Identity crisis is born

Sprawl, annexing redefine suburbs

Staff WritersOctober 17, 2005 

Once upon a time, Apex, Cary and Morrisville were sleepy towns separated by miles of farmland.

But as the suburbs west of Raleigh have grown together into a seamless quilt of subdivisions, shopping centers and office parks, the borders between them have blurred.

Many don't seem to mind. Others can be pretty passionate about where they are. Some even consider the town borders cultural dividing lines.

The owners of promotional merchandise designer Brand Fuel, for instance, insist that they are a Morrisville company even though they are actually in Cary. Partner Danny Rosin said the company wants customers to associate them with Research Triangle Park and the airport, not suburbia.

"I see Morrisville as an adjunct to RTP," he said. "People in Chapel Hill, they'll go to the airport, but they don't want to go to Cary."

As the biggest town in the area, Cary is the face of the suburbs west of Raleigh.

Between 1980 and today, the town has gone from 10 square miles and 22,000 residents to 50 square miles and a population of more than 111,000. Money magazine has named it one of America's best places to live, and it consistently ranks as one of the safest places in the country.

It's just not one of the easiest places to define.

The line separating Cary and Morrisville, for example, zigs and zags so much that executives at leaf tobacco dealer Alliance One International had a hard time figuring out which town their company's new headquarters would be in when they announced their move to the Triangle last month.

The company's office space, 8001 Aerial Center Parkway, has a Morrisville address in Wake County tax records. Alliance vice president Henry Babb had to consult company lawyers before he could unequivocally say his business was actually moving to Cary.

And then there's the Windermere subdivision, at the southern edge of Cary.

When residents sign up their kids for programs run by the town parks and recreation department, they occasionally have to reassure doubting parks employees that they are, in fact, taxpayers. They pay their taxes in Cary but get their mail from the Apex post office.

Recently, some in the neighborhood started lobbying their post office for a Cary address.

"We pay everything in Cary," Paul Travaillot said. "It doesn't make any sense to have an address in Apex."

Border politics

In unincorporated areas of western Wake County, some people have made town lines a political issue. They have even set up a Web site, StopCary.com, that calls for an end to annexation.

Vernon Yates has watched the changes from his store, Yates Grocery and Farm Supply, just west of the Cary town limits.

"It's not Cary anymore, it's CAH-ry," he said, affecting an almost patrician accent. "The people that move in are rude. They don't have any respect for the road."

But real estate brokers and appraisers say many people don't see differences, now viewing Apex, Cary and Morrisville as one continuous suburb.

"Town borders aren't really an issue," said Stacey Anfindsen, an appraiser for the Birch Appraisal Group in Cary who analyzes the home market in his Triangle Area Residential Realty Report. "The school system overlaps, the mailing addresses overlap, the ZIP codes overlap and, really, there's no hard border."

Even in Windermere, not everyone is convinced a Cary address is worth the hassle of changing their licenses and updating their mailing addresses.

After all, a Cary address will not alter life much. The people in Windermere already can call the Cary police and put their trash out for the Cary trash collectors.

"Honestly, it probably doesn't matter," said Audrey Amsden, a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom.

In her house, she keeps a reminder of how the lines have blurred. It is a framed picture of the stars over Apex on the night of her daughter's birth. A relative gave it to her family last year after Amsden sent out birth announcements with their Apex mailing address.

"We do live in Cary," Amsden said. "But the sky is not that much different."

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

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