A South Carolina developer has submitted preliminary plans for about 90 acres north of Cary Towne Center that includes thousands of square feet of retail, residential and office space plus some residential, structured parking and potentially a 130-room hotel.
But with a struggling mall across the street, the Cary Town Council wants to be sure the land off Cary Towne Boulevard, which is part of what they call the eastern gateway into Cary, becomes a destination.
“This is a gateway into Cary, a gateway off of (interstate) 40,” Councilman Don Frantz said. “It needs to be remarkable. It needs to be something that stands the test of time. It needs to be something that provides a lot of jobs, shopping, retail, restaurants and residential.”
Representatives of Columbia Development Group LLC, a Columbia, S.C.-based shopping center developer, discussed its preliminary development sketch plan with Town of Cary staff at a pre-application conference Wednesday, Jan. 13. The plan shows 200,000 to 300,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space; 300,000 to 600,000 square feet of office space; and 300 to 600 multi-family residential units.
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The company bought the land from the state last year for $21.15 million.
“They’re doing what we had hoped, which is to partner with retail, commercial, office and residential, so that’s a great step forward,” Councilwoman Lori Bush said. “But I think we have some ways to go to make it – sometimes we refer to it as ‘the next North Hills’ – something that’s truly a destination. I’m not sure it’s there yet, but they are working hard and continue to keep the lines of communication open.”
The council will discuss their vision for that corridor at a Tuesday, Jan. 26, work session, where the council will review a draft plan for the east Cary gateway special planning area. This plan was drafted by Imagine Cary, a group of residents and planners in charge of crafting a planning document that will guide future development in Cary.
The plan for Cary Towne Boulevard comes as Cary Towne Center officials are working on ways to revitalize the mall. The mall lost Sears last year, and Macy’s will close this Spring.
Town staff have invited representatives of the Columbia Development Group to attend the meeting. Abbitt Goodwin Jr., a partner at Columbia Development Group’s Raleigh office, said he plans to attend.
“We do think that’s going to shed some additional light on what the council would like to see occur all along this corridor,” said Rob Wilson, a town planning manager.
The staff shared the history of the site with the developer, including a 2013 rezoning request for a mixed-use project that the council denied with a 4-3 vote. The proposal called for rezoning the property from office and institutional to a mixed-use district to allow for 400 single-family detached dwellings or town homes and about 15 acres that could be developed for retail, office or hotel use with possible upper-story residential.
Robinson, Bush, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht and former Councilwoman Gale Adcock voted to deny the rezoning.
“I am really consistent with what I was hoping for back then, and that is I’m looking for something that is a mixed-use project with a heavy presence of office,” Robinson said. “My hope is that the development of that site will enhance the community around it and be the highest and best use of that land.”
Goodwin, with Columbia Development Group, said he isn’t concerned by the previous council decision regarding this site because it was a residential project.
“What we’ve tried to do is something that’s a pretty substantial employment center and a denser mixed-use project with more commercial uses,” he said.
But a mix of uses isn’t necessarily enough for some council members. Robinson said retail spaces that support the offices, like coffee shops or bagel places, would be more appealing than office buildings and a grocery store separated by rows and rows of parking.
“If the development creates a sense of place, so that it’s an interesting and attractive place to live and work, than we are going in the right direction,” Robinson said. “We are looking for something that is going to be synergistic and attractive and will further bolster the mall across the street, or whatever redevelopment occurs at the mall.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon