It comes as little surprise, for a region beginning to see signs of significant change, that much of the top news here in 2016 involved growth and development.
In Knightdale, plans for a major athletic facility fell through, but a middle school was approved for an overhaul. In Wendell, town leaders faced less public backlash as they proposed a transportation plan for the second time. And in Zebulon, the town and other groups continued to work to provide services that take into account the needs of a growing population.
Here’s a look at some of the notable news from the past year.
Lawless leaves town: Town Manager Seth Lawless resigned suddenly in June, less than a month after he returned from a forced medical leave. He has since taken a manager’s position with a town in the Florida Keys.
Town council members and staff narrowed a field of more than 80 candidates down to a single finalist in December, and the new hire could be announced any time now. Hal Mason stood in as interim manager, both during Lawless’ leave and since he resigned.
Naismith deal falls through: The deal to build a $10 million Naismith Legacy Park basketball facility, on land to be donated by Wake Stone Corp. and with help from a $3 million Wake County grant, fell apart in February.
But Wake Stone announced in September it still plans to donate 70 to 120 acres of 170-acre tract, at the northwest corner of Forestville and Old Crews roads, that was intended for the facility to the town for a park.
A new middle school: The Town Council approved a special use permit in September allowing plans for a new East Wake Middle School on the site of the current school to proceed.
Plans call for a three-story classroom building to replace the original facility, constructed in 1989. The current building is 136,430 square feet and has an enrollment of 1,163 students, compared to the 1,450-student capacity of the future building expected to be complete in 2020.
Transportation planning: A year after its first attempt at a transportation plan was slammed by residents, the town’s second stab was met with less criticism in September – through not everyone liked all the pieces of the new plan.
Residents in 2015 protested a number of specific proposals, including plans to realign the intersection of Rolesville Road and Wendell Boulevard and to build a south side connector that would link Wendell Falls Parkway and Selma Road.
The new version was not dramatically different from the original proposal, but it did include some changes recommended by residents, like a new route for the south side connector that would use Stott’s Mill Road.
Perry’s thefts: Perry’s Gun Shop often draws customers from other places, but at least twice this year those visits came with bad intentions.
In January, Wendell police arrested five Henderson people after a man took three scopes valued at $2,500 from an unlocked display case, ran out of the store, jumped into a waiting car and sped away – all while Capt. John Slaughter watched from his patrol car across the street.
In November, police filed felony charges against three Edgecombe County men a day after a nine weapons were taken during an early morning break-in at the gun shop.
Missing woman: A friend reported Carolyn Sue Fox missing in October after she had not seen her since mid-July and believed Fox’s son, Stephen Owen Schrader Jr., had threatened previously to hurt his mother.
While Schrader remains in jail, accused of abusing his missing mother and taking money from her, Fox remains missing. Authorities have used a cadaver dog to search the yard around Fox’s Turnipseed Road house, the crawl space under it and the rooms inside, but that has not produced any breaks in the case.
Schrader initially told investigators Fox went to visit friends in Canada with her four dogs and had moved to a Philippine island. When investigators checked Schrader’s story, they found that Fox has no passport and that he had surrendered his mother’s four dogs to the Wake County Animal Shelter on July 20.
A catch-up budget: Commissioners in June approved a staff-proposed budget intended to get the town caught up on a variety of needs now and going forward.
It included a 5-cent increase to the tax rate, 8.2 cents more than the rate estimated to generate the same tax revenue as the previous year, prior to Wake County’s property revaluation. The adopted tax rate is the highest the town has seen in at least the past 18 years.
Each cent of the approved tax rate will generate about $80,000 – four cents going toward street and vehicle upkeep and another one cent toward property management and making Zebulon a more walkable community.
Solar affairs: Town leaders in June approved a rezoning request for a parcel of land that will help solar farm developers complete their project on the south side of town.
Neighbors of the site, however, voiced objections ever since representatives of the project first held public meetings in January. They weren’t opposed to the idea of a solar farm, but didn’t understand why the smaller of three parcels where it would be built was needed for the project.
In November, town staff proposed an ordinance amendment that would strike solar farms from the zoning classification where this controversial project is being planned, but it appears the developers will gain site plan approval before any changes take effect.
Arts center: Plans that fizzled in 2014 were revived after several hurdles were cleared.
A website and Facebook page launched in April for the Zebulon Downtown Arts Center, or ZDAC. Local real estate agent Dallas Pearce and others had been unsuccessful securing a home for an arts center in downtown, but that changed when Brian Bullock offered use of his property at 100 E. Vance St. free of rent for five years, so long as the building is renovated to meet the specifications of an arts center.
By July, a nonprofit was in the works, the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County was on board with the plans and fundraising was set to begin for a renovation of the property estimated to cost $200,000.