The town board made two decisions Monday that will have long-term effects on Fuquay-Varina, approving both a five-year agreement to host the WRAL Freedom Balloon Fest and a new Land Development Ordinance to guide the town’s growth for years to come.
This was the first year the town hosted the hot air balloon festival. Shortly after the festival wrapped up over a Memorial Day weekend that saw more than 80,000 people descend upon Fuquay-Varina, town leaders said they hoped to host the event again.
Brian Hoyle, the event’s chief organizer, said the feeling was mutual. The inaugural edition of the festival was held in 2015 in Zebulon and North Raleigh, where its popularity prompted traffic problems. But things went smoothly enough in Fuquay-Varina that Hoyle said he hoped the festival would be invited back.
In July, Fuquay-Varina officials said it would pursue an agreement to formalize the town as a host site.
Monday, the board approved an agreement that will keep the festival at Fuquay-Varina’s Fleming Loop Park through 2021.
“And there’s a strong desire for it to go longer,” Town Manager Adam Mitchell said, addressing the board Monday.
“It does acknowledge that the town has plans for the redevelopment of Fleming Loop Park and the impact it could have on the festival,” Mitchell said. “It would be wise to allow the sponsor to have input on the redevelopment and how how this could serve the town and any events the town might wish to host there.”
The town has plans for $2.68 million in improvements, including seven fields, lights for the fields, a walking track, parking, picnic shelters and a new concession/restroom building. Construction is expected to begin next summer.
There is a clause in the agreement that allows the organizer to relocate the festival if the park’s redevelopment renders the park unsuitable as a site for the multi-day event that draws hot air balloon enthusiasts.
“I also think it’s a good idea that they be invited to participate in the improvements,” Commissioner Marilyn Gardner said. “If something should happen and we not host this event, we’d certainly want to be able to host other large events, and perhaps we’ll get input from them that could be universal in hosting another event of this type.”
The agreement also lays out the responsibilities assigned to the town and event organizers. As the town did this past spring, it will be expected to provide police and fire services and handle information technology and public information logistics. It will also be expected to make necessary improvements to the venue and surrounding infrastructure, like the new entrance to Fleming Loop Park it provided for this year’s event, as necessary.
Both Mitchell and the board said the return on those costs would be more than worth it.
“(The festival) was considered widely successful and a great economic driver for our community, certainly in terms of recognition both in our community and across the state,” Mitchell said. “We got quite a bit of exposure that not every community has an opportunity to get.”
Development ordinance passes
The board also passed the town’s first new development ordinance in more than 50 years, beginning with a repeal of all existing development ordinances.
“This is not meant to complement what we have; this is meant to replace our development regulations,” Mitchell said. “It’s not an update.”
Fuquay-Varina decided to start from scratch more than three years ago when it became clear that its patchwork development rules were too ambiguous and difficult to use with an unprecedented volume of development applications.
The LDO, an 831-page document containing zoning codes, subdivision ordinances and environmental standards, is designed to be more accessible to those not familiar with the development regulations, Mitchell said.
It reduces the number of zoning distinctions available and provides developers more flexibility to develop under a form-based code, which makes it easier to build modern, mixed-use developments without having to rezone each section separately.
“It’s a monumental step in reshaping our community,” said Commissioner William Harris, 65, who grew up in Fuquay-Varina and was first elected to the Town Board in 1987. “Having been a part of the community as it was under the old zoning regulations and seeing what is proposed here, it reshapes this entire community. It’s a monumental step in the history of Fuquay-Varina.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan