The Cary Town Council said it wants to loosen rules for developers who want to build commercial and attached residential buildings in its historic districts and in downtown Cary.
Town rules currently require masonry materials to account for 75 percent of such buildings in those areas.
Council members said Tuesday at a work session that they want to reduce the percentage of required masonry materials – possibly requiring as little as 35 percent in some cases – so long as the appearance of a developer’s project still jibes with the surrounding area.
Council members discussed the potential change during a meeting about a broader town effort to update Cary’s aesthetics policies by spring of next year. Council members have been meeting with staff about once a month to guide the process.
To spur more economic development before then, council members said they want to fast-track the rule concerning commercial and attached residential buildings in downtown Cary and other historic districts.
“Since we’ve increased the requirement to 75 (percent), we’ve gotten nothing,” Councilman Don Frantz said, referring to when Cary strengthened masonry requirements for certain districts in 2012.
Cary staff could draft specific changes to those masonry rules for the Town Council to consider as early as June, said Ricky Barker, associate planning director for Cary.
Town leaders in recent years have made renovating downtown a top priority. While the area has indeed transformed, most of the development has been initiated by the town – not the private sector.
Downtown’s most robust addition in recent years, The Cary theater, which includes office space for private renters, was a $6 million town project. And some of the area’s most popular new attractions – Belle, a farm-to-table restaurant in the historic Jones House on Academy Street, and Pharmacy Bottle and Beverage on Chatham Street – opened in established, town-owned venues that were renovated with tax dollars.
Elsewhere in Cary, town rules require masonry materials to account for only 35 percent of new commercial and attached residential buildings.
“Why should we put all the burden on people who want to come downtown?” said Councilwoman Lori Bush. “I would support something less.”
It doesn’t make sense that town requirements for its historic districts and downtown are higher, Councilman Ed Yerha said, because many buildings in those areas are made mostly of wood.
“Historic areas are mostly brick,” Yerha said. “But ours isn’t.”
Council members, as part of the overall conversation about townwide appearance rules, also said they are leaning toward relaxing restrictions on painting brick buildings.
Cary rules currently discourage property owners from painting brick buildings that were erected after 1970. Council members said they may remove the date restriction from the policy.
“I can’t think of any (building) that’s been painted and hasn’t looked better,” Bush said.
Without a consensus, no final decision was made.
“People should like brick for being brick,” Yerha said.
Cary, which hired a renowned consultant to lead the appearance policy update, plans to conduct a lengthy public review process before voting on the changes.
Town staff plans to present potential changes to town-wide rules – which govern everything from building materials to a structure’s architectural “rhythm” – at a community feedback session by the end of the summer. The staff plans to hold a public hearing at a Town Council meeting this fall before sending the changes to the resident-run Planning and Zoning board for review.
Barring unforeseen delays, the Town Council is expected to vote on a final draft of the new appearance rules next spring.