Town leaders want Cary’s building design standards to be a textbook of rules that create a certain look while allowing enough flexibility to encourage creative architecture.
But some think Cary’s rules have created a town that’s homogeneous in its look.
“There are only so many different colors of brick and stone,” said Cristina Hobbs, director of forward planning for Lennar, a national home builder. “(The rules) can end up restricting the colors you can use.”
About 20 people attended meetings in Cary on Monday to offer feedback on the town’s aesthetic standards for commercial and multi-family residential buildings.
Never miss a local story.
The standards, which govern everything from building materials to a structure’s architectural “rhythm,” received national attention after being developed in 2005 with the help of renowned architectural consultants.
Cary council members asked the town staff to review the standards after a few projects didn’t turn out how they expected. The CVS pharmacy at the intersection of Davis Drive and High House, for example, was built to town standards, but some didn’t like that the back of the building faces the intersection.
Monday afternoon, architects, builders and interested residents gathered around tables in the Page-Walker Arts and History Center in downtown Cary to share their ideas and thoughts on the standards.
Following a presentation by Christian Sottile, a town consultant and dean of the School of Building Arts at Savannah College of Art and Design, attendees divided into groups to offer tips on how the rules could be improved.
Most praised Cary for creating an aesthetically pleasing community. But some said the rules have led to buildings that look too similar.
Apart from requiring commercial buildings to have a detail that’s repeated in the architecture at least three times, the rules also require masonry materials to make up 75 percent of all commercial building facades.
Chuck Smith, a landscape architect for Withers and Ravenel, said the town should allow for more materials to be used in the design, such as stucco and wood. Some developers use cheap materials to create the appearance of brick, he said.
“I’d rather have a good piece of wood than a bad piece of brick,” Smith said.
Buildings also look similar because Cary requires developers to incorporate two architectural elements that are 12 inches or smaller within the first 10 feet of a facade wall. Many developers design buildings with a base trim to meet this requirement.
“So you end up with a lot of banding that seems dictated,” said Elinor Angel, an architect with the Apogee Consulting Group.
Predictability is the last thing planners wanted, Sottile said.
“We never wanted these standards to be a template,” he said.
Cary planners say the rules aim to address nine architectural design principles: materials, composition, proportion, scale, rhythm, transparency, articulation, expression and color.
On Monday, town planners took notes on giant notepads as the groups discussed possible improvements to each of the principles.
Cary leaders plan to review the public’s feedback over the coming months as they consider changes to the rules.
Any changes are likely to be minor, said Ricky Barker, an associate planning director. Council members are mostly pleased with the standards, but wanted to hear from the public before putting pen to paper.
“Based upon the feedback session, staff did not receive feedback that suggested major changes to the standards so I don’t anticipate an overhaul of the standards with the update,” Barker said in an email after the meetings.
Town council members have mentioned tightening up the town’s transparency requirements, which allow for buildings that have reflective panes on their facades rather than two-way windows.
People who attended Monday’s meetings were generally supportive of a stricter rule, if not one that simply clarifies council members’ intentions.
“Is (a facade) really transparent if it’s covered up?” Angel asked.
The town plans to hold more public meetings on its design standards next spring, and the Town Council may consider adopting a new version of the rules next summer.