Expansion, urbanization topics of Cary Town Council races

aspecht@newsobserver.comSeptember 22, 2013 

  • District A Jennifer Robinson

    Age: 43.

    Occupation: Residential real-estate broker.

    Education: Bachelor’s degree in English and studio arts from the University of Virginia.

    Family: Husband, Paul, and four children.

    Website: www.RobinsonforCouncil.org.

    Karl Thor

    Age: 59.

    Occupation: Scientist, musician, entrepreneur.

    Education: Doctoral degree in pharmacology from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

    Family: Wife, Karen, and two children.

    Website: www.KarlforCary.com.

    District C Deborah Pugh

    Age: 78.

    Occupation: Retired education administrator.

    Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wayne State University in Detroit.

    Family: Widow, has three children.

    Website: www.deborah2013.com.

    Jack Smith

    Age: 66.

    Occupation: Owner of Organizational Capability Services.

    Education: Degrees in psychology and sociology from the University of Oklahoma.

    Family: Wife, Bridget, and two children.

    Website: www.jacksmith.org.

— Two incumbent candidates for Cary Town Council face challengers who are running on familiar platforms: That the town is expanding too far, too fast and that the town’s character and fiscal health are at risk.

In District A, which lies along the town’s northwest border and is Cary’s largest district, businessman Karl Thor hopes to unseat Jennifer Robinson, who has held the seat since 1999.

In District C, which covers southeast Cary, incumbent Jack Smith hopes to stave off a challenge from political newcomer Deborah Pugh.

Ed Yerha, meanwhile, is running unopposed for an at-large seat on the council, to which he was appointed in 2012.

Speaking publicly last week, Thor used the Town Council’s recent decision to expand Cary’s western border into Chatham County as an example of how Robinson hasn’t lived up to her promise to promote smart growth, fiscal conservancy and environmental protection.

Thor says he doubts Cary will benefit financially from extending a half-mile into Chatham County. He also accused Robinson of promoting growth near Jordan Lake and cast her as part of a Town Council that’s creating “the classic urban sprawl: where you grow so far out you don’t have a community anymore.”

If voters want “more destruction of rural and natural habitats, more pollution of lake Jordan, and higher taxes, my opponent has a strong record,” he said, referring to a voter-approved $80 million bonds package that includes a 12 percent increase on the property tax rate to pay for roads and parks projects.

Robinson refutes Thor’s claims. She says the town’s development plan doesn’t come any closer than one mile to Jordan Lake, and points out that she’s gone to Jones Street to lobby state legislators for strict water quality standards. Responding to Thor’s accusations of excess growth, Robinson notes that Cary’s westward growth plan has come after years of planning and collaboration with landowners.

“If Mr. Thor doesn’t want development in western Cary and he doesn’t want development in Chatham County, he’d better pull out his pocketbook and buy the land from everybody and preserve it himself, because that’s the only way he can legally preserve that land.”

The race between Pugh and Smith has been less rancorous.

Instead of targeting Smith directly, Pugh has cast the 24-year councilman as part of a council that’s influenced by developers and is endangering Cary’s quality of life through urbanization. She also disagrees with the council’s recent decision to apply for a $1.4 million federal loan on behalf of developers who hope to build a hotel in downtown Cary. The town also waived road-widening improvements required as part of the hotel’s construction.

“I am concerned that there is a perception that developers have influence over the council,” Pugh said. “I think we can enhance the quality of life without replacing the tranquil neighborhoods (and) without urbanization.”

Smith, who has served 24 years on the council, has defended the town’s efforts to revitalize downtown and says he doesn’t know where some of Pugh’s concerns are coming from.

“There aren’t plans for neo-urbanism,” Smith said.

In general, he said, allowing high-rise buildings near residential neighborhoods is an “abomination.”

Pugh, like Smith, describes herself as a fiscal conservative. But Smith pointed to his approach of championing fiscal discipline, smart growth, commitment to environmental protection, and innovative public-private partnerships as “time-tested and proven.”

Specht: 919-460-2608

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