Sheehan

Zoning puts Cary to the test

Staff WriterMay 21, 2007 

Richard Byrne knows what it's like to be the bad guy in zoning disputes.

His company, TowerCo, sites and leases cell phone towers.

So for him it's a bit strange to be on the other side of a zoning fight -- rounding up petitions, rallying homeowners for public meetings and distributing information about massive development at the corner of Cary's High House Road and Davis Drive.

What's really strange is that Byrne has learned he isn't fighting against the developers so much as the town of Cary itself.

Let me back up.

Several years ago, Byrne and his wife moved to a neighborhood abutting the proposed High House-Davis Development, otherwise known as Cornerstone.

Their house actually backs up to the corner that was supposed to be home to a retirement community and retail shops.

Byrne and his wife, who works for a developer in Raleigh, knew about the originally proposed project; they even went down to Cary's Town Hall to take a look at it before buying their home.

They were OK with the plan. They didn't expect a park on one of the hottest intersections in town.

"This is going to be Cary's new downtown," Byrne said.

But then Byrne and other neighbors got notice of changes to the original plan. Hundreds more apartments (not just for seniors); retail space five times as big as originally described (and more than one floor).

Byrne and his neighbors had concerns about everything from the density of the revised plans (far more dense than Crossroads Plaza or Cary Towne Center) to the lack of a pedestrian crossing.

The project is also the latest in a seemingly endless string of developments that will add children to our overloaded schools and cars to our crowded roads.

With the assistance of some highly motivated homeowners associations, two dozen neighbors put together a Web page and a flier that can be found at www.davisandhighhouse.org.

The flier is two pages long. It is detailed. And it states clearly that the neighbors welcome development -- they just want it kept within bounds.

Last Tuesday, at a town council member's request, the planning department issued a seven-page memo refuting, er, clarifying the flier, point by point.

Ricky Barker, associate planning director for the town, said the department decided to respond in such detail because it has been rare to have such intense, organized opposition to a project.

"We were also getting a lot of questions about the project, and there seemed to be a lot of confusion," he said.

The town's response gives the impression that the town's staff is defending a project that has not yet been approved by the council. Consider the memo's first line: "We doubt that the 'face of Cary' will be dramatically changed by development on 123 acres."

Barker said the town staff is trying to provide the facts and let the people, and the politicians, decide.

Well, the people like Richard Byrne have decided.

Developers hold a lot of sway in Cary and across the Triangle. Maybe, just maybe, the residents do, too.

Ruth Sheehan can be reached at 829-4828 or ruth.sheehan@newsobserver.com.

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