Cary Towne Center inched closer to securing a TopGolf facility when a Cary board voted to support the mall’s request for more relaxed height restrictions.
All seven members of Cary’s Planning and Zoning Board in attendance at Monday’s meeting voted to recommend that the Cary Town Council approve a request by the mall’s management to allow for 60-foot buildings on the northeastern portion of the property.
Current town rules limit mall buildings to two stories, but don’t specify a height in feet. CBL & Associates, which owns the mall, is seeking to amend the rule, which would allow TopGolf to build one of its elaborate, three-story driving range/restaurant complexes on the space where the vacant Sears building is located.
Planning and Zoning board members, who are appointed, described the mall’s request as a minor rule tweak that could yield major economic benefits. A new 60-foot building would only be 6 feet taller than the mall’s tallest building: a 54-foot tall Dillard’s department store.
CBL recently tied balloons to different parts of the mall’s roof to demonstrate the height of a potential TopGolf facility. Board member Wayne Rogers said that influenced his decision to support the request.
“When I first saw the balloons, I thought, ‘Well this looks similar to the existing building heights,’” Rogers said. “I think this mall needs to have some flexibility in terms of making it a destination site.”
The Planning and Zoning Board reviewed the mall’s request because Cary rules require it to review most rezoning requests. Town rules dictate that each rezoning request go through a series of reviews before for approval.
The town must hold a public hearing, which it did in March. The town’s Planning and Zoning Board must review the request and make a recommendation, which it did Monday. Then the Cary Town Council must vote on the request, which it might do next month.
Even if the council approves Cary Towne Center’s request for taller buildings, TopGolf will likely then need to seek a special use permit in order to build on-site. Current town rules don’t allow for an outdoor recreational use at the mall. The Town Council reviews all special use permit requests.
High interest project
More than 50 people crowded Cary Town Hall on Monday night and watched for two hours as 19 people spoke about the issue.
TopGolf’s interest has divided the town. Opponents, mostly residents of the neighborhood next to Cary Towne Center, say a view of taller buildings could hurt their property values and quality of life. They’ve filed a protest petition against the request, meaning five of the six Town Council members – rather than the usual four members – will need to support the mall’s zoning request for it to win approval.
“Would you want this adjoining your backyard?” Donald Kalinowski asked the board.
Paul Costin asked the board to “think about us, not about big business.”
But supporters argued that Cary Towne Center needs to undergo major changes if it wants to stave off blight and compete with other malls in the Triangle. Some speakers identified themselves as part of Cary Forward, a group formed by residents to support the mall’s recruitment of TopGolf.
“Six (feet) is not gonna make or break a neighborhood,” said Gerald Jarrett.
Samuel Diaz said he manages a store in Cary Towne Center and could lose his job if the store closes someday due to a lack of business. He thinks the addition of a TopGolf facility could spark the mall’s revival.
Cary Towne Center “used to be a grade-A mall, and it’s now a grade-C mall,” Diaz said.
Rogers, the most vocal board member, agreed with the assessment and suggested that those who live near the mall prepare for change.
“I understand NIMBYism,” Rogers said, referring to the acronym that means “Not In My Backyard.”
“But your backyard is going to get devalued if this mall continues to decline,” he said.