A proposed shopping center in western Cary that sparked resident unrest in recent months may now become a non-traditional, pedestrian-friendly attraction for the surrounding neighborhoods after residents and the developers worked together.
The Sembler Company, a Florida developer, wants to build a maximum 110,000-square-foot, Publix-anchored shopping center called Amberly Village at the corner of Carpenter Fire Station and Green Level Church roads. Applicants Peggy and Grover Lewter of Cary are seeking to rezone the property from residential to mixed use for the development.
The rezoning case spurred the creation of the group Neighbors Against Amberly Village and an online petition opposing the center, which has garnered about 330 signatures and 125 comments. Members of the group have cited safety, noise, lighting and traffic concerns.
But about 15 residents attended a neighborhood meeting Thursday with developer representatives – the sixth such meeting – and three Cary Town Council members to discuss the project. While some concerns still remain, such as a required road connection, the overall tone of the discussion has shifted.
“When we first started out several months ago, it felt like maybe 80 to 90 people were generally against the project and vocal about it,” said Tom Hareas of the Sembler Company.
“We’re down now to 15 folks that are engaged and involved, and so I’d say it’s a huge improvement, and it’s positive,” Hareas said. “Instead of folks coming in saying, ‘I don’t like it,’ they are now coming in with specific, very focused refinements to the project, and the evolution of the plan is reflective of that.”
A walkable main street will run down the center of the property flanked by two common areas, shops, fast-casual restaurants like Panera Bread and sit-down restaurants with outdoor seating, Sembler Company representatives said Thursday.
Members of the adjacent Cary Park and Amberly communities can gather in the common areas, which could feature synthetic grass or concrete decorative surfaces with benches, decorative lighting or fountains.
Residents described what they would want to see at the site in terms of layout, aesthetics, business uses and more, much of which was in sync with The Sembler Company’s vision.
Some neighbors’ ideas for businesses include a sports bar or wine bar, urgent care and a place to sit down for breakfast or brunch.
Neighbors hope to use the common areas or similar green spaces for community events such as a farmers’ market, outdoor movies, music or another amenity, said Brian Dial, a resident of Arlington Park, which is within the Amberly community.
Other suggestions included using different architectural details to make sure Publix doesn’t look like a typical big box store. The developer was open to these suggestions.
It was the sixth time Sembler Company representatives met with neighbors to discuss their concerns and make changes to the original plan to address them. The developer already committed to not building a gas station and preventing businesses from staying open 24 hours.
“We want this to be walkable, pedestrian-friendly with an immersive atmosphere where we would actually want to walk to and then hang out there for awhile,” Dial said. “The original plan with a gas station and a lot of outparcels definitely would not have been an added amenity.”
The words “cooperation” and “compromise” also were used throughout Thursday’s meeting.
Councilman Ken George, who attended the meeting, said the neighborhood meetings have helped disseminate information about the project and town rules, as well as keep lines of communication open between neighbors and the developer.
“I’m hearing more positive things from the neighbors,” he said. “I feel like it’s headed in the right direction, and I think they are going to reach a compromise.”
Dial attributed the change to the “willingness of the developer to listen to the residents.”
“I think if we continue to work together, it is possible for us to come to an agreeable plan,” he said.
The rezoning case will not be considered by the Cary Town Council until at least May.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon