Cary leaders want to close a loophole in town rules that they say leaves the door open to mass grading, which destroys trees sometimes long before houses are built.
The Town Council passed a rule in 2009 that discourages the practice. It states that developers of certain residential projects are limited to grading “only the land area required to install the infrastructure to serve the development” such as roads, water and sewer lines.
However, some on the council say the rule isn’t as effective as it could be because Cary allows developers to obtain a grading permit for an entire project – rather than each individual lot in the project.
Council members Jennifer Robinson and Ed Yerha recently said they fear the “wording error” allows residential developers to clear more of their land than the town would prefer.
“The intent (of the rule) was to require developers to grade selectively ... on a lot-by-lot basis so that the trees and topography of the land are protected,” Robinson said.
“Unfortunately, some developers are pulling all of the grading permits for all of the lots at one time so that mass grading can occur,” she said. “We had not anticipated that a developer would do that.”
The Cary Town Council on July 17 directed town staff to propose rule changes that more effectively discourage mass land clearing.
It may take town staff several weeks to draft amendments to the rule and then several months for the council to adopt them, so it’s unclear how a rule change might directly affect developers.
Suzanne Harris, vice president of governmental affairs for the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County, said she wants to talk about the issue with Cary staff before taking a position on the council’s request.
Harris said she’s not aware of any developers who are grading property in Cary against the town’s wishes.
“That would bother me if I knew that our members are doing that,” she said.
Harris worries that potential rule changes could needlessly complicate the development process.
“Any time an ordinance is being tinkered with, there’s always the concern about the unintentional consequence of it costing additional time and money (for developers),” she said.
Developers already stand to lose time and money once Cary overhauls its guidelines for removing large trees in an attempt to save more of them.
Town staff is still tweaking a proposal that would require developers to hire a certified arborist to evaluate champion trees that it would like to remove.
Town officials believe the trouble will be worth it for developers because the plan could offer them more flexibility.
The proposal focuses on preserving swaths of trees in a development plan rather than single trees that may not be close to each other.
It also offers rewards – such as a reduction in the number of required parking spaces – for developers who save more trees than required by town rules.