Saturday, June 27, 2015

FY16 Budget

The council has a number of key responsibilities – none more important than the town’s budget. Nor does any one responsibility require more focus, time and effort than the annual budget process. #gladitsover

We completed that process Thursday evening when the council unanimously approved Cary’s FY16 budget. The budget totals $295 million - $218 million for operations and $77 million for capital.

Operations is exactly what it says – the day to day operations of the town’s functions and departments to include police, fire, administration, public works etc…

Capital is the brick and mortar part – the police and fire stations themselves, community centers, water treatment plants, infrastructure etc…

The operations budget is roughly a 4% increase over last year’s budget – mainly due to the addition of 25 new town employees to include an animal control officer, police officer, three new firefighters, customer service representatives and a position to administer Cary’s new open-data program. #lorisbaby This will increase the number of Cary town employees to 1255 – or 8.1 employees per 1000 residents; one of the lowest employee to citizen ratios in the state and lower than last year’s ratio of 8.2. The town of Cary continues to do more with less. #carystaffisawesome

The capital budget is roughly $25 million higher than FY15 yet $25 million lower than FY14 – sounds odd I know, but given the size and scope of capital projects, such variation really isn’t out of the ordinary. A seven mile long water pipeline (to increase water treatment capacity and reliability) in this year’s budget is $19 million alone. We didn’t have to build/fund that last year. #thatsoneexpensivepipe

This was our second year using the new priority-based budgeting process. I talked about that change in process in my blog post about last year’s budget so I won’t repeat it again, but if you aren’t familiar with it and would like to learn more, please click here.

I will say however, that I prefer this method over the previous as it better removes politics from the process. Priorities are ranked by staff based on factual data and need – not politics. #politiciansruinstuff

The first draft of the budget presented to council recommended a three cent tax increase – two cents to cover the voter approved bond projects and an additional cent to cover a projected loss of $1.5 million in revenue as a result of the North Carolina General Assembly’s elimination of the business privilege license tax. #thanksformakinguswholeguys

However, after updated revenue and spending projections – not to mention a lot of calculating and recalculating by the fine folks in Cary’s budget office - it was determined that the third cent increase was no longer necessary.

To give an idea of just how hard Cary staff worked to squeeze every penny possible, after reevaluating interest rates and current rates of return, they found an extra $340.00 in Cary’s fleet fund investment earnings. Seriously, in a $295 million budget, they worked to find 340 bucks. #Karlthebudgetslayer

Staff also identified an additional $57,000 in beer and wine tax revenue. #staythirstymyfriends

Other notable items in this year’s budget include:

·         A new fire pumper truck
·         $800,000 in sidewalk and pedestrian facility improvements
·         Kilmayne water storage tank (water tower)
·         ADA and access improvements to Sertoma Amphitheater
·         Resurfacing of 23 miles of town streets
·         Remove the stupid medians and install a traffic signal at Morrisville Parkway + Carpenter Upchurch intersection
·         Support for the town-wide Google and AT&T gigabit fiber installations
·         Increases transportation development fees paid by developers by 10%

Not surprisingly there just isn’t enough money to do everything the town would like to do. To add anything into the budget means something has to come out. Its really no different than how you prioritize and balance your own budgets. Do you get the new roof or paint the house instead? Do you buy a new car or keep the old one going another year? #Iknowagoodmechanic

That 800 grand in sidewalk improvements above was originally projected at $1.6 million. But to help eliminate that extra cent tax increase and make the desired improvements at Morrisville Parkway and Carpenter Upchurch, something had to give. That’s but one example of the tradeoffs we made.

I can’t thank the folks in Cary’s budget office, our department directors and Town Manager, Ben Shivar enough for all their efforts. This was, in my opinion, one of our more difficult years given the continuing challenges with the economy and changes in state law – not to mention we had already cut quite a bit in previous years to cope with the recession.


Special thanks also to the many citizens who provided input during the budget process – it was very helpful as we worked to better identify what was most important to the community. #ilovecary

Saturday, June 20, 2015

He's Ben Great for Cary

This council works very hard to ensure transparency in our deliberations and decisions because you, the citizens, deserve to know what it is we are working on and how we vote – we do work for you after all.

Once in a while however, we have to hold a closed-session meeting to discuss the occasional personnel matter, lawsuit, or economic development initiative that must remain confidential for legal reasons until it can be made public.

Economic development initiatives and unfortunately the occasional lawsuit are fairly common closed-session topics for city councils. Personnel matters not so much as the council is only responsible for the hiring and firing of three town staff members – the town manager, town clerk and town attorney. The town manager and department directors are responsible for the other 1220 +or- town employees.

The last time the council was informed that we would be holding a closed-session to discuss a personnel matter was when we learned that Cary Town Clerk, Sue Rowland was retiring. Ya, that stunk.

Well, this past Tuesday shortly before our budget worksession, the council was informed once again that we would be holding a closed-session meeting to discuss a personnel matter. Uh-oh….

As the council walked to the closed session room, I kept looking over my shoulder to see who would be joining us.

The only staff member following us was Cary Town Manager, Ben Shivar.

I knew what was coming.

As you have probably heard by now, Cary Town Manager Ben Shivar informed us that he had made the decision to retire at the end of September.

Ben has worked in local government for over 39 years – 19 with the Town of Cary as Assistant Manager and Town Manager. We hired Ben as Town manager in 2009 after the retirement of former Town Manager, Bill Coleman.

I believe this to be one of – if not the - best decisions we ever made.

Ben is a leader – not a boss. Anyone can be a boss. Not everyone has what it takes to be an great leader. Bosses bark orders and expect them to be followed. A leader sets an example for their employees to follow. They inspire and motivate their employees to do better not just for the organization, but also for themselves. Leaders understand there is no “I” in team.

Entrepreneur, Jim Rohn once said, “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”

He must have known Ben Shivar.

As a member of the council I have had the pleasure – or not – of interacting with a number of other city managers and council members. I have yet to meet or hear of another manager held in such high regard by their community, staff and council as Ben.

Cary is a better place because of Ben’s leadership.

While I truly hate to see Ben leave, I wish him the very best in retirement - although I am sure that after 39 years Laura has a pretty long “honey-do list” by now ;-) Be careful what you wish for I always say ;-)

The council will make a decision soon about a recruitment and selection process for a new town manager. I would imagine it would be similar to the process we used in 2009.


Congratulations and Thank You, Ben. You have very big shoes to fill.


We'll Miss You Ben!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Council Worksession on TDFs and Building Design Standards Downtown

The council held a worksession this past Tuesday to discuss a number of items to include a proposed increase to Cary’s Transportation Development Fees (TDFs), Land Development Ordinance Text Amendments and updates to the town’s Building Design Standards.

Council members Robinson and Smith were both absent from the meeting.

Transportation Development Fees:

Town staff and consultants recently completed a comprehensive study of Cary’s transportation development fees on the basis of full cost recovery of thoroughfare improvements and presented their findings and recommendation for a fee increase to council.

The two primary recommendations and discussion items were;

1)      Increase Cary’s TDFs to 60% of full cost recovery. This represents an approximate 10% increase over Cary’s existing TDFs.

2)      Continue to increase TDFs annually at a rate of 5% during the budget process.
Cary’s TDFs were last increased in 2013 and 2008 respectively.

Town staff and consultant’s justification for the proposed increase include inflation and rising construction costs.

Current TDFs for a single family detached home in Cary are $1359.00. The proposal would increase that amount to $1573.00. Raleigh currently charges $1661.00 and Durham charges $1405.00 so while Cary’s fees would become higher than Durham, we would still be lower than Raleigh.

The cost differentials remain about the same for multi-family construction as well – Cary would still be lower than Raleigh but higher than Durham.

Office and commercial construction is a different story.

TDFs for retail development in Cary are currently $1466.00 per 1000sq ft. The proposed increase would take that number to $1637.00. Raleigh currently charges $2695.00 and Durham’s fees are $4423.00. Both Raleigh and Durham’s fees would remain significantly higher than Cary.

TDFs for office development are currently $2004.00 per 1000 sq ft. The proposal would increase Cary’s fees to $2113.00. Raleigh’s fees are currently $2055.00 and Durham’s are $3366.00. This would make Cary’s fees higher than Raleigh, but lower than Durham….whose fees on commercial and office are ridiculously high when compared to their neighbors.

Note – Cary’s numbers above apply to development outside the central district (inside the Maynard Loop) Cary’s fees inside the Maynard Loop are set lower to incent new development/redevelopment.

My concern(s) with the proposed fee increase pertains to the commercial/office side more so than the residential. I struggle with increasing costs on the job creators. You know, the folks like MetLife, Bass Pro Shops, CBC Americas, Deutsche Bank, HCL, SAS and hundreds of small businesses; many of which have fled high tax/fee states looking for a more business friendly climate and highly educated and talented employees like we have here in Cary. Heck, Cary was even one of two finalist cities for USA Tennis out of New York. Unfortunately we lost out to Orlando on that one (tough to compete with Disney World, beaches and year-round warm weather) but it’s just another example of what we have to offer here in Cary and what employers and organizations are looking for.

Unfortunately (for me anyways) Cary does not have legislative authority to only increase fees on say residential but not office or commercial. If we choose to increase our TDFs, we must increase them across the board.

So again, while I might could be ok with a TDF increase on residential, I really struggle with increasing costs on businesses here in Cary.

Cary’s unemployment rate is around 3.5% which blows away most everywhere else in the country. I want to keep it that way. So if lower costs are an important factor in why many businesses are relocating to Cary, why would we want to increase their costs? And when you consider that a number of companies were provided city, county and state financial incentives, well, I just don’t see how increased costs compliment our job recruitment efforts.

Building Design Standards

Much of the discussion centered around the proposed changes for building materials in downtown and Cary’s Historic Districts.

Cary’s design standards throughout town call for a minimum of 35% masonry material on new construction of commercial or attached residential. In 2012 the council raised the masonry requirement for downtown to 75%. The thinking was that the increased standard would result in higher quality development downtown.

The result? No development.


Quality projects such as Samuel’s Keep, The Townes of Madison, Highland Village and my personal favorite – Frantz Automotive Center ;-) were developed under Cary’s 35% masonry standard and have added value to our downtown. We have not seen a new project like those since the masonry requirement was raised to 75%. It simply increases costs to the point where projects are no longer financially viable. Look at the two images below. Neither of them meet the current design standards of 75%. Why would we want to discourage any more development like this in downtown?

Samuel's Keep
Townes of Madison

Just so we are clear, a 35% requirement doesn’t mean that is all you get. Samuel’s Keep for example is roughly 42% masonry. It is simply the minimum that would be allowed.

I am pleased that at our worksession the council supported reducing the requirement back to 35%. Town staff and Cary’s Downtown Development manager, Ted Boyd also supported a reduction in the masonry requirement. There will be a public hearing prior to official action by the council.

In regards to Cary’s historic districts – Downtown, Carpenter and Green Level – the thinking was a little different. In downtown for example, many buildings have some amount of brick, while in Carpenter, most buildings are completely wood. To require a brick building in an area such as Carpenter would be very much out of character. In downtown however, a partially brick building would be in character with its surroundings. So, we decided to continue to require the 35% masonry in the downtown historic district while allowing for all wood construction in Carpenter and Green Level.

I am hopeful the proposed changes will spur more of the private investment in our downtown we are looking for. Time will tell.

That’s all for this post. As always, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Downtown Cary Library

At a council retreat in 2010, the council unanimously selected a site adjacent to the new downtown park near the intersection of Walnut Street and Kildaire Farm Road and across the street from the Cary Arts Center and Cary Elementary as the location for the new downtown Cary Library.

There have been a couple of articles in the Cary News lately that have implied that the council may be reconsidering that decision.

That is incorrect.

While one council member wants to reconsider that decision – the council does not.

While I can respect and appreciate this councilmember’s position, this decision was made years ago and there has been plenty of time for folks to express any concerns they may have had.

There are a number of reasons the council selected the site we did for the new downtown Cary Library.

·         Create a synergy with Cary Elementary School and The Cary Arts Center
·         The library’s location in a park setting will encourage folks to stay in downtown a while and maybe relax with their new book in the park, or visit one of downtown’s many restaurants and shops
·         The town already owns the property
·         Proximity to the existing Library’s location – pretty much across the street and near the corner of Walnut and Kildaire Farm/Dry Ave – a few hundred feet from Academy Street
·         Close to neighborhoods so that area residents can walk to the library
·         Potential plans include structured parking, which the Cary Arts Center desperately needs and could take advantage of – and not to mention our downtown festivals that mainly occur along that stretch of Academy Street
·         Our vision for downtown Cary is bigger than the intersection at Chatham and Academy Street
·         Allows for redevelopment of the existing library site – which Wake County wants to keep open until the new library is constructed

I do not subscribe to the notion that the new library “seems too far way to benefit our downtown businesses”, and that “people won’t want to walk half a mile to Chatham Street”.

If that is the case, then why are we spending millions to improve Academy Street to include wider sidewalks, lighting, bike racks and artistic elements to promote walkability if no one is going to walk up and down the street? Why did we invest $13 million in the Cary Arts Center at the end of Academy Street? Why did we partner with Belle at the Jones House restaurant at the corner of Academy and Dry or the Mayton Inn located halfway down Academy Street?

I also fail to comprehend how the same folks who don’t support the new library site out of concerns that it will not benefit businesses along Chatham Street are the same ones who supported a small 2-4 acre park in downtown so that the majority of land could be developed into high density residential, retail and businesses…. that would directly compete with those same Chatham Street businesses they are so concerned about.

While the council’s plan does allow for redevelopment of some of the “opportunity site” as some like to call it, the majority (7 acres) of the property remains what was promised to our citizens– a large downtown park.

The council recently visited downtown – excuse me, Uptown Charlotte for our council retreat. One thing we learned from them was not to solely focus on one area of downtown. Charlotte supports and encourages development and redevelopment anywhere and everywhere around downtown regardless of proximity to “the core”. They discovered that development doesn’t have to start in the center and work its way out – it can also occur on the fringes and work its way inward. The same can and will happen here in downtown Cary.

I am pretty sure that when the Metropolitan in downtown Charlotte was proposed that a number of folks probably asked, “Why are you building that way over there? How is that going to help us?” Heck, it even needed a new road constructed to even get to it. But just look at it now.

No one project will make or break downtown Cary. Each and every one is but a small piece in a rather large puzzle. The more projects we see completed in downtown, the more that will come – success breeds success.

One of the reasons I ran for council was that I was sick and tired of all the talk and no action downtown. The town talked a good game, but nothing was happening. Absent from the council majority was the political will to invest in downtown. That changed in 2007 when a new council was elected. Since then we have been making steady progress, but acknowledge that we have a long way to go.

I will always remember a comment I heard while on a visit to downtown Greenville, SC. a few years ago. “Downtown revitalizations are a twenty year overnight success”. It is so true. Nothing happens overnight, but if things keep happening, success will come.

I plan on keeping things happening.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Breaking up is hard to do.

I am no longer a registered Republican. I am now a member of the fastest growing political party in the nation – unaffiliated.

As an elected official who has been fairly active in party politics over the years this was no easy decision I promise you. I have donated time and money to both the party and party candidates. I was a delegate to the 2008 Republican National Convention and have served as a state and county delegate on numerous occasions. I have walked miles of neighborhoods, made thousands of phone calls, and stood in the rain at polling places for Republican Party candidates.

The local and state Republican Party has been good to me over the years. They and their affiliate organizations and party volunteers have supported and worked for me in previous elections. I am forever grateful for their support and proud to call many of them my friends.

But I can’t support the Republican Party any more.

I agonized over this decision for months. But the more I tried to talk myself into staying with the Republican Party, the more I talked myself out of it.

Now before all you Democrats start thinking this is some miraculous epiphany on my part – don’t. Neither party has a monopoly on suck right now; and for all the Republican Party’s faults, I would never, ever consider joining today’s Democratic Party.

My decision has more to do with the hyper-partisanship of both political parties than it does solely with today’s Republican Party.

Do I have issues with the GOP? Sure I do. Did those issues contribute to my decision? Absolutely. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

I am disgusted with both political parties and partisan politics; and given Congress’ dismal approval rating over the years – regardless of which party has been in control – it appears I aint the only one. Influenza, used car salesmen and root canals have a higher approval rating than both parties in Congress and for good reason - they stink.

I am only 44 years old, but even I can remember a time when folks on both sides of the aisle could respectfully disagree and occasionally worked through their differences for the betterment of our nation. That clearly isn’t the case anymore. Politics has become personal. Winning has become more important than doing the right thing. Political gamesmanship trumps solving problems. Power and control is what today’s parties fight for. Compromise is a foreign concept.

The media, rabid special interest groups and corporate interests further fuels this division. If you can’t attack the message, attack the messenger!

Anything a Democrat proposes, Republicans will oppose and vice-versa. I am sure that if one party submitted a bill proclaiming the sky blue, the other side would oppose it….and then go on TV to rail about how blue skies are a budget buster, racist or cause global warming or something.

I take great pride in the fact that is NOT how we operate on the Cary Council. We are a fairly diverse group of members – Republicans, Democrats and an unaffiliated (two now). Yet our politics does not define who we are or how we govern. We respect each other’s positions and always look to work together on policies or initiatives that everyone can be satisfied with and that ultimately move our community forward. Sure we disagree at times, but it never becomes personal. We are better than that. I genuinely like and respect all of my council colleagues – they are good people. And In the seven years I have been on the council, I really cannot recall one single “party line” vote. Not one.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “I didn’t leave my party, my party left me.” Well, I wish it were that simple. It isn’t.

So what are some of my issues with the GOP? That’s a difficult question as what they stand for often depends on the letter at the end of the name of the person residing in the White House.

Take the NSA for example – It is a matter of national security that my government listen to my phone calls or read my emails when Bush is President, but it becomes an assault on freedom when Obama does it. Stimulus programs or government bailouts are ok when a Republican is in the White House, but it is socialism when a Democrat does it.

It is easy to tell what today’s Republican Party stands against – Democrats. It is difficult to determine what they actually stand for. But if you are looking for a political party who votes to repeal Obamacare every other week without offering a better idea or alternative, the GOP is for you!

The “last straw” for me (besides their obsession with social issues) was immigration reform – or lack thereof. The Republican Party and their candidates promised last year that if elected, they would fight for real immigration reform and stand up to Obama’s executive amnesty. They lied....again. Looking back I don’t know why I even held out hope that they would keep their word. The reality is that both parties have been lying to Americans regarding immigration for decades. Neither party really wants to fix it as the GOP sees them cheap labor and the Dems see voters. The overwhelming majority of Americans want our borders secured, but neither party does anything about it.

I believe myself to be a limited government fiscal conservative. I believe in liberty, individual responsibility, American exceptionalism, the free market and a strong national defense. I believe government’s role is to provide every citizen the opportunity to achieve their own personal success or goals – not guarantee it. Government can’t do everything for everyone, nor should it.

I would not however describe myself as a social conservative. I really don’t care if you are gay, and nor do I care why you are gay. That’s your deal, not mine. Who someone loves is none of my business as long as it doesn’t negatively impact me or my family or cost me money. Liberty, remember?

It baffles me how the self-proclaimed party of “limited government” is the first to insert themselves into someone’s bedroom or up a woman’s skirt, but I digress….

Those values are apparently in conflict with today’s Republican Party.

I never expect to agree 100% with any political party or official. But I do expect their platforms and actions to remain fairly consistent. I want my elected leaders to think for themselves – not do what their party tells them to do. I want my leaders to lead.

Hyper-partisanship is destroying our political system and our nation. I don’t want to be a part of it any longer.

I will continue to support those candidates for elected office that I believe best represent my values and are people of character and integrity. I will continue to oppose those who do not. And if that means I end up voting for “none of the above” in some races then so be it. I have never voted straight party ticket to begin with.


I hope this helps you understand my decision and I apologize if this rambled.

Thanks for your support.

Monday, February 2, 2015

RETREAT! 2015

The 2015 Cary Town Council and Staff Retreat was held in Charlotte this past weekend and I have to say, this was probably one of the best – if not the best - retreats I have ever participated in.

The focus of this year’s retreat was redevelopment and in-fill development – a topic we find ourselves struggling with more and more each year; especially in regards to our downtown. But unlike past retreats where the majority of our information and discussion sessions took place in a hotel conference room, this year we spent most of our time touring the city and seeing things for ourselves.

The council chose to visit Charlotte for our retreat because they have experienced significant redevelopment in and around their downtown.  We wanted to see first-hand and hear from stakeholders involved in and impacted by Charlotte’s redevelopment efforts.

Yes, we know Charlotte is a very different city than Cary - and I think we all like it that way. We don’t want to be Charlotte and we aren’t trying to be Charlotte. But we can learn from their successes and failures in regards to development and redevelopment, and maybe apply some of that knowledge here in Cary.


All retreat participants traveled to Charlotte by train - and I have to say that if you are going to Charlotte, Amtrak is the way to go. The trip took approximately three hours – about the same as if you were to travel by car. The train was clean, comfortable and on time.
Cary Council on the train heading to Charlotte - Copyright Bush Photography ;-)
The Cary Train Depot is a beautiful facility. Unfortunately that is not the case in Charlotte. I was surprised that with all their efforts regarding transit – especially light rail – that they would have invested in the Charlotte Amtrak station and somehow tied that into their transit network. Getting to the train station is a breeze – getting from there to where you actually want to go? Not so much.

A bus picked us up at the station and took us to the Metropolitan – a fairly new mixed-use development just outside the city center. We toured the development and spoke with the developer. The project was a public-private partnership between the developer, the city and the county. The city and county assisted with infrastructure and zoning/permitting. One interesting thing about this project was a big box store on top of another big box store – a Target store is on top of what used to be a Home Depot (a BJ’s will be moving into the Home Depot Space soon).

Afterwards the council went to dinner at The King’s Kitchen – a non-profit restaurant who donates all of their profits to feed the poor in the Charlotte area. They also work to train and employ the poor and disabled. The food and service was outstanding and I highly recommend the sweet potato fritters. Seriously – get the fritters. Yum…

Friday morning we met with the Charlotte City Center Partners and city planners to discuss and learn more about their approach to land planning, partnerships and funding.

While partially funded via a special tax district, the Charlotte City Center Partners is a private organization that facilitates and promotes the economic, cultural and residential development in Charlotte’s urban core. They work very closely with the city and community to leverage public and private investment that supports walkable and pedestrian friendly development and ensures a diverse mix of business and residential opportunities.

One funding mechanism that Charlotte uses for qualifying projects is Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Charlotte’s TIF program focuses on infrastructure improvements such as water/sewer, roads, parking and greenways. The developer is required to construct and pay for the needed improvements, and is then reimbursed a percentage of the cost of the improvements after the project is completed and property taxes are paid at the post-development assessment.

TIF financing is and has been a controversial funding mechanism with some risk. Charlotte’s program however does not cover any up-front costs, and should the developer go bankrupt or the project fail, the city still gets the infrastructure the private entity constructed. Charlotte’s financial participation allows reservation of right to influence the type and form of a specific project, and the project(s) must provide for a public benefit.

We also learned about Charlotte’s land use plan – Centers, Corridors and Wedges Framework. Basically there are no limits in the city center (downtown Charlotte), high density along the road and transit corridors and lower density single family wedged in between.
Charlotte Land Use Plan
We spent quite a bit of time in South End – an area outside the city center that has experienced a tremendous amount of growth over the last seven years since the construction of the light rail – mostly apartments (thousands of units) along with some commercial and office.

Some of the apartment complexes were impressive while some were, well, not so much. You could easily tell which developers took pride in their projects and wanted to bring something of value to the community and which ones didn’t. Charlotte doesn’t have design guidelines like we have here in Cary so they are limited in what they can require in regards to building materials and architecture. They did state that this was something they were looking at, but like us are worried about State House Bill 150 that would limit what local governments can mandate in regards to development standards. They don’t want to rock the boat too much.

What was most impressive in South End to me was the re-use of old warehouse and factory buildings into restaurant, retail and residential uses. Any developer can build a new apartment complex – but I don’t care how much money you spend, you cannot recreate the look and feel of old buildings. I wish we had that here in Cary. We heard from the Developer of the Ice House, a bar and grill that used to be a mill (if I remember correctly). It is next to the old Charlotte trolley car station that is now a farmer’s market.

We also visited Seaboard Street and the NC Music Factory. If you want to see an impressive example of the redevelopment of historic property you really need to go here. Much of the property used to be a cotton mill and then an asbestos textiles factory. It cost over $5 million to remove all of the asbestos from the buildings before its redevelopment. It is now an entertainment venue with outdoor and indoor concerts, comedy club, bars and food services. The place was awesome.
NC Music Factory
The redevelopment of many of these properties could not have been possible without historic preservation tax credits – which our state legislature eliminated, but is now reconsidering. While I can appreciate the concerns of abuse and cost with the program, those concerns can be resolved. It is imperative for historic preservation and re-use that we put this program back in place. If you agree, please contact your state legislators and tell them to restore the historic preservation tax credit program.

Everywhere we went we either took the light rail or a bus. From there we walked… a lot. The light rail was impressive and I can see how such a transit system works in an urban city with the population and density of Charlotte. Wake County is probably 20-30 years behind. While I do not believe we should be building a light rail system any time soon, I do believe we should be working towards right-of-way acquisition and planning so that when the time comes we are better prepared.
Lots of walking - Copyright Robinson Photography ;-)
Charlotte will be constructing a new nine mile second leg of the Blue Line soon at a projected cost of $1 Billion. That’s billion with a B. I got five bucks that by the time its all said and done, it ends up being closer to $1.5 - $2 billion. It will run from the city to UNC Charlotte.
Charlotte's Light Rail
The construction of the light rail has triggered a tremendous amount of new development – mostly high density housing apartments.

We rode the light rail over a dozen times. Not once did anyone check or ask to see our tickets. You could just get on, go where you needed to go and get off. This was shocking to me. It also made me wonder how they can accurately keep track of ridership data; and not to mention aren’t ticket/pass sales supposed to help pay for it? There were not turnstiles to go through or anything to stop someone without a ticket from getting on. Sometimes there was hardly anyone on the train – and sometimes it was standing room only.

On the train ride back to Cary we spent much of the time debriefing and discussing what we learned – another advantage of taking the train. But man was it good to get back home.

Like I said at the beginning, this was one of the best retreats ever – less presentation and more seeing it for ourselves. I believe we learned a lot that we can apply here in Cary.

Special thanks to Lana Hygh, Ted Boyd and others for all their efforts to put this together. It was no easy task I am sure. I hope future retreats follow a similar format.

I also want to give a shout out to Lori Bush. She was sick the entire time but toughed it out and somehow managed to participate. She’s a trooper.

That’s about it I think. There was so much we saw and did that I’m sure I probably forgot something. Maybe Harold or Lori’s blog will offer even more insight to our retreat. No pressure guys! ;-)

Take care and as always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wake County Transit Meeting Round 2 and a few Council Meeting Items

The Wake County Transit Advisory Committee met again in Raleigh on Tuesday. The meeting was similar to our previous one where we worked to design a transit system in a fictitious city, only this time we focused on Wake County. And while our previous exercise focused solely on buses, this time we also had the option to include light rail or commuter rail in our network…..yay…. I knew it was coming ;-)

 Like the previous exercise, we still had to stay within a fixed budget – so if you wanted light rail in your plan, that consumed nearly 50% of your transit budget. If you opted for commuter rail, that consumed roughly 10% of your budget (that number could be 20% if we do not receive federal funding – but we worked on the assumption we would). And yes I know what “assume” means ;-)

There are significant differences between light rail and commuter rail.

Light rail are electric trains that would require a significant investment in infrastructure. They cannot utilize existing rail tracks or right of way. The entire system would need to be built from scratch and land acquisition costs would be astronomical. It would, however run more frequently and make more stops along the way than commuter rail.

Commuter rail uses existing railroad tracks and is considerably less expensive than light rail. Wake County’s portion would run from Garner to Morrisville/Durham county line every hour except during peak hours where it would run every 30 minutes. It would not have as many stops as light rail. I kinda think of it as a regional Amtrak.

Nine different groups spent three hours working to design their transit systems and then we discussed the similarities and differences and pros and cons of each afterwards.

I am pleased to report that not one of the nine groups included light rail in their network.

Seven of nine groups recommended commuter rail in their transit network with two opting solely for bus transit. Can you guess which of the groups I was in? ;-)

A couple of folks in our group actually wanted to include light rail. The majority did not. But in the spirit of compromise we started out including it in our network. But once they saw how little resources you had left for bus service, they conceded that it didn’t make financial sense and it was removed. I love it when a plan comes together. ;-)

Our transit network focused solely on bus service – and a lot of it. Most of our routes were high frequency with buses running every 15 minutes. We had good coverage in areas with high population densities and routes to many employment centers, hospitals, universities and the airport. And yes, Cary was well served.

Consultants will now take our work and feedback to prepare for our next meeting in March. I am optimistic that since not one group recommended light rail, that idea has been derailed. ;-) If we must have rail transit – and I still don’t believe we must – commuter rail makes the most sense of the two.

Some notable items at our last council meeting included:

Weston Apartments

Up for consideration was the rezoning of approximately 11.5 acres in the Weston PDD from office to residential to allow for 325 apartment units. The proposal passed by a vote of 4-2. Mayor Weinbrecht and I voted, “no”.

I typically support rezoning requests when I believe the proposal to be better than what can be built today under current zoning. This proposal – in my opinion - fell short in that regard. I believe the Weston area to be one of Cary’s premier office locations and I did not believe 325 apartment units to be a good trade for more office development in Weston. I also had concerns regarding density and school capacity.

Triangle Math and Science Academy Bonds

The Triangle and Math Science Academy, a Cary charter school, is in the process of converting to permanent financing and will be paying off existing loans with a bond issuance.

The Public Finance Authority (PFA) in the state of Wisconsin is who would be issuing the bonds. The PFA was formed and supported by the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties. In order for TMSA to comply with financing requirements, a local government entity where the school is located must endorse the bond financing. That is all that is being asked of the town. There is NO financial liability to Cary.

To comply with the Tax and Equity Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) and PFA requirements, a local government entity must hold a public hearing to allow folks the opportunity to speak in favor or against the request. During the public hearing a number of speakers voiced their support of the proposal.

After conducting the public hearing and further council discussion, the request was approved by a vote of 4-2. I supported the request for the following reasons.

·         Bond financing vs traditional will save TMSA $7.2 million over 30 years. That is $7.2 million more ($240,000 a year) that can be better spent educating students instead of on debt service.

·         While Charter Schools are technically public schools, they do not get to participate in nor receive funds from county bond referendums.

·         The council always talks about how frustrating it is that we are powerless when it comes to education or school capacity in Cary. This was an opportunity to help in that regard.

·         TMSA and their attorneys further provide the Town of Cary with an agreement indemnifying the town from any financial liability.

·         The city of Raleigh recently approved a similar request from St. David’s school.

Unfortunately for some folks this request became a referendum on charter schools. That should have never been a part of the discussion as the school already exists in Cary. The question was simply whether or not to endorse TMSA's bond financing.

I realize that some charter schools have failed while others have succeeded. One could say the same about public schools no? I also do not agree that charters “take resources from public schools”. If a public school loses a student to a charter school, sure, they lose funding for that student – but they do not have to educate that student so what do they still need those funds for?

I agree with some folks who believe that Wake County or even the school board might be a more appropriate government agency to bring this request to. TMSA tried that before coming to Cary for help. Neither board would place the item on their agenda for political reasons. That is sad. I will take practical solutions over ideology any day.

Which might be part of the reason I have a change of voter registration form on my desk filled out and ready to mail in. But I digress….

I want to thank all of you who keep asking me how my back is doing. I really appreciate it. The short answer is “ok”. Some days I feel really good – other days not so much. A few weeks ago it seemed like I was getting a little better each day, but that seems to have reached a plateau lately. I really can’t tell much of a difference over the last couple of weeks, but it doesn’t seem to be getting worse so that’s good I guess. As long as I’m good come April I’m happy – that’s when racing season starts back up! ;-)


That’s about all for now – as always, thanks for reading!

Monday, December 15, 2014

December 2014 Update - Transit and a Worksession

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!! Got your shopping done yet? Ya, me neither.

I had the privilege of attending the Heart of Cary Association’s Old Time Winter Festival and the Town of Cary’s Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony last week. Unfortunately Mother Nature was a Grinch as it was cold and rainy pretty much all day. This was the first year I can remember that we had to host the tree lighting festivities inside town hall. It was the most people we ever had inside council chambers that weren't angry. ;-)

The council also participated in the 35th annual Cary JayceesChristmas Parade in downtown Cary. We all rode together on a float (fancy term for my decorated car trailer) again like we did last year. Not only is it a lot more fun than riding separately in cars, we also believe it sends a positive message to the community that we all genuinely like each other and work well together. I can’t think of any other local governing boards that can really say that. Thanks to everyone with the Heart of Cary Association, the Cary Jaycees and Town Staff for all your efforts to make these wonderful events a success.

Please also don’t forget that the Jewish Cultural Festival will be held on December 22 at the Cary Arts Center from 4:30-9:00.

Wake County Transit Advisory Committee

Council member Lori Bush and I were selected to serve on the Wake County Transit Advisory Committee. It was the council’s feeling that if we were going to appoint two council members to serve, that it would be best to pick two with somewhat opposing views regarding public transportation. Lori is the ying to my yang….or am I ying and she’s yang? I don’t know. Maybe there’s an app for that? If so, Lori’s got it. ;-)

Now don’t get me wrong. I support bus service for public transportation. Rail not so much. Actually, rail not at all. Billion dollar boondoggle if you ask me. And quite frankly it really bothers me that the planners behind this are pushing communities to alter their land use plans and development standards to better accommodate rail. Are they trying to design a rail system to better serve our communities, or are they trying to redesign our communities to better serve rail? What is the focus here?

Improved bus service makes sense. It utilizes existing infrastructure. It is far more cost effective than rail service and unlike rail, routes can be adjusted or moved based on demand. Once the rail tracks are down that’s it – you aint moving them.

So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was that after a 3 ½ hour meeting on public transportation, rail was not mentioned once. Now maybe we just haven’t gotten to that part yet, I don’t know, but so far so good if you ask me!

A large portion of the meeting was spent designing our own bus transit system in a fictitious city. Each table was given a map of the city and different color wax sticks that represented bus routes. The different colors represented route frequency – red sticks were 15 minute routes, blues 30 minutes and green 1 hour. You were only given a certain number of wax sticks to represent a budget – once you ran out of sticks you ran out of money. The fictitious city had a high density downtown, a university, employment centers, suburbs, and a low income area.

Each table engaged in a priorities discussion about where their transit system should go and why, and then proceeded to place the wax sticks on the maps to represent bus routes. It was an interesting exercise as out of 16 tables with the exact same map and number of wax sticks, no two transit proposals were the same with some being worlds apart. We then had a group discussion about the reasoning behind each table’s transit system, and the pros and cons of each.

Consultants and planners will use the group’s input as they continue to work on Wake County’s transit plan. This was our first meeting – we have more to come. I’ll keep you posted.

Worksession

The council held a worksession this past week where we discussed a number of topics to include whether or not to appoint a replacement for the soon to be vacant District D seat, tree protection enforcement, land development topics, mass grading, lot sizes and density, townhome recreation standards, connectivity and a partridge in a pear tree.

District D Council Seat

The council decided not to fill the vacancy created by Gale Adcock’s election to the North Carolina House of Representatives. You, the voters will decide next fall. The majority thinking was that by the time we got through the holidays, took applications, conducted interviews and ultimately made a decision we would be into spring. Candidates would be gearing up for council campaigns in summer. This would not leave much time for a newby to come up to speed before they had to turn around and run for election…. Assuming they’d still want the job ;-) The council also expressed concerns about giving someone a leg up in next year’s elections.

Some council members also felt that with three at-large council members – one of which lives in District D – that district is still well represented on the council. And the reality is that all council members represent every district in town. Heck, 80% of the stuff I vote on isn’t in my district – same with everyone else. The concern about possible tie votes wasn’t really an issue either as we rarely ever have 4-3 votes now.

Tree Protection Enforcement

This discussion was to provide staff with better direction regarding the council’s expectations regarding the responsibility of land owners to replace damaged or removed vegetation and any associated fines. We have had a few instances where either a developer or land owner has removed vegetation or denuded a buffer either accidentally or intentionally. The general thinking among council members was to clarify the existing ordinance to remove any ambiguity, revisit the appeals process and better inform property owners of Cary’s tree protection requirements.

Connectivity

The council’s favorite topic! Staff was seeking further direction on potential changes to the town’s connectivity ordinance and presented a potential tiered approach to when the town would require road connections to adjacent properties or neighborhoods.

The town’s existing connectivity ordinance was created in 1999. Properties developed prior to that weren’t really designed with future connectivity in mind. This has caused problems when a new development is proposed next to an older development and the town is requiring street connections. Connecting a new road to an existing cul-de-sac tends to tick people off – and rightfully so. Newer developments after 1999 however have had to plan for future connectivity with many neighborhoods having street stubs where a future road would one day connect.

Council is looking for flexibility regarding connectivity to older developments while maintaining public safety and traffic flow. We are also looking for the connectivity issue to be addressed earlier in the development process to ease citizen concerns.

Land Use Densities, Lot Sizes and Mass Grading

This is a very complex topic given the number of local and state development rules and regulations that impact the amount of developable land of a site. Bottom line however is that the council and our citizens have concerns regarding lot sizes and mass grading in low density single family housing development.

Are 8000 square foot lots really what we are looking for in low density development? And how is it that we are still having problems with mass grading given our existing ordinances?

What the town has discovered is that smaller lots are more likely to get mass graded while larger lots are not. Makes sense really. With a tiny lot you almost need to clear the whole thing to have any room to work. Larger lots not so much. Existing rules allow a builder to grade after the building permit is pulled. Well, it turns out that builders are pulling permits for multiple lots at the same time and then grading them all at the same time. It saves them, and ultimately the end buyer money. It also totally changes the character and topography of the land and removes mature trees.

The council has directed staff to first investigate requiring minimum lot sizes of 12,000 sq. ft. in low density neighborhoods. The thought is we kill a few birds with one stone - preferably geese. ;-) It would hopefully eliminate mass grading of multiple lots, reduce densities and put lot sizes more in line with the intent of low density zoning.

Townhome Recreation Standards

Believe it or not we have discovered that the open space and recreation requirements we enacted in 2012 regarding townhome communities are actually working better than expected. I know right? We were shocked too. We looked at five townhome developments constructed after 2012. They were required to provide roughly 18,000 sq. ft. of open space/recreation facilities. What they actually provided was nearly 340,000 sq. ft. The council decided to do nothing further at this time and then went out to celebrate actually doing something that worked! Just kidding on that last part….maybe. ;-)

That’s it for now. As always, thanks for reading.


Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah!