Homeowners along Cary’s Urban Drive fear the road’s name is becoming increasingly apt.
A .19-acre lot on Urban Drive near downtown Cary is proposed to be the site of five new townhouses – a minuscule project, on the face of things.
But it was clear during a public hearing Thursday that both residents and town leaders see the rezoning request as a bellwether for a new era of development in downtown Cary, one in which the area’s mid-century homes are sold and redeveloped to make way for new, denser housing to support Cary’s growing downtown.
The hearing stretched on for more than 90 minutes Thursday as residents and business owners weighed in on the project and what it suggested about downtown Cary’s urbanization process.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
“I’m very passionate about what’s going on in our neighborhood, to the point where I’ve about made myself sick over it,” said Janet Couture, who lives on Urban Drive next to the property in question. “I’ve been a Realtor since 2002. My family’s been here since the 1930s. And I have to tell you that people don’t want townhomes. They don’t want condos. They want single-family homes with yards.”
A procession of more than a dozen like-minded residents followed Couture to the podium at the June 8 town council meeting, expressing concern for the neighborhood’s changing character and the potential chain reaction townhouses on the site could set off.
A four-story condo building is planned just north of the Urban Drive lot, and residents said the visual impact of two multi-family projects looming over their 60-year-old bungalows would accelerate the neighborhood’s redevelopment.
“One of the issues I have is the domino effect that this can create in our neighborhood, which is highly residential,” said Don Couture, Janet’s husband. “Someone in a little home looking up at these townhomes, he might think it might be time for him to get out, too.”
As at nearly all recent discussions of new development in Cary, residents also brought up frequent flooding in nearby homes and said they expected the density of downtown redevelopment would only make things worse.
Cary’s stormwater experts contested those claims, saying new developments are required to completely offset their stormwater impacts and that worsening flooding is due primarily to rainfall totals 12 inches above average each of the last five years – not new construction. Many of those worst affected live in older homes built before regulations prohibited residential construction in flood plains.
Most residents at the June 8 hearing said they admired the improvements Cary had made to its downtown in the past decade but that they felt the density of new projects was too much, too quickly.
Downtown advocates and business owners, though, said those residents couldn’t expect to have it both ways.
“How wonderful downtown is – the restaurants and the entertainment and the many options they are currently taking advantage of – this requires density,” said Tim Devinney, another Cary real estate agent. “I heard someone say she can’t sell townhomes – I sell them all the time. There is a very, very strong market demand for this type of housing in downtown Cary. People want to live here, and they don’t want to have to crank their car to go everywhere.”
The council did not vote on the project Thursday, and council members didn’t suggest how they’ll vote when the matter comes back to them later this summer. But they did acknowledge residents’ hunch that the furor surrounding this small property’s fate hinted at bigger things to come.
“This is a historic moment, because it’s the first of many conversations like this that the council will have over the next few years,” Mayor pro tem Ed Yerha said. “And these conversations will not be easy.”
Another public hearing on the project will be held before the Cary planning and zoning board. That hearing’s date has not yet been announced.
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan