In Cary and southwestern Wake County, growth continued to be the dominating theme of the year, whether it influenced the building of new homes or who was elected into office.
As we head into the new year, we look back at the stories that dominated 2015.
Elections bring new faces
In Cary, the Town Council remained largely unchanged as Mayor Harold Weinbrecht and incumbents Don Frantz and Lori Bush won re-election. Ken George, founder and president of NetSmart Inc., also joined the council this year as the District D representative after earning the most votes during an October election and November runoff. The seat was formerly occupied by Gale Adcock, who was elected to the state House in 2014. The Cary Town Council appointed a new mayor pro tem – Councilman Ed Yerha.
In Apex, the Town Council race often turned heated among some of the candidates as the issue of how to manage growth was at the forefront. In the end, the council’s makeup shifted to members who emphasize slow growth, instead of pro growth, as voters made it clear they’re uncomfortable with the pace of residential development in Apex. New Mayor Lance Olive has plenty of ideas, and many residents want to see action on a downtown senior center and plans for a major park in southwest Apex.
In Fuquay-Varina, Mayor John Byrne won re-election to a record ninth term. Other winning board members were incumbent council members Charlie Adcock and Bill Harris, and newcomer Marilyn Gardner.
In Morrisville, voters supported the status quo, re-electing Liz Johnson and Michael Schlink while also choosing newcomer Satish Garimella, who had support from several current council members, for an open seat.
In Holly Springs, Cheri Lee was elected to her second term while Tom O’Brien, an account manager with Time Warner Cable Business Class, joined the board as a new member. O’Brien unseated longtime incumbent and Mayor Pro Tem Tim Sack, who served three nonconsecutive terms on the Holly Springs Town Council. The council also appointed Councilman Jimmy Cobb as the new mayor pro tem.
Growth brings tough decisions
The constant expansion of new homes in western Wake County has been a driving force in the region for years, and 2015 was no different. New developments bring road work and fees to build new parks, but they have also led to more traffic and crowded schools.
And because of the area’s quick growth, western Wake County residents are also the state’s most under-represented constituents in both the N.C. Senate and House of Representatives, a UNC-Chapel Hill study found. Expect new congressional districts to be created in the next few years.
RailHawks get new owner
In May, a global investigation into FIFA found its way to Cary as Aaron Davidson was one of 14 world soccer figures indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice. At the time, Davidson was president of Traffic Sports USA Inc., which owned the RailHawks. The scandal only spurred fans’ desire for local ownership.
They got their wish in late October as Stephen Malik, a Cary entrepreneur, bought the team, becoming the fourth owner in the team’s history. “I’m in it for the long run,” he said, describing his vision for boosting the team’s profile.
New schools open
As more people move to western Wake County, so does the need for new school. This year saw several new schools open in the area, both traditional and charter, while new schools took form.
Apex Friendship High School and Scotts Ridge Elementary School both opened to much local relief. The two schools in west Apex help ease crowding at nearby schools and now allow hundreds of students to learn in state-of-the-art classrooms.
Apex Friendship’s campus is set to get new elementary and middle schools in the future, too. And Wake County officials broke ground on several new elementary school campuses in Apex, Morrisville and Cary in 2015.
Several charter schools and private schools also opened or expanded in 2015, ensuring that western Wake County’s growing population will have educational choices going forward.
Apex named No. 1
Money Magazine declared in August that no small town in America is better than Apex, and residents agreed whole-heartedly. Money named the town the No. 1 place to live in the country, giving the Wake County town a national spotlight to showcase its small town charm, vibrant downtown, affordable housing and nearby jobs. The town celebrated with a party while the distinction also served as a fitting end to the careers of Mayor Bill Sutton and Town Manager Bruce Radford, who both finished their decades of public service in December.
Downtown Cary transforms
At the start of 2015, Belle had been open in the historic Jones House as one of the newest restaurants in downtown Cary with the help of the Cary Town Council, which spent $255,000 to help renovate the building. Belle joined an already established Cary Arts Center at the southern end of Academy Street as one of several amenities that town officials hoped would bring more people downtown.
Throughout the year, construction began on the Mayton Inn, which is expected to open in early 2016; opened a new fire station on East Chatham Street; began construction on Downtown Park; and furthered plans for a nearby parking deck, which will be constructed in conjunction with a new Wake County regional library.
With Academy Street streetscape projects well underway, downtown Cary continues to transform and will become more pedestrian friendly. The construction does cause some headaches, though, as restaurants and businesses said they had lost business from those who didn’t want to navigate through the road upheaval.
Still, the transformation not only is attracting the attention of Cary residents who are frequenting downtown to visit restaurants, retail and other amenities, including Pharmacy Bottle and Beverage and The Cary Theater, but it’s also catching the eye of developers and business owners.
One new downtown development – Midtown Square – is already in the works. By fall of next year, the site at 215 E. Chatham St., will be home to a 25,000-square-foot, three-story brick office and retail space. The same developer, Northwoods Associates LP, will renovate the Midtown Shopping Center next door, which will be anchored by the brewery, Bond Brothers Beer Company. Current shopping center tenants – Brentwood Carpets, Capital Vacuum Floor-Care World and Just Tires – will not be displaced by the renovations. The fourth space will be filled by a restaurant that has yet to be announced.
Cary homicides rise
Cary is known for its low crime rate. But by the end of the year, it had recorded its highest number of homicides in years – five – with three of those coming within a matter of days in December.
As the year ended, a double homicide shocked the community. On Dec. 20, Cary police said Brandon James Lee, 34, called 911 and admitted to strangling his mother and girlfriend. Lee has been charged with murdering Christa Lee, 58, who lived with him, and Krystal Juell Hylton, 28. Lee faces death or life imprisonment without parole if convicted.
In May, Dwight Anthony Blount, 53, was charged with one count of first-degree murder and has been accused of robbing and killing Luciano Mariano Andia in the parking lot of a shopping center at High House Road and N.C. 55. Andia worked at the Dollar Tree in the shopping center and at the American Sexual Health Association. Meanwhile, people in the community raised money for Andia’s family.
In July, three teens and a 20-year-old were charged with first-degree murder charges in the death of Katherine “Katie” Ann Burdick-Crow, a Green Hope High student. Police said her death came after a drug deal turned into a fight at Cary’s Walnut Street Park in June. The four young people charged with murder pleaded to lesser charges earlier this month with all spending various lengths of time in prison.
At press time, the death of Cary resident Nalini Tellaprolu, 51, remained unsolved. Her body was found by her family at her home in west Cary on Dec. 17. The next day, the State Medical Examiner’s Office determined her death was a homicide. A cause of death nor suspects have been released.
TopGolf may come to Cary
TopGolf has been looking to open its first North Carolina location in Cary – first at Cary Towne Center and now near Cary Crossroads.
The company, which has golf-themed entertainment complexes, had hoped to open at the mall in the former Sears location as a way to help rejuvenate the aging shopping center. But plans were scrapped as the Texas-based company decided to switch gears due to noise and lighting concerns from residents who live near the mall.
Once a new location was identified later in the year, the town met with the company to discuss an 18.56-acre site on Piney Plains Road near the Dillard Drive intersection. If TopGolf decides to open on of its elaborate entertainment and restaurant complexes there, a rezoning application would need to be submitted next.
Cary Towne Center upgrades on the way
Cary Towne Center mall owners are seeking to revitalize and attract new tenants to the mall site. Mall owners CBL & Associates Properties Inc. have expressed hope that the town’s first indoor trampoline center, opening in the first quarter of 2016, will do what TopGolf might have done in terms of attracting people to the center.
Jumpstreet, a Colorado-based company, will open its first North Carolina location in early March at 1111 Walnut St., which was formerly occupied by Harris Teeter.
Meanwhile, CBL is seeking approval to develop a building at the northwest corner of the mall property for a potential multi-tenant restaurant or retail use.
Fiber in western Wake
Earlier this year, Google Fiber announced that Cary and Morrisville were two of seven municipalities in the Triangle where the company plans to lay its fiber-optic cable to bring high-speed Internet. But a service that was celebrated in January has since drawn complaints from residents, who say construction crews are blocking roads without notice, digging up yards without asking and sometimes hitting utility lines.
At the same time, private contractors for AT&T and Time Warner Cable have be constructing new and updating existing communications infrastructure through the same area, and Holly Springs is expected to join Triangle neighbors in getting ultra high-speed Internet through Ting Internet. Ting will build by demand with construction beginning as soon as early 2016 with the first customers expected to come online around early summer.
Salamanders at bat
Holly Springs welcomes the Holly Springs Salamanders this spring with much fanfare as the new North Main Athletic Complex opened, giving the town its first sports franchise and a shiny new stadium. The team, made up of college players, is in the Coastal Plain League and featured some former Wake County high school players. While construction delays meant not all of the complex was completed on opening day, that didn’t matter to the hundreds of fans who came to cheer on the home team, and meet Sal the Salamander mascot.
Sydnei Murphy soars
All eyes were on Sydnei Murphy this spring as the Apex High senior attempted to achieve another personal best: becoming a four-time state champion at the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A track and field championships. While she didn’t win her four events – the triple jump, long jump, 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash – she ran away with two of those titles and personal best times in others. She also earned MVP honors. Before she headed to Duke in the fall, she was named the News & Observer’s female athlete of the year.
540 Outer Loop debated
The Wake County Commissioners and the mayors of Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina and Garner spent many hours in 2015 campaigning in favor of building the expansion of N.C. 540 along what’s known as the Orange Route. The decision is up to the N.C. Department of Transportation, but local officials want to make their opinions clear. The Orange Route would run parallel to Ten-Ten Road and would have the least impact on existing homes and businesses. However, the state has yet to pull the trigger because the Orange Route could affect wetlands home to an endangered species of mussel.
Apex approves Sweetwater
The large multi-use development that dominated much of Apex’s municipal election in 2015 was approved at the outgoing council’s very last meeting. Despite protests from neighboring residents who cited concerns over traffic, Sweetwater’s developers say the project won’t affect traffic too much and will bring hundreds of homes and a significant amount of restaurant, shopping and office space to west Apex.
Fuquay-Varina arts & parks
This year was a busy one for Fuquay-Varina’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources. When the town opened one of the Triangle’s few splash pads this summer, thousands of people attended in the first few days, including an audience for the groundbreaking that nearly engulfed South Park in a sea of eager children and parents.
Residents were more divided over the town’s purchase of the Stars Theater, however. The controversial decision this spring came at the expensive of a costlier proposal by businessman Bob Barker to donate the town one of his old warehouses to turn into a massive space for art, theater and conventions. The town instead chose the much smaller and less expensive Stars Theater in a decision that upset some but was seen as prudent by others.
The town also re-opened Falcon Park in 2015, got a brand new shelter at South Park to replace one burned by two teens and moved forward with various plans for more sidewalks and greenways.
Cary town manager retires
Longtime Cary Town Manager Ben Shivar retired in September after 39 years in municipal government. He started working for Cary 19 years ago and served as the assistant town manager from 1995 to 2009.
But by the end of the year, the town still didn’t have a replacement. In August, the Cary Town Council selected Waters and Company Executive Recruitment to conduct a national search for Cary’s new town manager. Forty two applications were submitted for the position, but after four months, the Town Council decided to start the process over after not coming to a unanimous decision on any of the three finalists. The council will meet with consultants early next year to decided how to proceed.
New police chiefs
Deputy Police Chief Tony Godwin was named Cary’s new police chief in August after working for the Town of Cary for 25 years. He was selected from more than 75 applicants to replace former Police Chief Pat Bazemore, who retired July 31 after 29 years with the department. After joining the Cary Police Department in 1990 as a patrol officer, Godwin served in numerous other capacities, including leadership positions on Cary’s Emergency Response Team, Field Operations and Criminal Investigations Division.
Meanwhile, Morrisville is in search of a new chief after Police Chief Ira Jones retired in November after 21 years, including 11 years as chief. Meanwhile, new Fuquay-Varina Police Chief Laura Fahnestock settled into her new job, having been hired to lead the department in April. Fahnestock, formerly a division commander with the Rocky Mount Police Department, is the town’s first woman chief, replacing Chief Larry Smith, who retired in March.
Holly Springs job boom
Holly Springs leads Wake County municipalities in job growth, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce. Town officials and staff attributed this success to a consistent focus on business retention and expansion. As of September, Holly Springs businesses employed nearly 3,000 more people than in 2010 – a 26 percent increase in employment during that five-year period.
Town staff continue efforts toward business retention and expansion through frequent communications with existing companies and by maintaining a strong land portfolio and network of brokers and site selections. Holly Springs now has several land parcels available for development, including lots in the Holly Springs Business Park and space at the Friendship site adjacent to U.S. 1. Town staff are also working to certify about 200 acres of land adjacent to the Business Park as shovel-ready for new development.