The Cary Town Council has an ambitious vision for the town’s eastern gateway 25 years from now.
The vision is more like a lengthy wishlist that could include: high-rise buildings along Interstate 40; apartments, condos and townhomes; plenty of office space; parking decks and a revitalized Cary Towne Center full of shops, restaurants, hotels and more. To top it off, transit services and pedestrian trails would connect it all.
Council members discussed their ideas at a work session Tuesday, Jan. 26, for the area from Cary Towne Center north to Chapel Hill Road and Maynard Road east to I-40. They also reviewed a plan for the eastern Cary gateway special planning area drafted by Imagine Cary, a group of residents and planners.
Dozens of people attended the meeting, including representatives from CBL & Associates Properties, the owner of Cary Towne Center, and representatives from Columbia Development Group, the South Carolina shopping center developer that hopes to build on a 90-acre state-owned property across the street.
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The state-owned property on the north side of Cary Towne Boulevard drew statewide attention last week when supermarket chain Wegmans Food Markets announced it is interested in putting its first North Carolina location on the site across from the mall.
Between the Wegmans announcement and the anticipated Cary Towne Center redevelopment plans, many were anxious to hear the council’s thoughts on the plan and the eastern Cary gateway.
“I think this is a really innovative plan,” Councilwoman Lori Bush said. “It’s something we haven’t really seen, and had we not done this, had this Imagine Cary process, we may not have had it come before us.”
The Town Council stressed high-intensity and high-density in this area and supported most of the plan, including commercial development at the Cary Towne Center site. That could include restaurants, retail and hotels.
The plan also includes high-density office space along I-40 to the east and multi-family housing along Maynard Road to the west.
“I love the high density,” Bush said. “We’re missing the millennials, and this is the kind of environment ... where they want to live. They want to live next to WakeMed Soccer Park. They want to live in this high-density environment that’s close to food and retail.”
But there wasn’t as much consensus when it came to the state-owned property on the north side of Cary Towne Boulevard where Wegmans wants to build. Town staff describe this property as a potential “innovation district” with Class A office space.
“We were thinking of it as a sort of a next generation of an office park that would have more of a entrepreneurial, high-tech, biomedical use,” Town Planning Director Jeff Ulma said. “A high-tech, urban, new version of an office employment center, an economic hub that might have a flair of uses and activities that we don’t have in Cary today.”
This could include office buildings framing the WakeMed Soccer Park with a shared parking deck. It may also have restaurants, multi-family housing and hotels to serve the area.
“I’d like to have a mix of uses, so that someone can leave his office building, can go down and have lunch, can go do his dry cleaning,” Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said. “It’s those little, tiny qualities that I think make it a dynamic place.”
While some council members support the idea of an innovation district, others showed hesitation over the “innovation district” term and what could go there.
“As far as an innovation district, I’m having a little trouble with how we would attract and who would be attracted to it,” Councilman Ken George said. “It’s going to be hard to compete with the Centennial Campus at (N.C. State University). I just don’t know that we can compete with that nor should we try.”
Mayor Pro Tem Ed Yerha said he would like to see more cultural arts opportunities at the state-owned property, and Councilman Don Frantz said he did not want restrict any uses by calling it an “innovation district.”
“I just don’t know that I want to box ourselves into something and maybe miss an opportunity somewhere,” Frantz said. “I think if it’s a type of use or development we’d like to see on the site, whether its innovative or not, I think we ought to be able to do that and consider that.”
“I don’t think we should get hung up on the word ‘innovation center,’ ” Councilman Jack Smith said. “I think that’s a great concept that could have a broader base (of uses).”
The council agrees there should be a mix of uses, including retail, restaurant and residential, integrated together with little surface parking that complements the Cary Towne Center across the street.
“Anything that we do on the state-side of the district really needs to encourage redevelopment on the Cary Towne mall site,” Frantz said. “I have a real concern about putting too much retail and commercial on the state site that might take away redevelopment opportunities for the mall site.”
Staff members likely will return to the council in the next few months with changes to the plan based on council feedback.
“I think we should do everything we can to move those along as quickly as possible – planning I’m talking about – so these proposals coming in will know how they fit the vision,” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon