Cary vetoes project planned for state land near soccer park

akenney@newsobserver.comMay 10, 2013 

Rendering by The John R. McAdams Co.

— The Boulevard, an ambitious project planned for Cary’s eastern edge, is dead in the water after a contentious 4-3 veto by the Cary Town Council on Thursday night.

At stake was a proposal to pack 400 homes, plus retail, office and hotel rooms, onto a vacant 92-acre site in a largely developed area of town. To some elected officials it offered a needed influx of new blood for an aging area, but other council members said it was a misuse of one of the town’s last prime spots for more-intensive development or a large institution.

Homebuilder Lennar was set to buy the property from the state for $15 million, but the deal was contingent on the successful rezoning of the land. With Lennar’s chance to develop the land ticking down, the developer says the state may now keep it.

To Lennar’s frustration, the council’s ultimate decision wasn’t spurred by neighborhood protest or infrastructure concerns. Instead, council members voted down The Boulevard in the belief that a larger, and more suitable, development will be proposed down the road. That criticism, according to Lennar, came after months of meetings and about $500,000 in preparation work.

“The overall message through all that was support from the community. ... Four days prior to the first council meeting (on March 28), and with half a million dollars spent, we received our first news of opposition,” said Trish Hanchette, Lennar division president for Raleigh/Durham.

Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson, one of the “no” voters, said she expressed concerns about Lennar’s commercial plans months earlier. And, she added, “the council doesn’t owe an applicant an early answer. It owes them a fair consideration.”

The Boulevard, planned for the land between E. Chatham St. and Cary Town Boulevard, would have mirrored Inside Wade, a Lennar project in western Raleigh near the PNC Arena. Plans included a maximum of 400 houses or townhomes; 200,000 square feet of retail; 35,000 square feet of restaurants; 300 hotel rooms; 125,000 square feet of office; and 100 residential units above the retail and office space.

Lennar rallied support from local developers and landowners, including Cary Towne Center’s ownership, which said more “rooftops” would help the mall as it sought traction in a changing retail market. The company won support from the town’s Planning & Zoning Board, while staff suggested that the project fell short of the ideal intensity and mix of development for such a “key infill site.”

Making ‘a statement’

Council members Jack Smith, Don Frantz and Ed Yerha supported Lennar’s request to rezone the land from office-institutional to mixed-use.

“I’ve heard no opposition from anyone in the neighborhood. The only opposition I’ve heard, really, has come from our deliberations,” Yerha said. “... I think it makes a statement to those who may be waiting to participate in the redevelopment of this area, that if we approve this, we really mean business.”

The votes against the project came from Mayor Harold Weinbrecht and council members Gale Adcock, Lori Bush and Robinson. Bush said that the lights, sound and traffic of the neighboring WakeMed Soccer Park would be a detriment to residents, while Adcock, Weinbrecht and Bush called for different uses of the land.

“More intensive development is really needed on this parcel,” Adcock said, questioning whether the project was too isolated to meet its walkable, urbanist pitch. In an interview, Robinson said she would like to see an office-anchored “vibrant center” heavy with restaurants and multi-family housing, while Weinbrecht asked Thursday if the project was the “best use” for the land.

With the setback for the Lennar project, talk of new developer interest in the land is spreading, and one Cary developer already has told the state of his interest in the land.

Is Lennar still invested?

Unclear still is whether Lennar will propose another project before its contract for the land expires this July. The company’s research didn’t turn up favorable forecasts for the more-intense development some council members want, Hanchette said. And while the homebuilder is expanding into multi-family and mixed use development, a high-intensity office park may be beyond its scope; however, the company has not decided its next move.

It’s possible now that the land won’t be developed by any private company. Lennar’s lawyers believe that state legislation requiring the sale of the land has expired, and the N.C. Department of Administration has indicated to Lennar that it doesn’t intend to market the land for development again, according to Hanchette.

State officials say they have made no decision about the property. The land was originally marketed in February 2012, with the state receiving four valid offers.

In a sign of just how attractive Cary has become to homebuilders and other developers, Lennar officials said the company’s experience trying to get The Boulevard approved won’t make it gun-shy about developing other projects there in the future.

“Cary is a highly desired area, and if the right community comes along, then we’re going to go for it,” Hanchette said.

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service