Sunday, November 23, 2008

Week in Review 11/17/08 - 11/23/08

This was a very busy week. There is no way I can cover everything this week without writing a novel so I’ll just hit the highlights (or lowlights depending on how you look at it) ;-)

Tuesday evening council held two worksessions. The first was an update from town staff regarding the Western Wake Water Reclamation Facility (WWWRF). Elected officials from Morrisville and Holly Springs attended the WWWRF worksession as they are partners in this project. The second worksession was to further discuss our search for a new town manager with the two firms council hired to assist us in our nationwide search. The good news that came out of this worksession is that we now have a timeline. The search process and candidate evaluations should be completed and reviewed by council on Feb 27th. I would hope that council could make a decision by mid-March.

On Thursday I had the honor of attending the Town of Cary’s Employee of the Year Reception at the Herb Young Community Center. Sixteen outstanding employee of the year nominees were honored before the five finalists were announced. Now I’m a business owner myself, and a large part of why our business is so successful is our incredible staff. Yes I am biased…honest, but biased ;-). I learned a long time ago that you are only as good as the people who work for you. If you want to be the best – you hire the best. The Town of Cary believes this as well. The nearly 1200 professional, dedicated, and responsive employees at the Town of Cary are directly responsible for our town being the premier community to live, work, and play in that it is. It darn sure isn’t us seven yahoos on council. ;-) (it's a joke guys!)

I spent a great deal of time this week reviewing documents and corresponding with staff and citizens in preparation for Thursday evening’s council meeting. Notable topics included an annexation in Silverton (denied), Habitat for Humanity funding (approved), resolutions to begin the process for a number of town initiated annexations (approved * both myself and Mayor Weinbrecht voted nay) and a transportation waiver improvement request from WCPSS (see previous post). Council also created a site design focus group, but we added two more citizen positions than were recommended by town staff – you just can’t have enough citizen involvement.

On Friday I had the pleasure of participating in the Heartwood Montessori School’s landscaping dedication ribbon cutting. This was a lot of fun – cold, but fun – and it was great to learn more about the school and its curriculum. I was very impressed with their focus on the environment. They even turned an old swimming pool into a rain garden. Good stuff.

I spent a great deal of time this week reviewing WCPSS’s draft reassignment plan and communicating with parents. While I applaud the school system for crafting a multi-year reassignment plan for the first time ever, I am glad that this is just a draft plan, and I hope that after the board receives citizen input a number of common sense changes can be made. I have sent one letter to WCPSS already regarding two nodes off of Maynard and Wicklow (a little over a mile away from Cary High School) that have been reassigned from Cary High School to Apex High School.

Friday afternoon I met with two parents to discuss the reassignment plan, and on Sunday (today) I attended a community meeting in Wessex with parents whose children have been reassigned from Panther Creek (a good thing) to Athens Drive (what???) While this community is not happy they are being reassigned again (4 times in 7 years I think), the majority understands that reassignment away from Panther Creek makes sense – the school is very overcrowded and over ten miles away. They had hoped however to be reassigned back to Cary High School (where they were reassigned to Panther Creek from only 2 years ago). They never dreamed they would be sent to Athens. Who would? I did my best to give advice and answer questions. Depending on how the numbers work out there may be a solution to this mess – keep your fingers crossed.

That’s hardly it for this week, but it’s all I figured you’d want to read about. ;-) Now can somebody turn the heat on please – I’m freezing!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The 64 Million Dollar Question

There has been a lot of discussion lately regarding a request from WCPSS for Cary to waive a $1.4 million road improvement associated with the addition of mobile units (22 classrooms) at Panther Creek High School. What WCPSS fails to realize – even after meeting with our town staff - is that Cary can’t legally grant a waiver for roadway improvements. The improvements are required by law per our adequate public facilities ordinance for roads. Cary can’t break its own laws. Cary could decide to pay for the improvements ourselves – like we did with Alston Ridge earlier this year – but given the current economic climate, our budget is just as tight as everyone else’s. We simply don’t have the extra cash right now, nor do we desire to place this additional burden on the back of Cary taxpayers.

After explaining this to folks, their next question is, “What has Cary done for the school system over the years anyways?”


That’s right – since 2000 the Town of Cary has given $64 million to WCPSS in the form of cash, land, infrastructure, parks, shared facilities, etc...

Examples include:
$1,424,240 in assistance to purchase the land for Panther Creek High School
$5,229,600 in economic development assistance (cash paid to WCPSS)
$929,666 for Green Hope Elementary Park
$1,110,366 for Middle Creek Water Infrastructure
$2,067,323 in Middle Creek Street Infrastructure
$6,155,416 for School Resource Officers
$2,800,000 for 20 acres of land at the Hawes Tract donated to WCPSS for an elementary school
$886,544 for a collector road associated with the Hawes Tract
$1,350,000 for Roadway improvements associated with Alston Ridge
$185,110 in water infrastructure (water line) at Panther Creek
$620,550 for two ballfields, lights, and a comfort station at Davis Drive Middle

I could go on and on and on….But I think you get the picture. In fact, Cary has given more to WCPSS over the years than any other municipality in Wake County – including Raleigh.

We’ll probably be slammed for not granting the roadway improvement waiver request. The media loves to beat up on Cary for some reason (jealousy). The reality however is we have done more than our fair share. Maybe if other municipalities (cough… Raleigh…cough) were as generous over the years as Cary has been, WCPSS might have the money to pay for these improvements? Then again, I am sure I could find $1.4 million worth of cuts in WCPSS’s budget. Hint: it’s yellow.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Old Cary Elementary Fly Tower Art

Some of you have contacted me wanting to see what the proposed artwork installation on the soon to be constructed fly tower at old Cary Elementary would look like if approved. Here are two images. Please feel free to email me at with any feedback.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Week in Review 11/10/08 - 11/16/08

Monday evening council participated in a joint worksession with our town’s planning and zoning board to discuss proposed changes to the town’s land development ordinance (LDO) – specifically the conservation residential overlay (CRO) in the Southwest Area Plan (SWAP). Ya, I know – too many acronyms. ;-) In a nutshell, staff has recommended changes to the density bonus formula that currently exists within the CRO. My first concern is that the proposed formula is very complex and difficult for the average Joe like myself to understand. I just don’t like it when staff can make numbers work but I can’t – it throws up red flags...makes me worry.

The SWAP has six guiding principles – the first of which states, “Preserve Rural Character”.

Under the recommended changes, a developer could utilize the overlay and cluster their development (smaller lot sizes/increased density) in exchange for preserving a greater amount of open space. Studies show that this is in fact better for the environment and water quality (another guiding principle of the SWAP) than large lot single family home development. But it darn sure isn’t very rural in character. Sure, you could surround the development with the open space to hide it, but once inside you would be in a development that resembles most every new subdivision built in Cary over the last 10 years. Is this in line with the vision of previous councils, residents, and land owners for this area? I don’t know, but the worksession did help answer a lot of questions I had, and I really valued hearing each of the P+Z board member’s thoughts. I’m just not sure yet if the proposed changes are the right balance between environmental protection and preserving the rural character of the area.

Thursday and Friday I traveled to Newnan Georgia in Coweta County with members of the Wake County Public School System to visit Central Educational Center (CEC) – a vocational high school that has become a model for other communities both in the United States and throughout the world. CEC’s mission is simple – “to ensure a viable 21st century workforce”. CEC is a charter school designed and operated by a partnership of business and industry, Coweta County Schools, and West Central Technical College. Students voluntarily enroll from one of the three area high schools. Students take core classes at their base high school then travel to CEC for career education courses such as dental assistant, automotive repair, welding, aviation, cosmetology, CAD, video editing/3D animation and a host of other career prep courses. Students may also take dual-enrollment courses as early as age 16 - simultaneously earning credit towards their high school diploma and a technical college associate degree.

What was also unique was that the teachers at CEC were not your typical educator – they were industry professionals. The dental assistant course instructor is a dentist – the aviation course was taught by a pilot- the auto repair instructor was an automotive technician and so on. By not having to hire “certified teachers” CEC is able to hire those most qualified to teach a specific trade. Another interesting point- students are not only graded on course work, they also are graded on work ethic.

To say I was impressed with what I saw at CEC would be an understatement. I was blown away is more like it. So were representatives of WCPSS. It is my sincere hope that somehow, some way we can replicate CEC here in Wake County. It will be difficult, and it will be expensive. But if we really want to address the dropout rate and truly provide a workforce education we must invest in career training education. Municipalities, county government, WCPSS, Wake Tech, industry and business, our chambers of commerce, and the community will all need to work together to make this happen. But as we saw in Newnan Georgia, it can be done! Many thanks to WCPSS Board Members Eleanor Goettee and Horace Tart for inviting me to go along. I only wish other elected officials and business leaders would have attended (I was the only attendee not associated with WCPSS). I also valued the opportunity to get to know the school board members better. We sure don’t agree on everything, but it’s nice to know we are able to put differences aside and work on things we do agree on.

As always, I also spent a good amount of time this week answering email - I try my best to answer every one I receive. I believe every Cary citizen who takes the time to contact me deserves a response. The bulk of emails this week pertained to the proposed fly tower art at Cary Elementary (which I have spoken about in earlier blog posts), Habitat for Humanity funding, and the Singh development in Silverton.

Well that’s about it for this week. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Week In Review 11/3/08 - 11/9/08

Next time I have a light council schedule remind me NOT to tell my wife about it. ;-) Other than a couple of meetings, an election, one special event and a lot of discussion with residents in the Silverton area regarding a proposed development, a bathroom remodel dominated this week. Note to readers – when shower walls show signs of rot and need replacing you WILL also find rotten subflooring. The vanity cabinetry will NOT come out in one piece, and you WILL end up replacing ALL the plumbing. And if your wife is anything like mine, you WILL also smooth the ceiling – no ifs ands or buts about it. And since we all know that if momma aint happy aint nobody happy, we now have smooth ceilings in the bathroom. After about 10 trips to Lowes it’s done, and I must say it looks pretty darn good!

On Election Day I worked the polls for NC State Representative Nelson Dollar – and what a cold and rainy day it was. Nonetheless, I had a good time, spoke to a lot of voters and friends, and Nelson won reelection. Afterwards I came home to get warm and watch the Presidential election returns/coverage. While I was disappointed that John McCain didn’t win, the American people have spoken. I wish Barack Obama the best and will support him as President until he gives me reason not to. Regardless, I am sooooooooo glad the election is finally over!!!!! ;-)

This week I met with representatives of Singh, the developer of a proposed commercial project in Silverton that I spoke about in my last week in review to further discuss resident’s concerns. We also discussed whether or not the developer would be interested in bringing back their original mixed use proposal instead of developing the property as commercial (the mixed use proposal will generate roughly 1/3 of the traffic, and be less of an impact to the adjoining residents than the commercial proposal will). Singh expressed an interest in revisiting the mixed use project, but understandably also expressed concerns due to previous neighborhood opposition of the project. Now I wasn’t on council when the mixed use proposal came through, but I can tell you from the dozens of residents I have spoken to recently, a clear majority support working with the developer on the mixed use project instead of seeing the property develop as commercial. It is my hope that a compromise can be reached that all stakeholders can live with – but compromise is a two way street. Everyone must come to the table willing to work together for this to be successful. We will have a neighborhood meeting soon – I’ll keep you posted.

I also had the pleasure of attending the “Paint the Town Drug Free” Red Ribbon Awards Banquet this week (last week I served as a judge). This was a lot of fun. Police Chief Pat Bazemore and every School Resource Officer (SRO) we have were in attendance. While not every entry could win an award, everyone who competed in this contest was a winner. They all learned about the benefits of staying drug free, and had a great time doing it. The grand prize winner even walked away with a Playstation Portable – how cool is that?! Heck, next year I might submit an entry. ;-)

Well that’s about it for this week in review – sorry for keeping it short but I’m beat. I’m going to grab a shower…hopefully all the paint will finally come off. ;-)

Monday, November 3, 2008

T minus 5,4,3,2.....

Well here we are - election eve. Tomorrow our nation finally decides who will lead this country for the next four years. I pray we get it right.

No matter what you are doing tomorrow GO VOTE!!!!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Week in Review 10/26/08 - 11/02/08

This was a very busy week.

On Monday town staff and myself met with residents from the Russell Hills subdivision near downtown to discuss proposed changes to the low density residential (LDR) zoning designation throughout the town center area. When the Town Center Area Plan was adopted, new zoning designations were implemented throughout downtown. Properties that were previously zoned R-12 changed to LDR. The biggest difference between R-12 and LDR is that the minimum lot sizes and property set-backs of LDR zoning are less than that of R-12. What happened in Russell Hills – a well established neighborhood with large lot sizes – was that builders began to buy homes in the neighborhood and then subdivided the existing lot to construct two homes where one once stood. This was significantly altering the character and charm of the existing neighborhood. To address the neighborhood’s concerns town staff has recommended increasing the minimum set-back restrictions of LDR zoning – effectively eliminating the possibility that any more lots may be subdivided as there are no lots large enough in Russell Hills that can be subdivided while meeting the new minimum set-back restrictions. The residents were pleased with the proposed changes, and staff will soon be bringing them forward for public hearing and council decision.

Council held a worksession on Tuesday to discuss issues/changes in regards to Koka Booth Amphitheater. The discussion mainly centered around excessive noise and it's effect on the adjoining neighborhood. After much discussion council agreed to change the manner in which we monitor sound levels from a ten minute average to a five minute average. I am not sure if this is the best approach - in my opinion we just need to increase the amount of the fine. If the fine is significant enough to where the bands will lose money if they exceed our noise limits, the bands won't exceed the limit. We'll give this a year and see how it goes I guess. I am however very pleased with the direction the amphitheater has been going over the last couple of years.

Wednesday morning I attended the Cary Senior Center Memorial Garden and Plaza Remembrance and the A. Marie Kappen Media Center Dedication. It was an honor to attend and learn more about A. Marie Kappen’s selflessness and dedication to our town. Everyone I met spoke very highly of her – I wish I had had the opportunity to know her.

Afterwards residents of the Silverton community, town staff, and myself met with representatives of Singh – the developer of a proposed commercial/office development at Winfair, Cary Parkway and Evans Road - to discuss resident’s concerns over the project. Previously Singh had proposed a mixed-use development at this location which would have required a rezoning and council approval. That proposal received significant neighborhood opposition resulting in the developer pulling the project. The developer has now brought forward a commercial project which conforms to the existing zoning, meets town ordinances, and requires only administrative approval - yet this project impacts the surrounding community much more so than the mixed use proposal would have. The town and myself continue to work with the developer towards addressing the neighborhood’s concerns, and staff and I have a follow up meeting with the developer this week to discuss the resident’s concerns further.

Thursday morning I had the pleasure of serving as a judge for the Red Ribbon “Paint the town drug free” art contest. I must confess that this was much more difficult than I imagined it would be because of the creativity and talent displayed in all of the entries. Regardless of who wins (I’m not the only judge so I don’t know), everyone who participated in this contest is a winner. If you happen to be near the Herb Young Community Center over the next week or so, stop by and check out the artwork for yourself – it’s really good!

Thursday afternoon council held a worksession before our council meeting to discuss the search process for our new town manager. After much discussion council decided to hire two separate firms to aid us in our search. The first specializes in national recruiting. They will conduct the national search for us and then make a first round cut of applicants. At that point the second firm who specializes in executive candidate evaluations will then take over and further analyze, interview, and conduct simulation exercises to widdle the number of applicants down to 6-8 or so. Council will then interview and evaluate the remaining candidates before making our final decision.

Thursday evening was our council meeting. The main topics of interest included public hearings for an annexation and rezoning for property owned by White Oak Baptist Church in Cary’s southwest area. After hearing from a number of concerned residents, council referred the rezoning request to our Planning and Zoning Board for review. Council also spent a good amount of time discussing a proposed comprehensive plan amendment to our South West Area Plan to include uses such as life care communities and nursing homes. Council ultimately denied the comprehensive plan amendment request. Council believed it best to not “blanket approve” some institutional uses in an area planned as rural and would prefer to judge each request on a case by case basis. Council also approved designating the Guess-White-Ogle House (the pink house on Academy St.) and the John Pullen Hunter house (also on Academy) as Cary historic landmarks.

The meeting I had requested between council, the public art advisory board, and staff to discuss the proposed art on the fly tower at Cary Elementary was held at noon on Friday. I am pleased to report that after a healthy discussion regarding the proposed art – as well as process – that council agreed to instruct the architect/design team to bring back a number of different options for council to consider along with the existing proposal. Regardless of which design is finally approved we will be making changes to the process in which public art projects – especially those of significance – move along in the process. It is a waste of time and resources to allow a project to move from concept to final design if council is just going to vote it down. I believe the manner and timing in which this meeting took place to be a good model to use going forward.

Friday evening Mayor Weinbrecht and I attended the Cary Band Day’s 50th Anniversary reception at Cary High School. Nearly every previous band director for the last 50 years was in attendance, as was former Cary Mayor Koka Booth. On Saturday morning the Mayor and I also attended the Cary Band Day Parade.

Afterwards council participated in a 3fer – the official dedication ceremonies for the name change of Kid’s Together Park to Marla Dorrel Park, the opening of the Hinshaw Greenway, and the artwork on the pedestrian bridge over US 1/64. All three dedications took place at Kid’s Toget….oops, I mean Marla Dorrel Park. ;-) A bagpipe band escorted everyone from the park to see the pedestrian bridge – this was really cool as I like bagpipes. ;-) Then finally on Saturday evening I attended Sophie’s Social – a benefit event for Heaven Sent Adoptions - at the Page Walker Hotel. Heaven Sent Adoptions is a non-profit organization with the primary goal of awarding grants to adoptive families to assist with adoption expenses.

That’s all for now – until next week, thanks for reading!