Cary only has about 9,000 acres of vacant land remaining to develop, less than 17 percent of its total land area.
As the town grows, opportunities are dwindling for greenfield development, which occurs on undeveloped land.
In response, the Cary Town Council has turned its attention to encouraging infill development and redevelopment through ordinance changes and a clear town vision.
And at a three-day retreat to Greensboro, the council worked to craft this vision, as well as learn more about how the City of Greensboro handles infill development and redevelopment projects.
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“This allows us to absorb the information, to mull on it, to go off and look for more,” Councilwoman Lori Bush said. “It allows us to make informed decisions, and by seeing another community, we’re getting evidence-based data.”
The council toured several infill development and redevelopment projects in Greensboro, including Midtown, an up-and-coming destination area that used to be industrial warehouse space.
One of Cary’s major redevelopment projects on the horizon is Cary Towne Center, but there also are several other projects that the council would like to see completed.
“I think what council is leaning toward is trying to encourage developers to see our vision for what we want Cary to be without having us be too prescriptive in the application of ordinances that would help meet that vision,” Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said.
Crafting a vision
Using what they learned from Greensboro town staff and local developers over a day and a half, council members participated in an exercise using Legos.
Town staff broke up into seven groups – each led by one council member – to plan the redevelopment of an existing site near downtown Cary. Each Lego represented a different use, including commercial, office space, multi-family housing and parking.
The exercise was a way for council members and staff to see how their ideas for redevelopment in Cary differed.
But the council members also saw many similarities in their ideas for the future of Cary, including providing adequate transitions between existing neighborhoods and new dense development.
“There was some value to the three-dimensional aspect of the Legos,” Bush said. “Once I started building that four stories or five stories next to a neighborhood, that was not going to work.”
Other similarities included structure parking hidden from the road or neighborhoods; anchoring the corner of a major intersection with the largest buildings; and mixed-use projects with retail on the first floor and office or residential space above.
“We had a different view on how to make those visions a reality, but we all had certain tenets that were important, like open space, walkability and pedestrian movement,” Bush said.
While many of the council’s designs included four- to five-story buildings, Robinson said she believed high-density projects were most appropriate in the eastern Cary gateway area, near downtown and at major intersections close to highway interchanges.
“I don’t see us doing high-density infill in every vacant parcel in every redevelopment opportunity,” she said. “I don’t want citizens to be concerned that the look and feel will change dramatically in their neighborhood.”
In the next couple months, town staff will bring back updated versions of the draft plan created by Imagine Cary, a group of residents and planners. This plan, which will govern growth through 2040, is expected to be approved later this year.
The council will continue discussions about encouraging infill development and redevelopment during that time as the plan is refined.
The council and staff are working to find a balance between more flexibility for redevelopment projects without throwing out all of their development standards.
“Some standards we might not be willing to compromise,” Councilman Don Frantz said. “Some we might. We need to figure out what’s most important to us, keep those and allow the flexibility for the developers to work around some of the others.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608; @KTrogdon