Cary leaders have differing visions when it comes to the future of western Cary.
But council members do agree they should plan for a mix of uses on one of the last large pieces of vacant land – a total of about 500 acres surrounding the Green Level West Road and I-540 interchange.
During a work session Tuesday, Feb. 23, that focused on the Green Level planning area, town staff recommended an activity center with a strong employment focus.
But town council members imagine taller buildings with a mix of retail, residential and commercial, including office space and structured parking.
“If it’s office-centered only, I think people will view it as another piece of (Research Triangle Park),” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said. “I think it’s an opportunity for live, work and play.”
The plan, which will someday guide growth in Cary, was drafted by Imagine Cary, a group of residents and planners.
This special planning area is bound by I-540 to the east, Apex to the south, the Wake County line to the west and Morrisville Parkway to the north. It is one of Cary’s most rural sections with the Green Level Historic District at its center.
The activity center would fall to the east of the historic district, on all four quadrants surrounding the I-540 interchange.
The staff recommend having a variety of housing options in the mixed-use center, particularly for employees of the surrounding businesses.
“There is this market segment of employers who really want to be in a mixed-use center,” said Scott Ramage, the town’s principal planner. “The kind of employee they are attracting in the business sector that they’re in wants to be in a mixed-use, more walkable environment with amenities closer by.”
Ramage also suggested that the activity center have a theme or market niche, like a green and sustainable center that would encourage weaving environmental features into the project, such as solar and green roofs.
While some council members were comfortable with the suggested theme, others were worried about its effects on the nearby historic district.
“You don’t want to have 10-story or 7-story glass and steel buildings and then all of a sudden you are in the historic district,” councilman Don Frantz said. “I’m not saying we can’t do some real remarkable and cool things there, but be sensitive.”
Mayor Pro Tem Ed Yerha said the activity center could be green and sustainable while incorporating traditional architecture that would complement the historic district.
The council also discussed how many houses per acre they would like to see in that area in the future. The current plan calls for one unit per acre or 1.5 or 2.5 units per acre if the homes are clustered with a shared open space.
Council members debated clustered homes versus non-clustered homes; three, three-and-a-half or four units per acre for clustered homes in areas closer to I-540; and continuing transitions from higher densities to the east to lower densities to the west.
There was no clear consensus in any of the discussions. While some council members supported lower densities and transitions, others did not want to micromanage.
“I think the days of smooth transitions are gone,” councilman Jack Smith said. “Wake County is the fourth fastest growing county in the country. The whole area is going to explode, and here we are trying to manage a smooth transition. I would rather focus on quality development.”
The council will continue discussion on Imagine Cary planning at a March 8 work session.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608, @KTrogdon