Residential development is not slowing down in western Cary despite enrollment caps at local schools and a rising anti-growth sentiment among some residents.
The Cary Town Council voted 5-1 on Tuesday to approve a rezoning request that will allow Pulte Homes to build about 140 homes on 47 acres on Green Hope School Road. The site is next to Highcroft Drive Elementary School, which is already overcrowded.
Highcroft does not have an enrollment cap, but it feeds into Mills Park Middle School, which is likely to remain capped for another few years. The school system is not expected to build another middle school in Cary until 2019.
Council members said they worried the new subdivision would put a strain on already-crowded schools in the area.
Despite their reservations, council members said they felt compelled to approve the development because it’s in line with the town’s land-use plan – which recommends a maximum of three homes per acre – and because Pulte offered several concessions that other developers may not offer in the future.
“Less than three units per acre is about as good as you’re gonna get,” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said.
Pulte reduced the density of the project from 3.6 homes per acre to 2.99 homes per acre, increased the average lot size to 7,000 square feet and promised to build a right-turn lane from Green Hope School Road onto southbound N.C. 55 after the council expressed concerns during a meeting in April.
Chris Raughley, Pulte’s vice president of land development, said some residents withdrew their opposition to the project after developers amended their plans.
“We’ve done everything that we’ve been asked to do on this project,” Raughley said. “The density we’re proposing is half of what’s allowed on this project (under the proposed zoning).”
Councilman Don Frantz said developers deserved credit for working with local residents.
“He addressed a lot of our displeasure,” Frantz said of Raughley. “I don’t see how we can say no to it. I’d be worried about what would come along if we did. I think this is the best we’re gonna get.”
The council has not rejected a proposed development because of the overcrowding at local schools, but it has frequently sent developers back to the drawing board to reduce the density of their plans.
Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson, who cast the dissenting vote, said the council needs to draw a line in the sand somewhere to lift some of the pressure off local schools.
Until then, she said, the council will continue to allow another “drip in the bucket, drip in the bucket, drip in the bucket.”
Meanwhile, Weinbrecht and Councilwoman Lori Bush called attention to the Wake County Board of Commissioners, which is responsible for funding new school construction.
School system administrators have said the county needed about 40 new schools as of a year ago. Citing concerns for taxpayers during a feeble economy, commissioners were only willing to put a bond referendum on the fall 2013 ballot to fund 16 new schools.
“I’ll just say it, County Commissioners need to fund schools. Period,” Weinbrecht said. “That is their job and they need to do it.”
“Let your voices be heard, because we don’t have control of the schools,” Bush told observers in the Cary council chambers.
Until development slows and more schools are built, the council is likely to continue receiving comments from residents like Anne Rodgers, who emailed the council about the Pulte subdivision in late August.
“Please stop approving all these new neighborhoods until the new schools can be built!!!!!” she wrote. “I would consider this poor management and/or poor communication with other local governing bodies. It’s time to recognize your fiduciary responsibility and halt new growth in Western Cary until the new schools are built.”