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IKEA store will bring a splash of blue and push design rules in 'beige' Cary

If Cary is a beige town, a bright-blue IKEA store will undoubtedly stand out.

Town leaders have made design concessions for the Swedish furniture store, which plans to open in Cary Towne Center in 2020. As part of a rezoning approved last fall, the town council OK'd a blue metal building, IKEA's standard.

It's become a bit of a joke that Cary, a suburban community of 160,000 people, is known for its neutral tones. For commercial buildings, Cary's design standards require 75 percent of the facade to be masonry — brick, stone, tile.

But IKEA's buildings are metal, and so the town council said yes to metal in Cary. Also, the sign on the building's facade will be about 3,600 square feet, or about 50 percent more than the town usually allows.

IKEA also received permission to have taller flagpoles than Cary allows — 35 feet vs. the 25-foot norm. IKEA also wanted a circle of feather flags at the entrance to its parking lot, but the town said no to that.

Since October, town staff have been reviewing site plans for the store, said Rob Wilson, development manager in Cary's planning department.

An average development project in Cary goes through four to five rounds of site-plan reviews, Wilson said, with town staff pointing out needed changes. But at two stories and 380,000 square feet, Cary's IKEA store "isn't an average project," he said.

Still, the town and the project's engineer, Kimley-Horn and Associates, are making progress. In round one of the review process, town staff laid out 117 needed changes. Kimley-Horn has already addressed 42 of those, leaving 75 on the table.

"So, they resolved approximately one-third of their original comments during their second review," Wilson said in an email. "This type of back-and-forth dialogue and progress is consistent with what we see for most projects."

The town's comments on the site plans have touched on a host of matters: the number of required handicapped parking spaces, for example, and firetruck access to the planned parking deck. Other topics: tree protection during demolition of the Sears and Macy's buildings, erosion control, screening for utility boxes, lighting and landscaping.

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A developer will sometimes object to changes the town seeks to site plans. But it's "a very uncommon occurrence," Wilson said.

"If we do get 'stuck' on a comment, then we will usually meet to discuss all potential scenarios for resolving the situation and try to find one that is mutually acceptable," he said.

If that doesn't work, Wilson said, a developer can appeal to the town's Zoning Board of Adjustment or ask Cary to modify its regulations.

Wilson said he expects the IKEA site plan review to wrap up in late summer or early fall. "IKEA has given us the impression that this schedule will work for them," he said.

IKEA is just the first wave in a sea of change coming to Cary Towne Center. Belk and Dillard's, which own their buildings, will remain. But when developers are finished, Cary Towne Center will no longer be a traditional mall.

A preliminary development plan for phase two shows buildings in four pods. Two pods will offer restaurants and mixed-use buildings. The third will feature mixed uses, restaurants and retail. A fourth pod shows housing with parking.

Scott Bolejack: 919-829-4629, @ScottBolejack
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