Sunday, September 8, 2013

Imagine Cary Update

At our latest Imagine Cary worksession, consultants presented 12 Vision and Value Statements drafted by the Committee for the Future for council review prior to being “tested” by the community via a mind-mixer website. The 12 Vision and Values statements spoke to the following topics:

·         Regional Context

·         Land Use

·         Redevelopment and Infill

·         Arts and Culture

·         Economics and Fiscal Health

·         Environment

·         Facilities and Infrastructure

·         Historic Resources

·         Housing and Neighborhoods

·         Parks and Recreation

·         Services and Safety

·         Transportation

After review of the Vision and Value Statements, the question to council was, “do you have any apprehension about testing the statements in their current form?”

With some, yes – others not so much.

One of concern was the Transportation Value Statement:

 “We believe in providing a wide range of functional and well-designed mobility choices – driving, walking, biking and transit – that facilitate moving into, out of, and around the community with a design emphasis on people and the human experience.”


What the heck is “the human experience” anyways? And what does it have to do with Cary's vision for transportation over the next 10-20 years?

It gets a little clearer when you look at the “themes” used to craft that statement.

The “themes” unanimously agreed upon by the committee include:

·         Need for more bike facilities and culture

·         Provide more walkability (safety/facilities)

·         More regional connectivity (multi-modal)

·         DECREASE reliance of cars

·         Need for transit convenience

·         Better localized transit

·         Need for rail transit

·         Need for bus transit

·         Design for people, not cars

So in other words, transit, transit and more transit! The human experience must be all the new friends you meet on the bus.

Notice anything missing from the unanimously approved Transportation themes list? Oh…I don’t know, like GOOD ROADS maybe?

 “Good Road Network” did make the neutral list – that means the committee was split on whether this was important or not.

I do not believe the majority of Cary citizens would agree.

But no worries – the consultants aren’t going to test the themes with the public – only the Vision and Values Statements. My concern with this is that the themes are the meat and potatoes of the statements – so why not tell folks what we really mean? Why only “test” feel-good statements than can be interpreted a number of different ways?

The council had similar concerns with a few other categories to include why such a significant focus on the arts and downtown? Heck, I’m as big a fan of downtown as anyone and even I thought it was a bit much.

The emphasis on affordable housing was also of concern. What does “…support for additional residential choices for a variety of lifestyles, ages, cultures, aesthetics and incomes organized in a walkable pattern” really mean? Is it a fancy way of saying inclusionary zoning? Is it a statement of support for subsidized housing? Let’s be clear about what we want to communicate.

And that’s what we tried to do. The council edited some of the Vision and Value Statements that we had concerns with to better reflect our community’s values and communicate our intent. These will now be “tested” on the mind-mixer website thingy ….that most average citizens won’t participate in…

To be fair and to the committee’s credit, most of the values statements required only a few word tweeks and/or the removal of a sentence here or there. There was one or two that were not edited at all.

But in the end, and regardless of the changes we made, I find myself less confident in the process than before. I have a greater concern of who is really driving the process – our citizens or special interests. Given the push-back we received from the consultant at our meeting I can’t help but wonder... Bottom line however is that if I do not have faith in the process, I cannot trust the outcome.

I appreciate much of the committee’s work and I thank them for their service.  I genuinely believe they have added value to the process and we couldn’t do this without them. I just don’t believe some of their recommendations to be representative of the majority of Cary citizens, and I’d like to better understand why that is.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Downtown updates Aug 2013

I’m sorry that it’s been a while since I last posted on my blog. Life has been incredibly busy and what little free time I have had, I preferred to spend with family – not the internet. I swear that some days going “off the grid” gets more and more appealing. I often joke with fellow councilmember and technology buff, Lori Bush about this – how all this technology that is supposed to make life easier seems to take so much of my time. Lori says it’s just me – maybe she’s right – but don’t tell her I said that ;-)

The Fire Sculpture

Possibly by the time this blog post is published the “Meeting Place” fire sculpture will have been relocated to its new home at the old water tower site across from Cary Elementary School – assuming it makes it there in one piece.

The council voted to move the “piece” after staff located a contractor confident that they could accomplish the task.

There has been a lot of community angst about this project and I want to set the record straight.

Yes, the town did spend $40,000 on it. But to be fair, the $40,000 cost of the “art” included the weeklong construction and ultimate firing of the sculpture on site which was a wonderful community event in which hundreds participated. However, that event ended months ago and we found ourselves left with a "permanent" sculpture that is entirely out of place at its current location.

Our choices were:
A) demolish it
B) leave it alone
C) move it

I chose A. Unfortunately I couldn’t count to four. The next best option then was C as I was not about to allow the “piece” to remain at its current location – the future site of the town square component of our soon to be constructed downtown park btw. We could move it now or move it later – either way it’s got to go - the sooner the better as far as I was concerned.

It’s no secret I dislike the “piece”. Just because an “artist” made it doesn’t make it art. After hearing from the community it’s clear that the majority of you dislike it as well.

The cost to relocate the “sculpture” is about $25,000. Totally outrageous I know. However, after witnessing the process and construction required to prepare it for moving, I can’t argue that isn’t a fair price – they have been working on it for two weeks now. The Raleigh Arts Council provided a grant to cover about ½ the cost of the move.

This was a lose-lose. Had we voted to demolish it, the “arts crowd” would have been furious…well, more furious than they are that we decided to move it (I mean how dare we?). Had we left it alone, then the majority of our citizens would have been angry, and by moving it folks are angry that we are spending another dime on it.

The ONE bright spot – if there is one - throughout this whole ordeal is that I am positive that the council learned something. There will be increased scrutiny over future art projects from here on out I promise you. And while I cannot speak for everyone on the council, this boondoggle definitely impacted my recommendations for the town’s public art advisory board. I only recommended those applicants who are NOT artists or involved in the arts community. This board desperately needs more members who are representative of the majority of Cary citizens – not the arts community.

And speaking of the downtown park,

The downtown park discussion is over! We are now working on engineering and construction plans. I am very pleased to report that the council ultimately supported a concept very similar to the one adopted in 2009 that provides at least seven acres of parkland and relocates the future downtown Cary library onto the park site. There will also be trails, a water feature, the town square, an outdoor amphitheater area and even a little room for limited private development. Should no private development occur, well, the parkland just gets bigger and that’s ok with me. Town staff will now be preparing a range of phasing and funding options for council to consider soon.

Approved Downtown Park Concept
The Jones House

At our last meeting the council unanimously approved a lease agreement for the historic Jones House on the corner of Academy and Dry. Jim Pellegrini of Muddy Dog Coffee Roasting fame and Tammy Callaway-Harper of SweetT, a bakery will join forces to open a cafĂ© with approximately 50 seats in the historic home. The town will invest approximately $250,000 in the home’s restoration and up-fitting for the business. The lease is for five years with an option to renew for another five. After the first five years the town will recoup about $131,000 of our investment. This is an incredible opportunity to restore and repurpose one of Cary’s great historic structures.

Another thing that has been great to see is the investment a large number of property owners and homeowners are making throughout downtown as a result of the town’s investments. If you aren’t familiar with what I am talking about take a few minutes and drive through some of our downtown neighborhoods – you’ll see what I mean.

For years the town only talked downtown investment – lots of plans but no action. Since 2007 however, that has changed. Our commitment to downtown has earned us the trust of the surrounding communities. Property owners downtown are now becoming increasingly comfortable investing in their properties and it shows.

But make no mistake – we still have a long ways to go. Downtown revitalizations are often referred to as a “20 year overnight success”. I feel like we’re in year five or six.

You may or may not agree with all our decisions downtown and that is fine. Heck, even I’m not proud of everything we’ve done. Take the “The Cary” movie theater project budget snafu for example – what started out as a $3 million dollar project has ballooned into $6 million. Had the council known the project’s full cost on the front end we might not have approved it. But as Jack Smith put it, “how do you get the toothpaste back in the tube?” The theater project was well underway once we learned of the cost discrepancies. So, at the end of the day what this means is $3 million less for other downtown initiatives. We also learned how this happened and can assure you something like this will not happen again. But on the good news side the Cary Arts Center came in a $3 million under budget so I’m very proud of that.

Well that’s about it for now. I’ll try to post again soon but no promises. As always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Downtown Park and Imagine Cary Update

The council held a worksession this past Tuesday to discuss the downtown park and Academy Street improvements.

I am pleased to report that a majority of council endorsed much of the 2009 plan as shown below.

Highlights include:
·         Siting the new downtown library and associated parking structure in the park
·         AT LEAST six acres of undeveloped park area
·         Potential for restaurants or other similar uses
·         A town square directly across from The Cary Arts Center
·         Outdoor performance space
·         Water features
·         Public art, gardens and an open lawn area
The majority of discussion centered around how much of the park site to develop and how much to leave as open space. While one council member felt that we should not be so specific and “let the professionals to do their job”, I couldn’t disagree more. I believed it imperative that we provide specific guidelines to our staff and the design team so that there is no confusion about our intent. The last thing I want is for the “professionals” to come back with engineering and construction plans that do not reflect the council’s - and more importantly - our community’s vision. We’ve already been down this road before and left alone the “professionals” proposed a postage stamp park surrounded by intense development. Aint happening.
The proposed Academy Street improvements are pretty cool also – new sidewalks, memory markers (art) that also serves a dual purpose by providing locations for electrical power and water to aid with town festivals such as Lazy Daze or Wheels on Academy, new street trees and landscaping and a complete road resurfacing. Oh, and lights in the trees too!
On a related note, the downtown roundabouts are getting close to completion…thank goodness. I want to thank everyone for all their patience throughout the construction process. It has been difficult I know, but the end is in sight. Not only will the roundabouts serve as attractive gateway features into our downtown, they will also help to improve roadway geometry and reduce the number of violent accidents we have experienced over the years – especially at the west end where Old Apex Road and Chatham Street came together.
Imagine Cary Update
The council recently held a worksession with town staff and our consultant team to discuss some of our concerns with the process thus far – mainly the issues of bias and that staff and consultants appear to be driving the process more so than our citizens. The council made it clear that we expect balance in any information we put out to our citizens and that we want more citizen input and less staff presentation. This is the Cary Community Plan. The community should be in the driver’s seat.
After attending the most recent Area Conversation meeting this past Wednesday I have a much better feeling about where we are going. There was essentially no presentation with an hour and a half dedicated to gathering input from citizens. They responded to a number of questions such as “What do you like about Cary?” “What don’t you like about Cary?” “What do you want to see more or less of?” Stuff like that – good stuff that will really help us craft a plan that genuinely reflects the desires of our community – not special interests or consultants.
That's all for now. As always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Imagine Cary, Art and the Downtown Park

Imagine Cary - or imagine what Cary could become if we let the new-urbanists ruin it. That was my take from the Summit on the Future event held at Embassy Suites.

The Summit was our first crack at gathering community input as we work towards the new Cary Community Plan.

Somebody thought it would be a good idea to invite Mr. Chris Leinberger to serve as the keynote speaker of the event. Mr. Leinberger, a Brookings Fellow, is a developer who specializes in progressive, high density, transit oriented new-urbanism development. Mr. Leinberger also serves as the President of LOCUS. LOCUS is a national coalition of real estate developers and investors whose job it is to lobby federal and state governments for policies that support sustainable, walkable, transit oriented urban development. In a nutshell, Mr. Leinbergermakes his living off of the development of high density new-urban communities. Sounds just like Cary right?

On three separate occasions, Mr. Leinberger presented his vision to approximately 750 members of our community. Needless to say it was an incredibly biased and one sided vision. Following each presentation participants were then push-polled regarding a number of topics to include growth, taxes, transit, affordable housing and density. I have a hard time putting much faith in the data collected given the manner in which we collected that information.

During one of Mr. Leinberger’s presentations he actually compared suburbia (74% of Cary housing BTW) to an X-rated movie theater. Seriously.

What angers me the most about Mr. Leinberger’s presentation is that from the beginning of this process I have made it crystal clear to town staff and the consultant team that I expect balance in any information we disseminate to the public. I stated on numerous occasions that if we have someone speak to the benefits of, say, transit for example, we also discuss the negatives such as cost implications or change in character of the community. We got none of that. All we got was, “all the cool kids are doing rail so you have to do rail also.”

They didn’t listen. So now the council has asked for a worksession with staff and the consultant team to discuss and iron out our concerns prior to continuing with the process.

It’s a shame. But other than the Leinberger disaster the event was very well done. Ms. Leigh Ann King’s presentation regarding the demographics and trends in Cary was very informative. I even learned a few things I didn’t already know; such as more Cary residents travel to Raleigh for work than RTP or that more people come to Cary for their job than leave Cary. Interesting stuff. We needed more of that and a lot less Leinberger.

Another fun topic of discussion this week was the firesculpture at the corner of Academy and Dry/Kildaire across from the Cary Arts Center.

It’s the thing that looks like an old burnt up out-building with a gaping crack down its side.

While the weeklong process to construct and ultimately fire the sculpture was a wonderful community event, that event ended months ago and we are now left with a “sculpture” that is entirely out of place at its current location.

The piece also sits on what will be Cary’s future town square once the downtown park is constructed – which leads one to question why a permanent installation of this magnitude was recommended at this location to begin with.

The council voted 6-1 to direct staff to relocate the piece to a more suitable location.

And speaking of the downtown park, the council has also asked for another worksession on the topic to further discuss our intentions and vision for the park prior to awarding any contract for design and construction services.

I continue to support the public library and seven acre park concept as originally approved by council in 2009. This concept honors the intent of a large central park in Cary’s downtown while also providing for public uses that will compliment and add value to the surrounding community. It indicated a town square, water features and an outdoor amphitheater area along with areas for public art… temporary of course.

National Night Out and National Train Day in downtown were both a huge success and thank goodness the weather cooperated. Hopefully it does the same for next weekend’s Wheels on Academy Car Show. Now thats my kind of art. See you there!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Park It

For over a decade now the town has planned for a destination park in Cary’s downtown.
The downtown park site is the property surrounded by Academy, Park, Walker and Walnut Streets and totals nearly 14 acres. Two historic home sites also occupy this property, and the Mayton Inn Hotel project will be located on the park site as well at the corner of Park and Academy Street. This leaves about 10 ½ acres for development of a town center park.
Countless hours and a thorough community input process went into planning for the downtown park. The Town Center Area Plan, the Town CenterCivic and Cultural Arts Study, the Downtown Streetscape Plan and the Town Center Park Plan all reflect those efforts and calls for a large downtown park and town square.
Here are a couple of examples of past plans.

The town has now assembled nearly all the property necessary for the development of the town center park, and you the voters approved the Parks and Rec bond this past fall providing an additional $2 million in funding for park design and construction.
So we’re finally ready to build the park right?
Nope. :-(
Cary’s Downtown Development Manager, Ed Gawf wanted to “take one last look” at the park site, or “opportunity site” as he calls it. Eight urban planners, landscape architects, developers and the like were brought in from out of town for a “charette”. A charette is a fancy word for a group of folks coming together to plan or design. They were in town for two days to brainstorm ideas.
What they came up with resembled nothing like the previous park plans.
The “charette team’s” suggestion is a measly 3-4 acre urban park surrounded by development on all four sides of the park site. There would be 4-5 entrances into the park in between buildings and no town square.
Charette Team Concept

This is NOT the park that was promised and sold to the community.

The town spent over $8 million to acquire the downtown park property from landowners. We used public funds to acquire private land to provide for a public use – a park; not to assemble land for development.
In fact, going back to 2001 I can only find two instances where the council supported any development on the town center park site - one was a library (public use) and the other the Performing Arts Center (public use). Even with those two proposals, the park still consumed the majority of the site. The only retail or residential uses that I recall being discussed were considered as a means to “hide” a parking structure that a new regional library or the performing arts center would require.
Downtown Park with Regional Library Concept

What is the rush to develop this site anyways? Town investment was meant to motivate private investment. It seems we are putting the cart before the horse by not giving the private sector time to react. Previous plans envisioned properties across the street from the park redeveloping as folks would want to locate near the park. Shouldn’t we at least give that a chance to happen?
And if assembling land is such an impediment to redevelopment – which it is - shouldn’t the council have that discussion? Seriously, let’s have an honest conversation about it and see what our options are - but this just feels like a bait and switch.
If your ONLY goal for the park is to redevelop downtown then the charette team’s plan probably makes sense to you. I however, don’t recall that being the park’s primary purpose. Sure, we hope that it encourages redevelopment, but we also intended to preserve and protect what little bit of green space we have left downtown – very similar to the debate regarding the Dix property in Raleigh. Once this green space is gone, it will be gone forever….unless of course the town wanted to buy it and turn it into a park…again….
The park will provide public space for community events, festivals and outdoor concerts downtown. An outdoor amphitheater with water features and a sculpture garden is envisioned. With less than 1.5% of the land downtown being public space, area residents are far underserved when compared to other communities.
We also intended the downtown park to serve as a park for all Cary residents – not just those fortunate enough to live or work in the proposed buildings around the park. Look at the charette team’s concept again – does that feel like a Cary park or a private park to you? As the number of residents downtown increases, the need for park space will be even greater.
While I appreciate the charette team’s efforts to take one last look at this site, after reviewing previous plans and community input it is clear that we got it right the first time - a large central park in Cary's downtown.
This council has an opportunity to do something remarkable by preserving as much of the park site as possible. I hope we make the right decision.

Please let the council know your thoughts by contacting us at

Monday, January 21, 2013

Our Water Tower Town

I love what gets folks fired up in this town – it speaks to who we are – what are values are.

I’m sure that by now everyone has heard of the town’s intentions to remove the iconic water tower at Cary High School. I am sure that you have heard about it because we are hearing from you…a lot of you. Emails, a petition, phone calls and even folks coming by the shop to talk about it. You are upset. This is important to you.

When I first learned of this in a staff meeting a couple of weeks ago I too was shocked. “No way!” I said. “That tower means so much to the Cary High community – folks will be very upset”. “Why?”

And then town staff explained why.

The tower has reached the end of its life cycle. The steel is rusting and the costs to repair and repaint the structure are not cost effective when compared to the construction and lifespan of a new tower. The town’s needs have also changed since this tower was constructed 50 years ago. The town now needs a million gallon tank to better serve existing residents and plan for future demands (the existing tank is 500,000 gallons). The existing tower site cannot accommodate a larger structure. The town has acquired a site behind East Cary Middle that can accommodate the new tower and plans to begin construction in the next 3-4 years.

We also cannot just empty it and leave it. Believe it or not the tower needs the weight of the water to help hold it down. An empty water tower in a hurricane would be bad.

This is the most cost effective and fiscally responsible manner in which to proceed.

But it’s pretty darn tough to put a price on who we are.

Given the community feedback (Love ya’ll CHS family! ;-) and that we do have a lot of time to work on this, that’s what we are going to do. The town will be exploring options that could possibly include keeping the tank or possibly an alternate display of the class of 20XX.

Keep in mind that with alternatives to that which professional engineers deem most efficient might come cost. How much is keeping the tower worth to you? And do you think the parents of Green Hope High School seniors want to help pay for you to keep it? ;-)

My lovely wife, Lisa and five of our six children graduated from Cary High School. Liz will be the class of 2019. It just wouldn’t be the same if that tower wasn’t there…

It is kinda funny though. Propose a new tower in a neighborhood and folks will protest it. Propose taking an old tower out, and they protest it. I love this job ;-)

Hang in there folks, we’ll give it our best and if any of you creative folks have an idea, please let us know.