Cary could welcome more apartments, townhomes and affordable housing if town leaders approve a set of growth polices recently crafted by residents and planning experts.
This month, the Cary Town Council is reviewing a set of planning goals drafted by Imagine Cary, a group of residents and planners that the council formed in 2012 and tasked with producing a plan to govern development through 2040.
Imagine Cary presented about 30 growth recommendations, known as the Community Directions Report, to the council in a special meeting on Tuesday. The report is Imagine Cary’s first draft of what’s expected to become town policy later this year.
The council reviewed half of the recommendations and expects to provide feedback on others related to transit, southwestern Cary and downtown Cary at a meeting March 24.
Imagine Cary members asked residents to help them answer six key planning questions: Where will we live? Where will we work? Where will we shop and dine? How will we get around? How will southwestern Cary grow? How will downtown thrive?
More than 600 people attended Imagine Cary events and submitted more than 4,000 responses, Cary planning director Jeff Ulma said.
Tuesday, the board spent much of its time discussing proposed housing policies, shopping centers and mixed-use development.
The report largely reinforces Cary’s current land use policies, Ulma said. For example, the top housing policy recommendation calls for preserving the character of existing residential neighborhoods.
But the second housing policy calls for more housing options in new neighborhoods to address changing trends in housing preferences.
The third housing policy recommends the most diverse housing to be near mixed-use employment centers.
The fourth policy recommends that attempts at infill development improve the overall mix of housing types in the general area,” while retaining the style of surrounding buildings. And the fifth policy calls for the town to “recognize the need for more affordable housing for service workers, retirees on fixed incomes, young professionals and others” in areas that are close to grocers, transit and employment centers.
The fifth policy defines affordable housing as housing “priced for individuals and families earning between 60 percent and 80 percent of the area’s median income,” which in Cary comes out to between $50,000 and $70,000 per year.
“We’re losing the 20s and 30s, and we’re losing the retirees that have to move away,” said Ronald Runyan, co-chairman of Committee for the Future, a citizen group leading Imagine Cary.
Cary council members, who in recent months have opposed proposed residential developments that would bring three or more units per acre, offered few critiques of the policy recommendations.
Councilman Don Frantz said the policies should clarify that Cary doesn’t intend to allow for affordable or subsidized housing in traditional, single-family home neighborhoods.
“If we’re gonna have workforce housing, it should be near services,” he said. “To plop them out in a subdivision doesn’t make sense to me.”
Frantz and Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson agreed that the policy could go further in emphasizing their desire to keep Cary a town that’s known for high-quality single family housing.
Robinson said she doubted that Cary residents prefer dense residential housing such as townhomes and apartments, as the second policy asserts, and suggested people who want those types of housing could look to other communities.
She added that she doesn’t think the policy encouraging the development of affordable housing, known as Policy 5, is a “high priority for the majority of residents.”
“We’re not an island,” she said. “I don’t know why we would need to take on that endeavor as one of our highest priorities.
“Just because people buy certain houses doesn’t mean it’s what they’d prefer,” she said.
Work, shop and dine
Overall, the report encourages more efficient land use by recommending more mixed-use centers.
Although the report calls on Cary to uphold its adopted policies that direct employers to traditional suburban office and industrial parks, it recommends incorporating housing and retail in some of those parks. It identifies Weston, MacGregor and Regency Park as potential targets.
Meanwhile, a drafted “shop and dine” policy suggests Cary focus on creating a limited number of “premier” mixed-use centers. It identifies downtown Cary, Alston Town Center, Crossroads Plaza, Cary Towne Center, MacGregor Village, North Harrison Avenue and Waverly Place as potential candidates.
The top shop-and-dine policy, though, encourages Cary leaders to facilitate the redevelopment of aging and poorly performing shopping centers rather than permitting new ones.
Council members were enthusiastic about the recommendation.
Frantz said the town should consider creating incentives for developers to boost underperforming shopping centers.
“You’ve got to put some meat on the bone to make it happen,” he said.
Developers would need to present a plan worthwhile of incentives, Councilman Jack Smith said.
“Give us something to get excited about,” he said.
And town planners would need to consult with developers and consider new ideas, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said.
“Flexibility was a key word. We’ve got to be flexible,” he said.