Cary News

Consultants urge Morrisville to rethink downtown plan

Consultants say Morrisville leaders should abandon their plan to build a downtown center off of Jeremiah Street and look instead to an area off of Morrisville-Carpenter Road.

The town has had trouble securing all the land it needs off of Jeremiah Street.

But some Town Council members say they are reluctant to consider spending up to $30,000 to study another site – especially since another consultant told them a decade ago that the Jeremiah Street site was ideal.

Changing the downtown plan at this point would hurt residents, developers and property owners who invested in property around Jeremiah Street, officials said.

The move would also negate about 10 years of work on the current plan. Morrisville has spent about $1.4 million to buy half of the 22 acres needed for the future Main Street area that could feature shopping, dining and residential units on Jeremiah Street.

The town also spent about $55,000 on consulting fees to study the area.

The Morrisville-Carpenter Road site near Town Hall Drive would likely have its own issues if town leaders decide to pursue the area for a downtown center. Rush-hour traffic backs on the road.

Councilwoman Liz Johnson, who has been part of the downtown planning process from the beginning, expressed her frustration during a specially called meeting on Monday.

“To me we did our due diligence in late 2000,” Johnson said. “We invested and we brought property, and we engaged the community and they bought in. Now we want to start over again, do more due diligence? I’m not sure I will ever be in favor of moving forward with this.”

Most of the 15 property owners near the Jeremiah Street site are unwilling to sell, according to TradeMark Properties, Raleigh-based consultants hired by the town.

Morrisville’s original plan was to sell the 10 acres it already owns to developers and also to secure the rights to the remaining 12 acres. Then developers could buy them and build as part of a public-private partnership.

But the property owners aren’t happy that there are so many unknown factors, including when their property would be sold, said Wallace Green of TradeMark.

Green, who serves as the president of the Raleigh Area Development Authority, has years of experience putting parcels together for large projects.

The town could choose to buy the remaining properties, which would cost between $2.4 million and $2.6 million, Green said.

But council members didn’t indicate they were willing to spend more money to acquire more land.

Meanwhile, the Morrisville-Carpenter Road site is owned by the Triangle Transit Authority, so the town wouldn’t have to deal with so many property owners.

“I think this can be a transformative project for the community,” said Morrisville Planning Director Ben Hitchings. “But we have to pick the right place. We don’t have enough information to know what the right place is.”

Hitchings wants the town to pay to do a market analysis and traffic impact study, along with analyzing revenue projections and road-improvement cost estimates.

The whole process would take about four months, he said.

Council members said they needed more time to consider the alternative site before deciding to move forward with more studies. The council is set to make a decision at its May 13 meeting.

“It’s frustrating,” said Mayor Mark Stohlman. “It feels like we are throwing away eight years of work. It feels like we are taking the promises we made to people that they would get this activity center there. I just feel like we are not fulfilling that promise we made. ... I would like to see what could be done with what we have.”