Thursday, November 29, 2018


Cary is one of the greatest communities to live in America. Yet after a heavy storm event, for some of our citizens, it’s all washed up.

Stormwater and flooding have caused problems for decades – especially in older areas of town developed before 2000 when Cary didn’t have many of the stormwater mitigation regulations and riparian buffer requirements that we have today. Some homes were literally constructed in a floodplain – a practice that is prohibited today. Aging and in some cases, inadequate infrastructure is also a concern.

Stormwater management is an incredibly complex topic. What might be required to address a problem upstream can have detrimental impacts to those downstream. A comprehensive and adaptive approach is required.

Earlier this year we created a stormwater working group comprised of impacted citizens, stormwater experts, engineers and town staff as part of a pilot program to model the impacts of stormwater using state of the art technology in the Walnut Creek Basin downtown. Assuming that our efforts are successful - and we have no intention of failing - it is our goal to implement this initiative town-wide.

The stormwater modeling provides a holistic look at how the area reacts during a storm event. This comprehensive model dynamically depicts current conditions, identifies potential issues and allows us to assess a variety of approaches to managing the floodplain. Potential “fixes” can be entered into the model allowing us to see if it actually fixed anything or not, and if it did, did it make it worse somewhere else? This will better help us focus town resources on actual solutions.

The pilot program also includes locating, verifying, and video documenting the condition of all stormwater pipes and culverts. There is approximately 10,000 feet of public storm drain pipes in the pilot area. To date, our Public Works department has completed maintenance on approximately 70% of them, with half of the pipes requiring cleaning. This information is then used to update our condition assessment tool and model to reflect actual conditions. These efforts are yielding results beyond just storm drain lines. They have also identified gaps in technology and processes that are being addressed, highlighting the importance of piloting these initiatives.

Vacuum truck the town uses to remove debris from pipes and culverts. It's like a giant shop-vac on wheels! 
But not all stormwater pipes are in the public domain. Many exist on private property. Some property owners may not even know that they exist if they have become inoperative or even buried over the years. In instances where we need access to private property, we have directed our town staff to work with property owners to gain a right of entry in order to perform a condition assessment for the purpose of resolving infrastructure impacts.

Buried pipe outlet that was causing flooding


Stormwater infrastructure is more than pipes and culverts. It also includes green infrastructure such as detention facilities, open space and channel improvements. The water feature in phase II of the downtown park for example will also serve as a stormwater device that will help to mitigate area flooding as well as serve as a visual amenity. All of this can be plugged into the model to test the level of benefit each provides. Going forward we will refine our policies and programs and further develop our open space acquisition criteria.

We have also directed our town staff to begin working on an ordinance amendment that will require new development to perform a stormwater impact analysis and model their project to the 100 year storm event. If the analysis shows any adverse impact, they will be required to mitigate it. Our current regulations require that development mitigates to the 10 year storm event. A 100 year storm event in Cary is roughly 7.5 inches of rain in a 24 hour period. The last time that happened here was July 2016 so we’re good for another 98 years right? Wrong. Just because it is called a 100 year storm doesn’t mean it only happens once every hundred years. This amendment will better ensure that new development does not exacerbate the problem, and in some instances might actually help to solve some of the problem(s).

These are some of the things that we are working on to help address the issue of flooding in our community. I am sure that as time goes on, and our modeling continues to improve that we will discover more. We remain committed to creating the most robust stormwater management program in the country.
Special thanks to our citizens and volunteers on the Stormwater Working Group. Your efforts are truly making a difference.

That's all for now and as always, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

FY2019 Budget, Recycling and an update on the Downtown Park

The council and town staff held our third quarter meeting this past Thursday at the Matthews House in Downtown Cary. Our quarterly meetings are basically a mini council retreat where we reflect on noteworthy projects or initiatives over the last three months and discuss other important items while looking to the future.

Blogworthy discussion items included the budget, recycling and the downtown park.

We are still early on in the budget process and by “we” I mean the council. Town staff – especially those in finance – never really leave the budget process. As soon as one fiscal year’s budget is adopted they begin working on the next one. Who knew that collecting and spending $340 million was so complicated? 😉 Well, it is and we are blessed to have such talented folks working on it – even more so this year. This is the first year that our department directors; rather than simply submitting independent department requests to the Town Manager, worked collaboratively to identify the organization’s overall needs to submit a unified recommendation to our Town Manager. The result is a budget that more closely aligns the organization’s resources with our community’s priorities.

Proposed budget highlights include:

The addition of 12 new firefighters and a new ladder truck

$7.1 Million in street resurfacing

$1.75 Million in new sidewalks

$3.1 Million for Phase III of the Higgins Greenway

Master Plan Phase II of the downtown Park

$1.8 Million for Stormwater initiatives

$6.7 Million for Reedy Creek Road Widening


Proposed budget lowlights include:

Sanitation fees will increase $1 per month to help move the system closer to cost recovery

The Annual Vehicle License fee will increase $15.00 to help cover the costs of road improvements and sidewalks

Utility rates will increase 3% per household.

Recycling is becoming more expensive.

This was a very interesting part of the budget discussion. While Cary’s robust recycling program never came close to breaking even, historically we have been able to sell certain recyclables for about $10.00 a ton. Recent changes in the market however have resulted in us now paying $21.47 a ton to get rid of it. So what happened? Well nearly 40% of US recyclables are shipped to China. That is until China squashed that last year and announced that they would no longer be importing most recyclables. Supply and demand.

Cary delivers roughly 11,000 tons of recyclables to Sonoco Recycling in Raleigh each year. At $10 a ton that generated $110,000.00 in revenue. Paying nearly $22 to get rid of it equals a $220,000 expenditure – a $330,000.00 swing. That stinks, and I aint talking about the trash.

In the end however it is a values decision. Does our community support recycling enough to invest another $330K to keep doing it? Is diverting recyclables away from the landfill worth it? I believe so. In fact, according to Cary’s most recent biennial survey, 93.9% of Cary citizens support Cary’s recycling program - It’s the right thing to do.

Citizens can comment on the proposed budget at the Budget Public Hearing in Council Chambers on June 14th or via email at Citizens can also contact council members at

Downtown Park Update

The council voted 6-1 to hire the Office of James Burnett (OJB) as the downtown park phase II master plan design consultant.

I had previously blogged about the selection process and firms competing for the job here. All four firms are world class and there is no question that any one of them would do a wonderful job if selected. They didn’t get to where they are by being mediocre. After an extensive interview process however, the majority of our town staff and council believed OJB to be the best fit for Cary for a number of reasons.

What really resonated with me was their emphasis on programming, their understanding of the park as a driver for economic development and redevelopment and that Cary’s own Withers and Ravenel are their civil engineers.

While it took a little longer to get here than I had hoped, I am very pleased with the end result and look forward to the real work getting started and working with the community to develop a remarkable master plan for the park so we can start building it. Git r done!

Levy Park in Houston Texas is one example of OJB's work. Click on the link above to see more. Photo courtesy OJB.

That’s about it for now. As always thanks for reading and friend me on facebook or follow me on twitter for more town news and announcements.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Black Creek Greenway Improvements

Major renovations to Cary’s Black Creek Greenway from the Old Reedy Creek Trailhead to West Dynasty moved one step closer to construction at our council meeting last night with the recognition of at least $4 million in NCDOT State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) funds.

Phases I & II of Black Creek Greenway were originally constructed 25 years ago and extend approximately 2.5 miles between Old Reedy Creek Road and West Dynasty Drive. This portion of the greenway trail does not meet the current Town’s minimum design standard of ten feet wide for asphalt trails and twelve feet wide for the bridges. The greenway has also been severely impacted by heavy rains and flooding requiring major upgrades to prevent further storm damage. Phases I & II reconstruction will bring the greenway up to current design standards including 7 new bridges that will be upgraded and elevated to reduce stormwater impacts.

The Phase V portion of the project (see image below) is a new greenway trail. Currently, sidewalks on West Dynasty Drive provide the connection between Phases II & III of the greenway. As I am sure everyone who has traversed this section of greenway is well aware, it has extremely steep grades that make it difficult for pedestrians and cyclists. The new Phase V section of greenway eliminates the need for users of the trail to travel on the steep section of West Dynasty Drive and aligns the greenway access points directly across from each other on West Dynasty Drive.

The total estimated project cost for the renovations to phases I & II and the new phase V trail is $6.6 million. The town had originally received a grant from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) for $2.6 million and Cary had already appropriated $2 million. Shortly thereafter we were awarded the $4 million grant from NCDOT. We don’t just apply for grants from one agency, we apply for grants from all possible agencies ;-)

So yeah, we’re accepting the higher grant award from NCDOT and not the CAMPO grant – and before you ask, no we can’t use both 😉

The $4 million grant from NCDOT also allows for another $1 million grant once the project has gone to bid for a total grant amount of $5 million in NCDOT STIP funds. Cary’s share of the cost would be $1.6 million. We have already appropriated $2 million so roughly 400K will be returned to the general fund and become available for other needs. Cary will be getting a shiny new $6.6 million greenway for $1.6 million in town funds…. And did I mention it aligns the greenway crossing West Dynasty so you won’t kill yourself peddling up that crazy hill anymore?

With the acceptance of grant funds, our Town of Cary staff will begin the process for acquiring the necessary easements and right-of-way for the project with a goal of initiating the construction bidding phase in 2019.

Special thanks to our amazing Town of Cary Staff and the fine folks at the Black Creek Watershed Association for all their efforts thus far. As with everything Cary, everyone working together makes great things happen! I can’t wait for this project to begin. Cary Rocks!

Monday, January 29, 2018


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.

Fenton site location

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.

Conceptual office development at Fenton
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.

Proposed Fenton Site Plan. Purple indicates vertical mix of uses required.
Example of "Jewel Box" Retail/Restaurant in between buildings

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.

Proposed transportation network - purple lines are streets.
Future Quinard Road Extension

The project will provide for bike, pedestrian and transit facilities and the future IronGate Greenway from downtown will also provide access to the site.

Future Irongate Greenway

The applicant, Columbia Development, voluntarily offered over 100 different zoning conditions with this rezoning to ensure that what is promised is what get’s 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.

Design Guidebook

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.

Example page from Fenton Design Guidebook

Example page from Fenton Design Guidebook

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.

Development Agreement

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!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Urban Drive Townhomes

At our council meeting this past Thursday we unanimously approved the Urban Drive Townhome Rezoning. This request rezones one lot along Urban Drive from Medium Density Residential (MDR) to Mixed-use allowing for the construction of five townhomes that will be integrated into the Chatham Walk Condominium project at the corner of Chatham and Urban.

The Chatham Walk condominium project did not require council consideration as the use is already allowed under the existing zoning which was put in place in 2001 with the adoption of the Town Center Area Plan (TCAP). The Chatham Walk Condominiums would still be built whether or not we approved the townhomes.

So while we technically weren’t considering the condominium project, we were considering a component of it – separating the two was difficult as the proposed townhome layout relies on the condominium site for access, parking and stormwater management.

Computer rendering of Chatham Walk Condos and Townhomes

The image above was generated to demonstrate scale and transition. That is NOT what the townhomes will look like 😉

Downtown residents expressed both support and opposition to the proposal with the majority of residents along Urban Drive in opposition. Concerns included building height, neighborhood character, transition, building set-backs and stromwater/flooding.

Zoning conditions offered by the applicant in an effort to address neighbor and council concerns included:

1) Stormwater runoff from the roof and driveways of any townhome building constructed upon the property shall be diverted to the existing stormwater system within Chatham Street.

While this clearly won’t in any way solve the stormwater problem downtown, it won’t make it worse either and may actually help a bit as runoff post-development will be mitigated vs no stormwater mitigation pre-development. Cary’s stormwater requirements now are MUCH stricter than in years past.

2) The applicant has also offered conditions related to building design and architecture.  These include locating the principal entrance on Urban Drive for any townhomes with frontage on Urban Drive, providing a minimum percentage of masonry material on building facades, and limiting the use of vinyl siding to soffits and architectural accents.  The intent of these conditions is to provide an architectural transition between the existing single-family homes and condos and respect the residential front door feel of the neighborhood.

3) Conditions were also offered to provide a six-foot tall fence or wall within ten feet of the boundary line and a ten-foot building setback from the southern property line (the same set-back requirement that exists with MDR).

The townhomes will be three stories tall with a maximum height of 45 feet - the same height that could have been built by-right under the existing MDR zoning. That deserves repeating - a 45 feet tall residential building could have been built on this site today without any council consideration or citizen input. The primary difference between the existing zoning and that requested is the number of units and access/parking.

And while I appreciate the resident’s concerns regarding transition, we will have to agree to disagree. I believe that three-story townhomes do provide a good transition from a four-story condominium building into a single-family neighborhood downtown. The Cary Community Plan – our community’s vision document speaks to this – “Heights should step down to adjacent lower story buildings where necessary, or otherwise provide acceptable transitions.”

The townhomes will also better shield the condominium’s parking lot from view along Urban Drive.

Another concern raised by area residents was “development creep” – that by approving this proposal we are opening the door for the rest of the neighborhood to be redeveloped with townhomes or other high density uses.

That is not the case.

While some parts of our downtown neighborhoods may see change over the coming years – especially those areas close to Chatham Street, Academy Street and Harrison Ave – the majority of downtown neighborhoods are planned to stay the same – except of course for remodels, additions or other improvements performed by homeowners – which is happening a lot these days!

The vision for the Central Chatham Sub-area as described in the Cary Community Plan is, “A vibrant mixed-use corridor with shops, restaurants, breweries, studios, and sidewalk vendors. The street will be a corridor, where people move between adjacent subareas. It will be Cary’s primary destination for dining, entertainment, and shopping. And it will be a neighborhood, a downtown community with a variety of living options where residents can obtain their daily needs within a short walk.”

Here is an image of all the downtown sub-areas as well as the Central Chatham Sub-area where the site is located.

From the Cary Community Plan – “The shaded areas on this map highlight some of the general locations that might offer particular opportunities for future infill development, redevelopment, or re-use that could help to achieve the vision for Central Chatham. Change is anticipated to occur slowly over time, as individual property owners elect at their own discretion to undertake changes to their properties to better align with this vision. Additional sites not highlighted in this subarea are expected to be maintained as is, or not change significantly, over the planning horizon.”

So the bottom line is that if your neighborhood isn’t highlighted, it isn’t expected to change much nor do we plan for it to. If it is highlighted, change might occur if property owners choose to do so.

I appreciate that change can be difficult for folks, I really do. But change is coming to downtown and for the most part this is a great thing. The condominium and townhomes above might look out of place today. They won’t look out of place in 5-10 years. A similar project is already in the works on the eastern corner of Urban and Chatham and the land on the northern side of Chatham St. has been assembled for redevelopment. A number of other projects are also in the works downtown such as the townhomes along Park St across from the downtown park, the mixed-use development at the corner of Harrison and Chatham and private development at the downtown library parking deck.

As new development occurs, we will continue to work to ensure that it is done in a manner that is consistent with our community’s vision for downtown and respects the character and charm of surrounding neighborhoods.

I can’t say that I ever thought I’d dedicate an entire blog post to five townhomes, but the reality is that this case was much bigger than that. It was about striking a balance between existing residents and new development and sticking to the vision laid out in the Cary Community Plan. As downtown continues to evolve we will surely face similar challenges. I look forward to it.

Thanks for reading!