Sunday, March 27, 2011

Week in Review 3/21/11 - 3/27/11

Council held a worksession on Tuesday to discuss three topics: Quasi-Judicial hearings, redistricting, and the naming of the Cary Community Arts Center.

Council received information and training regarding quasi-judicial hearings from our town attorney and Mr. T.C.Morphis of the Brough Law Firm. A Quasi-judicial hearing is much like that of a legal court proceeding as the council acts as judge and jury. Discussion topics included the responsibility of the Mayor and council, what type of information may be entered into the record (council may only receive factual information – not opinion) and who may give testimony. This session was very valuable as council is seeing more and more special use applications these days for projects such as cell towers and day-cares.

Staff presented a number of options for council to consider regarding redistricting. Cary’s growth over the last ten years has resulted in a significant imbalance in Cary’s council districts. District A (West Cary) for example has nearly 55,000 citizens where District B (Downtown to North Cary) has only 26,000. Council reviewed and discussed a number of options before narrowing our choices to just a few. We will meet again next month to discuss further and finalize Cary’s redistricting plan.

The council asked citizens to suggest a new name for the Cary Community Arts Center and did they ever! 191 different names were submitted in total with some names recommended numerous times. After a healthy discussion the council voted 5-2 to select the name “The Cary Arts Center”. Ya, I know – not very creative, but it works. It calls the center what it is – Cary’s arts center. We call our soccer park a soccer park, USA Baseball is USA Baseball, Cary’s Tennis Center is the Tennis Center and so on. It helps folks better understand what these facilities are, and who they serve. These are not private facilities – they are public.

I had the honor of participating in the national Title 1 Distinguished School Awards ceremony at Kingswood Elementary School in Cary this week. Title 1 schools are defined as those with high percentages of low income students as determined by those enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program. To be considered for recognition – and the $10,000 that comes with the award – a school must demonstrate exceptional student performance for two consecutive years and/or close the achievement gap between student groups.

Only two schools in each state are selected each year by the National Title 1 Association. With over 1800 elementary schools in North Carolina, this is truly an amazing achievement for Kingswood Elementary. Congratulations to Principle Sherry Schliesser, her staff, teachers, parents, the PTA and especially the students for all their hard work and dedication. You have made Cary proud and hopefully will serve as a model for other schools to follow.

Our council meeting this past Thursday consisted of a few notable discussion items.

Northwoods Activity Center Rezoning: After conducting a public hearing, the council voted to approving the rezoning from commercial to high density residential by a vote of 5-2. I supported the request for the following reasons:

· High density residential provides for less vehicle traffic than commercial.

· Over 2 acres of buildable land will be forever preserved as open space.

· Increase buffer protections (the smallest section of buffer being 115 feet – the largest being over 450 feet)

· Area commercial is struggling – area already saturated with commercial.

· Applicant committed to exceeding town requirements for stormwater runoff and treatment. Ordinance requires they mitigate up to a 10 year storm event. The applicant has agreed to mitigate to the 50 year storm event.

· Applicant reduced building heights to address resident’s concerns.

· Residential adjacent to commercial helps to create sustainable, walkable communities.

· Applicant committed to supplement buffer beyond what exists today with evergreens.

· Our Planning and Zoning Board recommended approval by a vote of 6-1.

· Reduced impervious surfaces.

When a developer asks for a rezoning, they must convince the council that the proposed use will benefit the community more so than if the property developed under base zoning. The council has greater leverage during a rezoning process, and developers know they have a higher bar to reach in order to gain council approval. More importantly, they must also get the support of the majority of neighboring residents and property owners.

Should the property be developed under base zoning, it must only meet the requirements of Cary’s land development ordinance. The project is not required to receive council approval. In fact, it would never come before council at all. It would be approved at staff level – without concessions from the developer.

My first choice of use would have been office, but the property owner wasn’t asking for office. They asked for high density residential. Given the reasons above, I believe this change in use with conditions to be more of a benefit to the surrounding community than more commercial. The existing commercial is struggling as the area is already saturated with commercial, and more commercial is coming in the future along the east side of North Harrison. A change to residential will help the existing Northwoods shopping center and businesses.

This particular project was the first to go through Cary’s new community workshop process. The community workshop process was designed to help applicants and citizens work together to craft a project that all stakeholders can support. The process appears to have worked relatively well in that some citizen concerns (such as building height) were addressed. While a handful of residents remained opposed to the rezoning, the majority of the surrounding community appeared to support the change.

The council also approved entering into an interlocal agreement with Chatham County that would prohibit any involuntary annexation by Cary into Chatham County and require Chatham County approval for citizen-initiated annexations. I cannot begin to explain how wonderful it is to finally have a Chatham County Commission who understands the words “regional cooperation”; that we share many of the same issues and concerns that can best be addressed by working together.

Cary also held public hearings regarding land development ordinance amendments pertaining to signs, and Cary’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). Afterwards council held a closed session to discuss a lawsuit and seek legal advice from the town attorney.

On Sunday I had the pleasure of attending a reception at the Matthews House hosted by the Heart of Cary Association to welcome Cary’s new Downtown Manager, Ed Gawf. Ed brings a wealth of experience and a track record of success helping other communities revitalize their downtowns. Needless to say, a lot of folks can’t wait for him to get to work. We have high expectations of Ed, and I am sure he won’t let us down…but no pressure, Ed. ;-)

That's it for now - as always, thanks for reading!