Like it or not, change continues to funnel into this region.
James Roberson, who was promoted from the town council to the mayor’s seat in Knightdale in November, expects another year of considerable growth in town in 2016.
Newly-elected Mayor Ginna Gray says Wendell will change in several ways in the next 12 months, especially with new leadership at town hall.
And in Zebulon, much of Mayor Bob Matheny’s outlook for the upcoming year revolves around growth and amenities, but not all of it.
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Here’s a look at what the three eastern Wake County mayors have on the radar for the year ahead.
Economic emphasis: Roberson foresees much interest by potential business owners in coming to town.
In some places, new businesses and development is already underway. A brewery will soon open on North First Avenue. A hotel is planned near the intersection of I-540 and an industrial park is coming to fruition behind the Army reserve training center in the same area. A charter school and dance studio are in the works for 2016 for the area around Knightdale Station Park.
“We are ready for that growth because we know that there is interest in the town of Knightdale,” Roberson said. “As we continue to strengthen partnerships, programs and services, I certainly believe this is what leads to potential business owners wanting to set up shop in Knightdale.”
He expects piqued interest in the planned old-town area revitalization in downtown, but really a balance of growth throughout town.
More attention to parks: Residential development continues to sprout around the town’s newest park, which along with one of Knightdale’s older parks could see changes in the upcoming year.
The town has contracted work on master plan updates for Harper Park alongside those for Knightdale Station Park, and the plans should be complete in a matter of months.
Knightdale Station Park’s updates include expanded parking, additional playgrounds and a larger dog park. Harper Park revisions are intended to complement the overall makeover along North First Avenue.
Roberson expects some of the new work at both parks will take place this calendar year.
Educational involvement: While town government does not have much control over the county-run schools that exist in its footprint, it can still have an impact.
Being involved in the local schools is a priority for Roberson, who is also the senior dean of instructional support at Wake Technical Community College. He wants to strengthen the town’s involvement in the coming year.
“Being out in the community, I’m able to explore and bring together key stakeholders to see what we can do to better our community,” he said. “If one is given proper access to education, they will succeed and want to come back to their community and contribute to their community.”
He also wants to incorporate local schools at events held at local parks, and work with Wake Tech to keep scholarship funding available for area high school students.
A more visible Wendell: Gray attended a recent college football game and told some Apex residents she met there that she was from Wendell, only to have them ask where Wendell is located.
She wants to make a concerted effort to make Wendell more well known to those outside of town in her first year as mayor.
“I want to see Wendell taking things up several notches,” Gray said. “It’s time for us to get in the game. I’m ready for people to know Wendell is in Wake County, to have a presence beyond our city limits.”
For her, that means being vocal and forming relationships in meetings of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Wake County Mayors Association and Triangle J Council of Governments meetings.
“I don’t want it to be all talk,” Gray said. “I want people to see there are results of that.”
Park keeps progressing: Much work has taken place at Wendell Park in recent years, and the trend will continue into the year ahead, thanks in large part to a $250,000 Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant awarded by the state in the fall. It will enable the town to add a paved walking trail around the ball fields, a new multi-purpose field, a new playground closer to the ball fields, and increase parking.
Work on the new playground is expected to begin in the next few months, and town leaders hope the majority of the other work will be complete by the end of the year.
“We’re starting with the playground equipment because it’s something that can happen fast – and baseball (season) will be here fast so people will be able to use it,” Gray said.
New opinions at town hall: In addition to a new mayor, the new year will feature three new commissioners on the town board: Ben Carroll, Jason Joyner and David Myrick.
Gray wants to poll those three along with returning commissioners John Boyette and Jon Lutz on things they would like to see happen in the near future.
“They’ll have a lot of questions, and I think that’s a good place to start,” Gray said, referring to the newcomers. “They’ve been getting brought up to speed in various ways, but there’s a lot that’s new about being on the town board.”
Gray is expecting much enthusiasm out of the new leaders.
“They are very ‘let’s go,’ they’re not going to like being on government time,” she said. “They’re going to want things to happen and things to happen fast.”
Revisiting roadways: Gray said last year’s attempt to update the town’s transportation plan got off to a rough start.
The town pitched an idea, and people who would be affected by the plan were quick to voice their distaste.
Now, with a transportation committee in place, Gray thinks the town needs to finish revamping the plan by the end of the year.
“I think if we don’t, it has evolved and become too big of a thing,” she said. “We have 12 whole months to take care of it, or be very close. I’d like to see it taken care of just because it has raised some concerns with some of the citizens. I don’t want them to be concerned.”
Greenway green light: The town has an adopted greenway master plan and town leaders will begin looking into specific projects at their annual retreat in March.
“Basically, at this point, we’ve adopted a concept but haven’t adopted implementation or prioritization,” Matheny said. “The greenway plan is very diverse and to think we could do all of it is very absurd.”
For starters, the town is including greenway requirements in development agreements.
“I think something could start in 2016 – I certainly hope so,” Matheny said. “I think some of that, if nothing else, would simply be by developers. We’ll see something, but I can’t tell you what that something will be.”
Paving the way: A recent setback in funding for drainage improvements along Yates Place led to the delay of a repaving project on North Wakefield Street.
While work should begin soon on Yates Place, the Wakefield Street project is still moving forward with a more limited scope. Town staff decided in November it didn’t make sense to repave that road while it, too, has drainage issues, so they contracted an engineering report to get a better grasp on rainwater management needs before proceeding with repaving.
“I don’t see that happening before the new budget comes along (in June), but we’ve put it off several times now out of necessity,” Matheny said. “I’m hoping we would resurface it as well as take care of the drainage to move the water once it comes off the street.”
In the pipeline: The Beaverdam Creek sewer outfall project isn’t scheduled to be completed in the upcoming year, but Matheny expects that project could draw contracts for construction in 2016.
That project, part of the town’s utilities merger with the City of Raleigh, calls for extending infrastructure to serve much of north and east Zebulon, so any move on construction this year would be a step toward enabling more development.
“I could see that getting geared up this year,” Matheny said. “They’ve got easements, the engineering is done.”
Not only would the new infrastructure extend to new areas in town – it would also open up the capacity on the existing line north of town, enabling more development there.