Residents of the Amberly and Cary Park neighborhoods in west Cary have believed for more than a decade that land at a nearby intersection would be developed one day with single-family homes, townhomes or an apartment complex.
But neighbors are now uncertain about what will be in their backyards after Cary’s planning and zoning board voted 7-1 to recommend that the Town Council amend its land use plan from medium- or high-density residential to medium-density residential or commercial for that area.
If approved by the Town Council next month, the change could pave the way for a new shopping center and a Publix to be built on a 21-acre parcel on the northwest corner of Green Level Church and Carpenter Fire Station roads.
The Sembler Company, a Florida developer, wants to build a shopping center called Amberly Village. Applicants Peggy and Grover Lewter of Cary are seeking to rezone the property from residential to mixed use for the development.
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But the proposal has generated vocal opposition from residents who created the group Neighbors Against Amberly Village. An online petition opposing the center has garnered about 300 signatures and 115 comments.
Many members of the group don’t want to see any commercial developments come to the site and believe that the land use plan amendment, if approved, would leave the door open for those types of projects. At Monday’s meeting, about 10 Cary residents spoke in opposition of the amendment citing noise, lighting, traffic and safety concerns associated with a commercial project.
“When I purchased my property I invested in it with the understanding that based on the comprehensive plan and the zoning, there would be development, so I didn’t go into it thinking I’m going to have woods in my backyard forever,” said Matt Schwabel, a resident of Arlington Park, a community within the Amberly neighborhood. “But my understanding was that development would be residential in nature and consistent with the existing neighborhood.”
It was up to planning and zoning board members to decide if they believed either medium-density residential or commercial are the best uses for the property. A majority of the board decided that commercial is a good use for the property and that the land use plan amendment would give the council flexibility to approve rezoning for a single-family housing development if the right commercial project does not come along.
“I just think that this is the best use for that land,” board member Nancy Caggia said. “It’s a change, and I understand that can be upsetting, but I think that any good Realtor is going to tell you that things change in this town.”
If the comprehensive plan is amendment is approved, that doesn’t mean the council will approve the rezoning to allow for the Amberly Village project.
The associated rezoning case is not expected to go before the council for several months.
“I do want to assure everyone that shovels aren’t going in the ground tomorrow,” board chairman Mark Evangelista said. “There are still several significant steps that need to play out.”
If the rezoning fails, another developer could come in and build single-family homes without having to go through another land use plan amendment process.
In the meantime, Sembler Company representatives emphasized that they would continue working with neighbors on the project.
“It’s something that we’re trying to work with them on and make sure the development is an asset to their community,” said Mike Trainor of S&A Communications, who is representing The Sembler Company, Thursday. “There’s certainly many that are in support of this and understand that this area runs the risk of being underserved by retail.”
The 7-1 vote followed a presentation by Cary Principle Planner Scott Ramage. Ramage said when the Northwest Area Plan was developed in 2002, the nearby community activity center across Green Level Church Road was planned to support two major shopping centers, each up to 200,000 square feet of retail.
Three years later, a part of one of those sites became a single-family subdivision, so the second shopping center was reduced to up to 85,000 square feet of retail.
The 2002 Northwest Area Plan also showed 10 anticipated commercial centers in the area. Since then, six sites have been added, three were removed, and two were reduced in scale. Five of the remaining sites have been deemed unlikely to be viable for a shopping center with an anchor and four sites have questionable viability, Ramage said. He said there is some concern the area could end up being underserved by anchored commercial developments.
“West Cary has been growing like crazy,” he said. “Most of the residential that had been recommended stayed residential, but not all of the commercial stayed commercial.”
But some, including Ben Kuhn, a lawyer representing Neighbors Against Amberly Village, said there already is an abundance of grocery stores in Cary.
Amberly Village, proposed at a maximum of 110,000-square-feet, would be the third shopping center at the intersection. There is a shopping center at the southeast corner, which is anchored by Harris Teeter, and another is under development at the northeast corner.
“This is trying to put a square peg into a round hole,” Kuhn said. “You have an area that is not a food desert. You have a Wegmans coming. You have everything else coming. This is a food oasis. There is not a need.”
Wegmans said this month it hopes to build its first North Carolina store in Cary on a 90-acre tract north of Cary Towne Center. The center, being developed by Columbia Development Group LLC, hasn’t come before the town yet for approval. Wegmans said it’s in negotiations with Columbia Development for a lease.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon