s famous chili – that if you rushed it or cut corners it wouldn’t be as good as it could have been. Same thing here. We spent a great deal of time making sure we got all the ingredients right to ensure a truly remarkable project.
That said, as with any project of this magnitude I’m sure we’ll run into a few unforeseen issues here and there. I am confident that by continuing to work together as we have been there is nothing we can’t overcome.
I really appreciate the applicant’s willingness to listen and work with us to help us achieve our vision. It wasn’t easy for them or us. But in the end I believe we have something that we can all be proud of.
Special thanks also to our amazing town staff who spent countless hours on this project as well as the Eastern Gateway component of the Cary Community Plan. As a member of the council I have had the pleasure – or not – of working with staff members from other municipalities or agencies. None of them can hold a candle to the dedicated and talented group of folks at Cary Town Hall. Cary’s staff are the best!
That’s all for now. As always, thanks for reading!
From the blog of Cary Councilmember Don Frantz. Photos courtesy of Don Frantz.