As western Wake County’s previously small towns transform into an increasingly cohesive and urban metropolitan area, they’re all confronting similarly inevitable strains on roads, schools, and occasionally, residents’ patience.
To many residents, it might seem as though new roads, new homes and new shopping centers are springing out of the ground with wild abandon. In reality, they’re almost always the product of years of planning. That’s why it’s possible to predict with some certainty what 2017 holds for the area.
In short? More of everything.
Downtown Cary changes
Downtown Cary has transformed in the last 12 months.
The $8 million downtown streetscape project – a nearly year-and-a-half venture – wrapped up in October after months of delays.
What was once a chaotic construction zone with torn-up sidewalks, piles of dirt and areas roped off by orange plastic, now features freshly paved roads, benches, trees and sidewalks, creating a once-again walkable (and driveable) downtown.
Some construction still remains near the southern end of Academy Street as work continues on Cary’s new Downtown Park, which began in fall 2015. Construction of phase one of the park is expected to be completed this spring. However, the building of a new Wake County regional library and nearby parking deck – complete with a “firefly effect” facade – near the corner of Kildaire Farm Road and Walnut Street will still be on the horizon for 2017. The county plans to open the library during the fall of 2018.
The Mayton Inn opened along South Academy Street in February, and many other new businesses have been attracted to the area since then. Pizzeria Faulisi, La Farm Bakery, Annelore’s German Bakery, Pro’s Epicurean Market and Cafe and FRESH. Local Ice Cream all have announced their intentions to open downtown in 2017.
Pizzeria Faulisi is going to be housed in the soon-to-be completed 25,000-square-foot, three-story office and retail building at 215 E. Chatham St. with Pro’s Epicurean Market and Cafe in the newly renovated Midtown Shopping Center next door, which is anchored by the brewery, Bond Brothers Beer Company.
The developer of the office building, Northwoods Associates, is expected to move forward with a $51 million mixed-use development that would bring a 55,000- to 75,000-square-foot retail and office building, 188-unit apartment building and 466-space parking deck to the southeast corner of West Chatham Street and South Harrison Avenue. The Town Council has yet to approve plans.
A new tenant for the Jones House, which was occupied by the Belle restaurant until January, is expected to be announced in the coming months.
Cary’s eastern gateway
Wegmans Food Markets confirmed that it is seeking to open two stores in Cary in the coming years.
One would be on a 90-acre site off north of Cary Towne Center in the town’s eastern gateway. The other is expected to be on about 34 acres between Davis Drive and the Twin Lakes subdivision in western Cary.
South Carolina-based developer Columbia Development Group has yet to submit plans for review to the town for the property near the mall. The project is expected to be a mixed-use development with an emphasis on office space, high-end retail and the Wegmans.
Mayor Harold Weinbrecht has said on his blog that a possible redevelopment plan for Cary Towne Center across the street may be submitted to the town. Mall representatives also have alluded to the possibility of this redevelopment plan, including an “in-demand retailer,” according to a transcript of a conference call with analysts and shareholders this fall.
Next to the mall, the Triangle Aquatic Center is planning its own potential expansion – a national diving center that could be built next door. Mike Curran, president of TAC, has said it would be designed for training divers, including those at the Olympic level, and hosting local, regional, national and international diving competitions.
Morrisville recreation facilities
Construction on the renovation and expansion of the Morrisville Aquatic and Fitness Center could move forward this year after weeks of debate last spring about how to handle anticipated cost overruns. The Town Council now supports a less expensive compromise. If a final design is approved soon, construction on the facility could begin this fall.
Initial cost estimates put the renovation of the MAFC alone in excess of the $5.7 million bond voters approved in 2012, a sum that was also supposed to cover the renovation and construction of tennis courts. Now that the council is on board with a less costly pool enclosure, it appears the town might be able to deliver on the promise of that bond, tennis courts and all.
The town also will begin work this year on a major bike and pedestrian path – the Crabtree-Hatcher Creek Greenway – that will span the width of Morrisville and connect its greenway system to the Town of Cary’s.
A Wake County grant of $258,000 will fund the installation of lights at Morrisville’s Church Street cricket grounds, which are among the only regulation grounds in the southeast. Lights will make the facility more attractive to cricket leagues from around the world.
Apex hopes for commercial payoff
There were indications in late 2015 that a groundbreaking was imminent for Veridea, a tranformational, 1,100-acre mixed-use development planned for the semi-rural outskirts of Apex. But 2016 came and went without such a groundbreaking, and it’s not clear that one will occur early in 2017, either.
The project stalled this year as negotiations took longer than expected between the town and developers about the nature and scope of the utility partnership. A utility agreement is working its way through the town right now, as is a proposed amendment to the town’s sustainable development ordinance that would help the developer expedite site plan approval. The amendment was scheduled to go before the council Jan. 3.
Elsewhere, the council is hoping its strong stance in favor of mixed-use development and commercial properties will pay off, despite assertions by some developers that Apex doesn’t yet have the population density to support the kinds of commercial projects some council members desire.
There are promising signs, though, that mixed-use development could pan out in major growth areas to the southwest of the current town limits, where rezoning applications promising commercial properties were submitted and approved in 2016.
Publix, at least, has decided to commit to the town. The popular grocery chain is expected to open its second Triangle location in Apex in 2017, at the intersection of Olive Chapel and Kelly roads and close to U.S. 64’s interchange with the Triangle Expressway.
Holly Springs growth
The state’s first modern toll road is expected to generate more growth in western Holly Springs and southern Apex when a new interchange is completed just east of U.S. 1 in early 2017, adding access to the Triangle Expressway at Old Holly Springs-Apex Road.
Holly Springs already has seen much growth as a result of toll road interchanges, particularly the 2013 connection to the N.C. 55 bypass. This connection increased traffic on the bypass, providing additional exposure to an already growing area.
This ultimately led to the development of Holly Springs Towne Center, which made numerous new business announcements in 2016, including Holly Springs’ first movie theater – Carmike’s Ovation Cinema Grill 9.
Construction on two other Holly Springs road projects, which are expected to improve traffic flow on Avent Ferry Road, began last year. Work at N.C. 55 and Avent Ferry was completed, creating a type of superstreet at the intersection.
Another project, extending Main Street across N.C. 55 to Piney Grove Wilbon Road, also began in 2016 and is expected to be completed in 2018. The town is receiving federal and state funding to pay for most of the cost of the improvement.
The town may also get a new grocery store in 2017 – The Fresh Market – after the Holly Springs Town Council approved the Holly Lakes Shopping Center off Sunset Lake Road in September.
Holly Springs’ sports tourism
Holly Springs’ North Main Athletic Complex attracted two new tournaments for 2017.
In August, the Coastal Plain League announced it would bring it’s 19th annual All-Star game there in July. The two-day event is expected to bring up to $3 million and more than 2,500 people to the area.
A few months later, the National Club Baseball Association announced it would hold its Division I World Series at the same venue in May 2017 and 2018. The two NCBA tournaments are expected to generate a combined $2 million and attract thousands of people to the area.
The CPL and NCBA events will be two of the largest regional and national events that Holly Springs has ever hosted.
Fuquay-Varina continues boom
Right now, the Fuquay-Varina planning department is sitting on 25 development applications in various stages, Town Manager Adam Mitchell said. Historically, that number has hovered between eight and 12.
That leads Mitchell to think 2017 will continue the trend of 2016, itself a record-setting year for building permits and other growth indicators in town.
Traffic is as bad as ever, though, and the town hopes two intersection improvement projects slated for construction in 2017 will help. Work at those hot spots – Judd Parkway at North Main Street and Sunset Lake Road at North Main Street – could help unclog two of the main arteries into and out of the town’s commercial district. Right-of-way acquisition and design for Northwest Judd Parkway will continue throughout 2017; construction is slated to begin in early 2018.
The town is also in the midst of overhauling its long-term development documents, including its land-use plan and transportation plan. One result of those big-picture discussions has been a renewed effort to shepherd high-density projects onto land inside of Judd Parkway, close to downtown, and encourage pedestrian connectivity within those developments.
Downtown will continue to be a point of emphasis for town leaders. Residents will notice throughout 2017 the construction of a modern-looking arts center at the corner of Fuquay Avenue and Vance Street, set to open in early 2018. The town hopes the arts center, which includes a 300-seat theater, will encourage still more investment in the downtown from private investors.
In May, the WRAL Freedom Balloon Festival returns for a second year after the festival and the town signed an agreement in the fall to keep the event in Fuquay-Varina for an additional five years. The event presented major traffic challenges but was ultimately billed as a success – enough of one, at least, for the organizers to sign on through 2022.
The terms of Cary council members Jack Smith, Jennifer Robinson and Ed Yerha will expire this year. Smith covers district C, or southeastern Cary. Robinson covers district A, or northwestern Cary. Yerha is an at-large representative.
The terms of Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears and council members Jimmy Cobb and Hank Dickson will expire this year. The council also was expected to appoint a new member Jan. 3, to replace former councilwoman Linda Hunt Williams, who was elected to the N.C. House of Representatives in November.
Morrisville’s recently redrawn council member districts could come into play as early as this year. Council members TJ Cawley and Liz Johnson now share a district, and Cawley’s term is set to expire in December. There has been recent discussion of re-numbering those new districts, however, which could further affect term cycles based on the town charter’s rules for even- and odd-numbered districts.
New schools are opening this year, and others are closing as the county attempts to juggle its growing student population while replacing aging school infrastructure.
Charter schools, such as the K-8 Peak Charter Academy, will open in 2017. Pine Springs Preperatory Academy, another K-8 institution, will open the same month in Holly Springs.
Apex High School will be demolished after students and teachers clear out this summer, making way for a two-year construction project that will result in a totally new Apex High School opening in 2019. In the meantime, students and teachers currently assigned to Apex High will spend two years at the newly constructed Green Level High.
Construction will begin at Apex Friendship Middle School, which is set to open in 2018 next to Apex Friendship High School. The 2017-18 school year will be Apex Friendship High School’s first with a senior class.
In the fall, the Fuquay-Varina Town Council signed off on the construction of Willow Spring High School, which, when constructed, will take on Fuquay-Varina High School students so that school can undergo a massive renovation between 2019 and 2021. Work will begin on the new school in the spring.
Renovations continue at Lincoln Heights Elementary School in Fuquay-Varina, which will feature an entirely new classroom wing by 2018. Wake County’s school board restored the school’s magnet status in November after it was phased out nearly a decade ago. The elementary school will open in August 2017 as a magnet school.
In Holly Springs, Buckhorn Creek Elementary School’s site plan was approved by the Town Council in December. Construction will begin in mid-2017.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan
Trogdon: 919-829-4845; @ktrogdon