Land's fate debated

Land's fate debated

Staff WriterJuly 27, 2005 

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CORRECTION

A report in the City & State section Wednesday incorrectly located the community of Carpenter. It is in western Wake County.

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CARPENTER -- Someday, Lee Phillips' strawberry fields may be a Cary subdivision.

That does not bother Phillips, a former tobacco farmer who runs a pick-your-own-strawberries outfit on his farm each May. "I'm going to keep it a farm," said Phillips, who is 50. "But when I die, my children may want to sell it and develop it."

However, it does not sound good to his neighbors in the subdivisions that have sprouted from the farmland around him.

So, on Thursday night, the Cary Town Council will hold a public hearing on a plan to preserve Phillips' 2.5 acres of strawberries from the bulldozers of development. Under the proposal, the town would require builders to buffer new development with fields of wildflowers and build commercial buildings that look like they belong near the community's old farmers' union and 110-year-old farm supply store.

"Some of the guys around Cary have realized they have literally bulldozed and burned up a lot of the heritage around Cary, and they want to save some," said Dale Carpenter, owner of Carpenter Farm Supply.

Last year Cary began planning for development in the community of Carpenter, part of which already lies in the town limits, after it became clear that the community is in the path of the town's next population boom. Eventually, there could be more than 3,700 people living in this sparsely-populated community in northwestern Wake County.

Not everyone here welcomed Cary's interest.

This year, a group of 19 Carpenter landowners asked the town to leave their property out of the town's development plan. These people decided how to use their land "based on their love of the land and the area and what they thought best for their family and friends," the petition said; they did not want the town government to take away the ability of their children and grandchildren to do the same.

That response forced the town and its $42,000 consultants to change the way they presented the plan, said Cary planner Don Belk. Planners even dropped the "Carpenter Historic District plan" and renamed it "Carpenter Community plan" because they wanted to reassure residents that the plan would not seriously limit how they could develop their land.

The proposed development plan envisions a Carpenter filled with subdivisions, meadows and recreation trails. There would be two new parks near the junction of Morrisville-Carpenter Road and Carpenter-Upchurch Road, realigned roads and a densely packed commercial center.

If the town council adopts the plan, it could lead the town to consider a variety of changes to Carpenter. Among them:

* Architectural restrictions for the community's commercial hub. The town's planners say the rules should require new buildings to look like existing historic structures.

* Developments surrounded by meadows. Planners say the town council should reward developers who surround subdivisions with open fields by letting them pack more houses into them.

Planners also say the town should look for a way to keep some parts of Carpenter from changing. They suggest, for instance, that the town consider buying the development rights to Phillips' strawberry fields to ensure that Cary's kids and families can keep on picking berries there each summer.

Ginny DeCellis, 63, of Cary loves the idea. "Saving that little corner is like one little piece of grace in the whole thing," said DeCellis, who came to the Triangle from New York six years ago to live in Heritage Pines, a Carpenter-area subdivision for people older than 55. "It's the flavor of what was here."

But preservation, like growth, can come at a cost. Phillips worries Cary will make his children pick up the tab to preserve a slice of his farmland. Even if Cary buys his development rights, he said, the town will never be able to match the prices developers will pay.

"People keep hollering that they want open space, this and that, but who's going to pay for it?" he asked. "If you say this is off-limits, you just cost my children hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars."

Staff writer Toby Coleman can be reached at 829-8937 or tcoleman@newsobserver.com.

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