Cary, NC – The latest Cary Town Council meeting saw extensive discussion and public comment on a variety of topics, including for one proposed hotel rezoning that was taken off the agenda, and all culminating with a vote on an office rezoning that passed by a 4-3 margin.
Weston Hotel Continuance
At the start of the Thursday, September 26, 2019 Cary Town Council meeting, Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht proposed a “continuance” on the vote on an amendment that would allow a hotel use on 4.94 acres along Weston Parkway, with conditions included that would allow an increased height, a reduced streetscape requirement and smaller parking than is the current standard. Weinbrecht said there has been “misinformation” about this project spread around and he wanted the continuance so citizens could talk with the developers and town staff and learn more about what was proposed.
There were still three nearby residents who voiced opposition to the proposed rezoning, listing traffic, the increased height, water runoff and decreased buffer as reasons. One resident also said the applicant here has not been cooperative in their conversations.
Council Member Jack Smith questioned whether this continuance would bring clarity and if this was setting a bad precedence for the future. Weinbecht compared this to a past rezoning case on Kildaire Farm Road, in Smith’s district, over a gas station and said a continuance then helped residents learn more. Smith said that example “put his mind at ease,” so the continuance was passed unanimously.
The next Cary Town Council meeting is Thursday, October 10, 2019.
Green Level West Office
The item that took up the most discussion by far at the September 26 meeting was a rezoning proposal along Green Level West Road, to turn 1.98 acres zoned as residential R-12 to Office and Institutional Use, with conditions that limit floor space to 15,000 square feet, height to 35 feet and limit the uses to office business with no medical practice. The site sits on the edge of the Green Level Destination Center and is near the Commercial Center, both laid out by the Cary Community Plan.
The proposal saw considerable public comment in opposition at its first Public Hearing earlier this year, and since then, several new conditions have been added, including a minimum 70-foot setback on its northern and eastern borders, conditions against certain kinds of concrete building materials, a limit on transparent materials on the bottom floor, conditions on the roof types, no loading docks or exterior dumpsters and a wooden privacy fence (town staff said the fence was requested by residents, though Smith warned that a wooden fence degrades quickly and will “look like crap”).
Town staff originally rejected this proposal but since new conditions have been added, they have recommended approval. The Planning and Zoning Board voted for the proposal 4-2. Mark Evangelista, in his last appearance as board chair, said the yes votes saw this as appropriate transition from the density that will come in the Destination Center, while the two no votes did not see the transition and thought there were more appropriate uses for this site. Evangelista also spoke during Public Speaks Out to talk about the high quality of the staff report on this rezoning case.
During Public Speaks Out, there were five speakers, three opposed and two in favor, with both of those in favor associated with the applicant. Those speaking against the proposal called it “spot zoning” and did not think it was justified and wanted the R-12 zoning honored. The key point for those in opposition is they did not want an office building in the midst of a neighborhood. Of those speaking in favor, one was the applicant who talked about his history in Cary and how this is a local business. Also speaking in favor was the attorney for the applicant, who pointed to examples of offices adjacent to residential areas with no problems.
The rezoning passed by one vote, as Council was split 4-3. Those opposed were Council Members Jennifer Robinson, Ed Yerha and Ken George. Robinson said the conditions were promising but in the end, the Cary Community Plan described this as a historic neighborhood, just adjacent to the denser Destination Center.
“If I lived here a long time, I trusted how the Cary Community Plan was created and I trusted it would protect my neighborhood,” Robinson said.
Yerha was more explicit in his opposition, saying if there is commercial or office use in a traditional neighborhood, it should directly serve those neighbors, which this does not. Also, Yerha said as a relatively simple building project, the amount of conditions it has raises concerns.
“Something like this shouldn’t require 14 conditions,” Yerha said. “Something is wrong with this picture from the get-go.”
George said this use is preferable to many options but admitted he was wrestling with it, before ultimately voting against it.
Council Member Don Frantz was the most direct in his support and described his own home as being around many non-residential uses but it does not “negatively impact” his life. Frantz also said many Cary residents would want more office space to reduce burdens on schools but it is just a question of whether it is near their home or not. Frantz also said this would help a local business, although zonings go with the land, not the applicant.
Both Weinbrecht and Mayor Pro Tem Lori Bush said this use is less intense and burdensome on a neighborhood than other potential commercial uses or even some residential uses, with Bush specifically pointing to grocery store uses that are near many residential areas.
Smith said this use “stretches the rubber band” on what the Cary Community Plan wanted for this area, but it did not “snap,” so he voted in favor.
Stormwater Ordinance Change
Of the three Public Hearings on the agenda, only one saw any public comment. This was for changes to Cary’s Land Development Ordinance, which now requires new developments to mitigate or model discharge for 100-year storms. Town staff said this is in response to not only stormwater flooding but also the number of Cary homes and businesses built in floodplains before Cary had stormwater regulations in place.
Town staff also pointed to Stone Creek Village as an example of how a new development can effectively mitigate stormwater flooding.
There were two speakers at this Public Hearing, both residents who are in support, though one asked for the policy to not just consider how stormwater affects Cary residents but also the impact on the overall watershed.
Bush credited town staff for bringing their “harshest critics” to the table to devise this policy. The amendment was then sent to the Planning and Zoning Board for their recommendation.
The other two Public Hearings were annexations for several lots west of Evans Road and several lots along Emery Gayle Lane and Broderick Place. With no discussion, Town Council approved both of these annexations.
Twyla Road Rezoning
The proposal to rezone 36.84 acres along Twyla Road was on the Consent Agenda, which typically means they are unanimously recommended for approval by all parties involved. This rezoning has come up in Public Hearings and Public Speaks Out in the past, but new conditions have ben put in place that includes more commercial space and now puts in curb and gutter.
During Public Speaks Out, there were two residents who still had concerns about how this rezoning would increase traffic, as well as one concern about nearby schools already being capped for capacity. There were three speakers with the developer who talked about the changes to this rezoning since talking with residents and one representative for nearby neighbors also spoke in favor of the proposal, who said it would help the overall neighborhood.
In response to questions about traffic and schools, Weinbrecht said they are lobbying the NC Department of Transportation to get a stoplight there but it is against the law for them to take school capacity on as a consideration for a rezoning.
Public Speaks Out
With Twyla Road, the Green Level offices and the Weston Parkway speakers out of the way, there were still several speakers at this meeting, all talking about the environment.
There were three speakers, including representatives from Triangle Off-Road Cyclists and the Umstead Coalition, asking for Cary’s help with opposition to the quarry in the Odd-Fellows tract by Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Also, one of the speakers opposed to the Weston Parkway hotel also said she was opposed to the quarry.
Also at the meeting was Leigh Williams, co-founder of TowardZeroWaste, who said she has recently come to accept the science behind climate change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report. She pushed for local action on climate change, specifically calling for business-driven solutions.
George McDowell also spoke to invite the Cary Town Council, and anyone else who is interested, to come to the Cary Tree Archive’s first planting on Saturday, September 28 at noon.
Story by Michael Papich. Photos by Hal Goodtree, the Town of Cary and Google Maps.