Saturday, April 19, 2014

We're Sued...

If you haven’t heard the sad news, Cary Town Clerk Sue Rowland is retiring. I know, how dare she right?

Council members Gale Adcock, Jack Smith and I are on the town clerk selection committee and have been working with HR (Thanks so much Renee!) to whittle a list of 159 applicants down to four who we will conduct face to face interviews with. After interviews it is our expectation to get down to two finalists for the entire council to interview, and ultimately select Cary’s next Town Clerk.

This is no easy task let me tell you! I mean, how on earth do you replace mom? That is what I think of Sue. She is Cary’s – and especially the council’s - mom.

Sue’s “official duties” include giving notice of Town Council meetings, preparing the Council meeting agenda, recording all council meetings, worksessions and committee meetings and creation of associated minutes, serving as custodian of all permanent town records, keeping the Town Seal, attesting all Town documents, maintaining the Town Code, managing the various Boards and Commissions, management of clerk’s office staff, notary services and the administration of Hillcrest Cemetery. She is responsible for all public records requests and manages Sunshine Week activities. Sue prepares proclamations and resolutions for community events and my personal favorite - provides support services to the Town Council and town staff.

And does she ever. Sue coordinates – and often attends - individual or group council member and staff meetings. She makes sure we are where we are supposed to be, when we are supposed to be there and that we have everything we need when we get there. She even makes sure we are dressed appropriately for special events! (some of us need more help than others). She makes pimento cheese and chili for staff and council members for those really long meetings and she makes sure I always have at least one cold Monster in the fridge. She swears at…oops, swears IN newly elected council members ;-) and she never misses celebrating a council member’s birthday.

Sue also serves as the unofficial council psychologist. I have gone to her office on many occasions to discuss something that was troubling me. Her door is always open (I know because I disabled the lock ;-) and she always listens and does her very best to try and help. I ALWAYS leave her office feeling better than I did when I got there…even if it was me who is in the wrong….which never happens ;-)

Sue is oftentimes a citizen’s first contact with the town – whether they need to schedule a meeting with staff and/or council, have a general question about a town program or service or they need help with an issue they are experiencing, Sue does her very best to get them what they need. Sue puts everyone else first and never seeks the spotlight or asks for credit for a job well done. Cary’s success is what is important to Sue.

Sue manages all of council’s emails, snail mail and phone messages which is pretty dang impressive in itself as I have a hard time managing all that. I can’t imagine that times seven. Sue also has this amazing gift of getting folks with strong differences of opinion to come together and work towards something we all can be satisfied with, and she’ll even make you smile doing it! Sue eats drama for lunch.

Sue gets more done by 10:00 am than most of us probably get done all day! Just like mom.

The only thing I can think of that Sue has ever done wrong is retire…and dang it, she even makes you feel good about that…sort-of…not really….well maybe….good for her! See? Her last day is August 1st I think….I don’t know, my calendar doesn't have an August.

Given the caliber of applicants I am certain we will find another highly qualified and talented town clerk. I remain optimistic we will find a new mom. I can't help but feel that Cary’s success depends on it.

I had the pleasure of attending a couple of ribbon-cuttings this week for two new area businesses (kind of) – Carolina Pottery and City Barbeque. Carolina Pottery has relocated from their Harrison Avenue location to the old Kmart building on Kildaire Farm Road. City Barbeque is a new business to Cary and the first to open in North Carolina. They are also located on Kildaire Farm Road next to IHOP. If you’re in the area please check them both out!

The council held another – although brief – worksession to discuss, you guessed it – a fountain. Yes, we are meeting a lot on this one. Staff is proceeding very cautiously and checking in with council often to make sure they are on the right path. I have no idea why all the concern….ok, yes I do ;-) It’s all my fault and, well, I can’t say I feel that guilty about it. If we are going to do this – which we are – then we are going to get it right!

I, along with the rest of council, was very pleased with the latest designs. While each of the three concepts had elements that the council liked, it was also clear that we preferred one design over the other two. Staff will now work towards a final design based on our feedback. And while it all hasn’t been sunshine, puppies and rainbows, I do want to express my thanks to staff for all their hard work so far – I really do appreciate it guys.

Our last council meeting was a quasi-judicial meeting which basically means we act as judge and jury and can only consider factual testimony in our decision making process. It is very similar to that of a court of law. The most difficult case was a home day-care behind Cary Town Center Mall. I hate daycare cases as they often pit neighbor against neighbor and create a lot of animosity in the neighborhood.

Both sides presented valid arguments for why the case should be approved or denied. But in the end the facts were on the side of the applicant. State and municipal law allow the use as long as certain criteria are met, and it was my belief, and that of the majority of council, that was the case.

I am however hopeful that the applicant not only heard the concerns of her neighbors, but works to address them as best she can. While not a legal requirement, it sure would go a long way towards mending fences in their community.

I want to remind everyone about one of my favorite Town of Cary events coming up – the 3rd annual Wheels on Academy Car Show in downtown Cary. This year’s show will take place on May 17th from 9:00 am to 2:00. Participants should arrive between 7:00 and 9:00. There will be close to 200 classic and custom cars on display, live music, an art car project, a Model T take apart demonstration, fire trucks and arts and crafts for the kids, a detail clinic and lots of food and vendors! The Mayor will even be on hand to choose the Mayor’s Award this year – no pressure, Harold!

I’m thinking this year I might take the race car so the kids can sit in it and take photos if they want. They always seem to have a blast with that.
That’s about it for now. As always, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

2014 Stuff

Long time no hear from eh? C’mon….admit it. You know you missed my blog posts ;-)

Well life has been a little hectic these days to say the least. Mostly good stuff though. We have two sons getting married soon, some long overdue remodel projects are underway (we’re finally getting a new bathroom!!!), work (the one that pays the bills) is busy and I’m restoring a 1948 Chevy Pickup.

See Ed, who says I don’t care about Historic Preservation ;-)

And I have to admit, when I have to decide whether to spend time with the family or write a blog post…well…it’s a pretty easy choice. Family. Unlike, Lori, I can't bang these things out in 15 minutes. Hi Lori! ;-)

All that said, we have some catching up to do!

Walnut Street Repaving

I’m sure you all heard a lot about this one. Repave Walnut Street (from Kildaire Farm Rd. to Cary Town Blvd.) as-is or eliminate two travel lanes and construct a landscaped median and bike lanes.

I first want to commend our town staff – especially Lori Cove and Kyle Hubert – for all their efforts and outside the box thinking on this project. When planning the Walnut Street repave, they decided to take a second look and see if maybe there was a better way to move cars and people while also improving aesthetics. Believe it or not, both options presented would be about the same cost.

Staff spent a great deal of time presenting both alternatives to the public and gathering feedback. Given the number of emails the council received from citizens this was no easy task.

And to make matters even more complicated, a few bright citizens suggested a possible hybrid of the two options – an option C if you will. This option would still allow for one travel lane in each direction and bike lanes but would not construct the median. Town engineers however were not supportive of this option.

The council ultimately decided to go with repaving Walnut Street as-is. This was no easy decision as there were a number of pros and cons to both options. For me however, the kicker was that if we constructed the median, while it would surely improve aesthetics, many folks who live along Walnut would have to drive past their home and make a U-Turn to get to their driveway. When leaving home, depending on their destination, they might have to make another U-Turn to get to where they are going. I know that if I lived along Walnut Street (I live just behind it) this would drive me insane. I couldn't vote to drive folks insane ;-)

Repaving is scheduled to begin sometime the end of June first of July.

Academy Street, Downtown Park and Fountain

Ya know, I guess we are pretty blessed when our biggest issue lately seems to be a fountain ;-)

The council has held a number of meetings over the last few months to discuss both the Academy Street Improvement Project and the Downtown Park/Town Square/Fountain.

The Academy Street project is moving through the engineering phase just fine. About the only changes made have been to eliminate the proposed arch(s) and reduce the number of artistic elements. The feeling was that a little art goes a long way and we could way over do it if we weren't careful. Plus we are going to have a lot of art in the park already. The council also decided to align the vehicle travel lanes at the intersection of Dry and Academy (if you've been through there you know what I’m talking about).

Engineering of the town square component of the downtown park has also been moving along just fine, well, almost – except for that pesky fountain.

I know it sounds trivial as you wouldn't expect a friggin fountain to cause so much controversy. And honestly it probably wouldn't have had the consulting/design team listened to council direction on the front end. They didn't.

The council was clear – crystal clear – that we wanted a fountain that was classical and traditional in nature – one that respected its historic surroundings while at the same time having that “wow factor” that would make folks want to come see it. Art could be incorporated to the design, but the fountain’s primary purpose would be a fountain – not the other way around.

They came back with this.

Needless to say I was not pleased. Neither was council. In no way is the above image remotely close to what we were looking for. While this might work on SAS campus, Disneyland or Sea World, it sure as heck doesn't work in Cary’s historic district.

Somewhere along the way, the artist the town hired to work with the design team on the park morphed into a fountain artist.
I was angry and disappointed and I let everyone know it. But to be fair I also apologized to the artist who was in attendance for being misled – by whom I don’t exactly know - because he was never hired to design the fountain. We made that clear. He was hired to help us incorporate artistic elements into the park.
So, where are we now? Where we should have been at the first meeting – reviewing images and elements of fountains and deciding which ones we would like to incorporate into Cary’s fountain. Staff and the design team will now take that input and bring back to council a few concepts to review that are in line with our expectations.
It has been a long and painful process, but things do seem much more positive now. In the end I am sure it will be worth it.
At our last council meeting we received some very good news. Revenues are beating budget by over $5 Million! Many thanks to everyone in the Town Manager’s office, the Budget and Finance Department and Department Directors for a job well done!
Bass Pro Shops
Do I really need to say anything about this? I mean, its Bass Pro Shops! In Cary! How awesome is that!
Dumb Median
Council member Jennifer Robinson and I recently met with NCDOT and Secretary Tony Tata to discuss removing the median at Morrisville Parkway and Carpenter Upchurch Road. This median was a NCDOT and CSX requirement. It was not the Town of Cary’s idea. NCDOT and the railroad required this median when Morrisville Parkway was extended to Highway 55. They believed it would increase public safety. They were wrong ;-) What we have discovered is that not only does it impede traffic flow, but folks are actually driving over and around the median further putting their lives and those of others at risk. It was a very positive meeting and we are optimistic that NCDOT will allow the removal of this median. You can see Mrs. Robinson and I discuss this issue in more detail on Cary Matters here.
NC House 41
I can’t tell you how many people have asked me about the NC House District 41 race so far. I guess it is because I know both Tom Murry and Gale Adcock pretty well? Anyways, I do have the utmost respect for both of them. I admire and look up to one of them. They both possess impressive resumes and records. Given the makeup of the district and previous election results, the key to winning this district will be turnout. Whichever candidate gets their voters to the polls will win period. I expect both sides and especially outside special interest groups will spend well over $500,000 on this one race to sway less than 2% of unaffiliated voters. I wish them both the best of luck.
What? You thought I was going to pick a favorite? Silly reader…… ;-) Not yet anyways.
But it will be interesting to see if the same folks who were critical of me running for the state house and “using my council seat as a springboard” will treat Mrs. Adcock in the same manner. Ya, I know….silly Don ;-)
Downtown Cary Farmer’s Market
Just a heads up that the Downtown Cary Farmer’s Market will be open this Saturday from 8:00 – 12:30. Their new location is on Chatham Street in between Ashworth Drugs and the Adcock Building on the lawn of the historic Ivey Ellington-Waddell House (the old house with the green roof – you can’t miss it). I would love to say “see you there!”, but we gots a young’n getting hitched this weekend! ;-) Which reminds me, I need to go pick up my suit from the tailor.
Well, that’s what I have for now – as always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Imagine Cary Update

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

·         Regional Context

·         Land Use

·         Redevelopment and Infill

·         Arts and Culture

·         Economics and Fiscal Health

·         Environment

·         Facilities and Infrastructure

·         Historic Resources

·         Housing and Neighborhoods

·         Parks and Recreation

·         Services and Safety

·         Transportation

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

With some, yes – others not so much.

One of concern was the Transportation Value Statement:

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


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

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

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

·         Need for more bike facilities and culture

·         Provide more walkability (safety/facilities)

·         More regional connectivity (multi-modal)

·         DECREASE reliance of cars

·         Need for transit convenience

·         Better localized transit

·         Need for rail transit

·         Need for bus transit

·         Design for people, not cars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Downtown updates Aug 2013

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

The Fire Sculpture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And speaking of the downtown park,

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

Approved Downtown Park Concept
The Jones House

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Downtown Park and Imagine Cary Update

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

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

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

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Imagine Cary, Art and the Downtown Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Park It

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

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

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

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

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

Please let the council know your thoughts by contacting us at

Monday, January 21, 2013

Our Water Tower Town

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

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

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

And then town staff explained why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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