Cary Town Council candidates’ visions for the future of downtown dominated discussion at the first forum leading up to the municipal election on Oct. 6.
The forum on Thursday, Sept. 17, hosted by the Cary Chamber of Commerce, gave the candidates for Districts B and D the opportunity to speak for seven minutes each about their priorities and how they would handle issues like growth and transit.
Mayor Harold Weinbrecht and At-Large council member Lori Bush are running unopposed and didn’t participate in the discussion.
During conversation, it became clear that while downtown growth, economic development and job creation are important to candidates, some of their visions for approaching the issues differ.
Councilman Don Frantz, who is seeking re-election to the District B seat, emphasizes maintaining the momentum of progress in the downtown area to stimulate more economic development and job creation. He cited current efforts by council to accomplish this by moving forward with downtown streetscape improvements, construction of Downtown Park and working to recruit more retail and restaurants.
Continuing that investment, he said, would improve quality of life and attract younger generations to the area.
“Cary is continuing to become a more vibrant and prosperous community each and every day,” Frantz said. “It used to be a downtown that at 6 o’clock, everybody rolled up the sidewalks and went home. Now we actually put tables and chairs on them and let you enjoy a beer.”
But candidate Gabe Talton didn’t agree that the restaurant and retail growth model is working for downtown Cary. He questioned the town’s decisions to put money into the historic Jones House, where restaurant Belle is now located, and the Mayton Inn, which is under construction and is set to open later this fall.
“We’ve never heard how the business model of a luxury hotel on Academy Street is going to work,” he said. “I’m afraid if it goes out of business, the bank is going to put luxury condos in there. That is definitely not what the people inside the Maynard loop want.”
Instead, Talton suggested adding more education facilities, places like the Heartwood Montessori School, as the best way to sustain downtown Cary. He said his wife, Holly, teaches violin downtown, and they have firsthand experience of the success of education in downtown.
“Education is the only thing the private market is sustaining in downtown Cary now,” he said. “One of the most successful local businesses is the Heartwood Montessori School.”
But Frantz responded that the Mayton Inn would create more than 40 jobs and generate additional tax revenue for the town.
Other candidates, including District B candidate Frank Lazzaro and District D candidate Maria Cervania, suggested adding more boutique-type businesses downtown.
“We need to move some of those businesses that don’t belong downtown out of downtown so that we can bring in some fresh, boutique kind of businesses,” Lazzaro said.
Smart growth, maintaining the tax rate and increased community involvement also were discussed at Thursday’s forum.
“My priority for the next four years is to make sure that our growth is such that we don’t become too urban,” said Gray Rinehart, a candidate for the District D seat. “I think we need to be careful not to grow too fast and not to grow too concentrated, lest we lose some of the qualities that have made Cary such a great place to live.”
The District B seat has been vacant for about a year after Council member Gale Adcock was elected to the N.C. House of Representatives and the council decided not to fill the position.
Several candidates, including District D candidate Nancy Caggia, agrees that growth is one of the most pressing issues facing the Town Council in the coming years. Caggia cited her work on the town’s planning and zoning board as experience that would help her handle this growth.
“I really like looking into the matter of talking with citizens and making an informed choice so that we have the right balance of growth that doesn’t overpower our infrastructure,” she said.
To stimulate the town’s economy, Cervania suggested encouraging Cary residents to start more small businesses, expanding the town’s public transportation and creating workforce affordable housing.
“There are 20- and 30-year-olds in Cary,” Cervania said. “They are working in Cary but they can’t afford to live in Cary. We need to find a way to create workforce affordable housing so we can actually fulfill a promise of work, live in place by having people that are actually working in our town live here.”
In regards to maintaining the lowest tax rate in Wake County, District D candidate Ken George said Cary needs to continue to recruit new businesses to increase the size of its tax base.
“If we don’t bring businesses in that bring tax revenue, we’re not going to be able to afford to pay the property taxes,” he said.
Rinehart said while recruiting new businesses is important, he also plans to keep spending under control.
“Do we want to become the urban center, or do we want to stay a town?” he said. “If we want to stay a town, we need to control the spending in order to control what we need on the revenue side.”
Kathryn Trogdon; 919-460-2608; @KTrogdon
▪ Monday, Sept. 21: The Town of Cary will host the Cary Community Forum for Town Council candidates. The forum will air on Cary TV from Sept. 21 through Oct. 5. It will also be made available on the town’s website at townofcary.org and YouTube channel at bit.ly/1JS7uMd.
▪ Monday, Sept. 28: The Heart of Cary Association’s downtown debate is at The Cary theater, 122 E. Chatham St., Cary. Doors open at 6 p.m. for networking and refreshments. The debate begins at 7 p.m. with an intermission at 7:45 p.m. The second half of the debate is at 8:15 p.m. The event will be emceed by Steve Zaytoun with WRAL anchor Renee Chou as moderator. Questions primarily will focus on downtown Cary. heartofcary.org
▪ Western Wake Democrats: A meeting with Democratically endorsed municipal candidates from Cary, Apex and Morrisville is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30, at the Mellow Mushroom, 4300 NW Cary Parkway, Cary. The group’s social hour is 6-7 p.m. and the program begins at 7 p.m. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early voting for Cary and Raleigh elections opens at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 24 and runs through Saturday, Oct. 3. Voters may go to the Wake County Board of Elections Office, 337 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh on varying times during that time period.
The Herb C. Young Community Center, 101 Wilkinson Ave., Cary, will be open to voters 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 30 through Friday, Oct. 2, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 3.
Go to www.wakegov.com/elections for details.