CARY — Town officials and residents, citing concerns about neighborhood safety and property values, are protesting a federal facility that could land in a Cary shopping center.
More than 100 western Cary residents met Town Council members Tuesday to discuss the possibility of a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office filling an empty grocery at N.C. 55 and High House Road.
ICE already operates a 8,000-square-foot Cary office in a business complex off Evans Road.
The government is considering the 55,000-square-foot supermarket because it wants to consolidate two Raleigh ICE offices and the Cary office.
The store could serve a similar purpose as a police substation, said Temple Black, an ICE spokesman. Immigration-enforcement officers would bring suspected illegal immigrants through the facility en route to possible deportation, but they would not detain people overnight at the site.
The agency told the town that the facility would operate only during typical business hours, without barred windows, sirens or spotlights.
The government says it is considering other sites in the area, but did not provide details of the other options. A spokeswoman for Kroger, which owns the empty store, confirmed that there is a contract to buy the property. But she did not identify the potential buyer.
Rumors of the federal government's plans spread last week with an anonymous flier that claimed ICE planned to build a "detention center" in the building.
The General Services Administration, which handles property deals for the federal government, has been searching for a site for the ICE office since 2009.
Cary resident Renee Sekel said she wants the Kroger site off the government's list. "Once they own the building, we're out of luck," she said at the community meeting Tuesday. "We can write all the sternly worded letters we want. As far as I'm concerned, this needs to stop now."
Residents who oppose the office worry that detainees would pose a danger to their neighborhoods. And they think that a large federal office would drive business from the shopping center.
Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said the town might not have the legal authority to reject the federal government's plan for the sites. But the Town Council might take a formal vote today to express disapproval, he said. "We're on your side," he told neighbors last night. Public opinion could sway the federal plan, he said.
Weinbrecht - who was joined by Councilwomen Gale Adcock and Julie Robison, mayoral candidate Michelle Muir and Town Manager Ben Shivar - encouraged neighbors to contact U.S. Rep. David Price, the General Services Administration and ICE.
Cecilia Gabriel, a resident of a nearby neighborhood, said a dearth of information has put residents in a precarious position. The plans could "disrupt commerce and disrupt residential property values," she said.
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