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!