The Cary Town Council has decided to expedite adopting a plan for the town’s eastern gateway, signaling the area’s heightened importance amid developer interest and a possible Wegmans.
The council instructed town staff at a work session Thursday, April 14, to move forward with the adoption process for the eastern Cary gateway special planning area. The vision for the land covers Cary Towne Center north to Chapel Hill Road and Maynard Road east to Interstate 40. It was drafted as part of Imagine Cary, an effort to prepare a new community plan to guide growth through 2040.
Jeff Ulma, the town’s planning director, said the adoption process would take about four months and would include several opportunities for public input.
The eastern Cary gateway SPA plan is centered around a 90-acre state-owned property off Cary Towne Boulevard where the council imagines a destination center with a mix of uses, including retail, restaurant, residential, hotels and office space, integrated together with little surface parking that complements Cary Towne Center across the street.
On Tuesday, April 19, Columbia Development Group representatives said they would soon submit a revised plan to the Town of Cary for the state property, illustrating a more office-driven, mixed-use development that includes a Wegmans.
The property drew statewide attention in January when supermarket chain Wegmans Food Markets announced it was interested in putting its first North Carolina location on this site across from the mall.
Around the same time, the South Carolina developer submitted preliminary plans that included thousands of square feet of retail, restaurant and office space, plus some residential, structured parking and potentially a 130-room hotel.
The council first reviewed the draft plan for the eastern Cary gateway SPA about a week after the Wegmans announcement. Council members stressed high-density and high-intensity development in the town’s eastern gateway, as well as a transit- and pedestrian-friendly environment.
The town visioning process sparked the changes to Columbia Development Group’s development plan, officials said.
Cary Towne Center, meanwhile, faces revitalization challenges as the mall has lost two anchor tenants in the last two years.
“We appreciate the hard work that the town is putting into the eastern gateway, and we look forward to our continued role in the planning process,” said Jason Barron, a lawyer representing Cary Towne Center owner CBL & Associates Properties, Tuesday.
Before Columbia’s announcement, a majority of the council members, including Jennifer Robinson, supported expediting the adoption of the eastern gateway special planning area because of developer interest in the area.
“I think we just need to make it very clear to the public that this particular area is of heightened importance to us,” she said. “We see that there’s a lot of interest in developing it, and therefore, we want to be as clear as possible as soon as possible so that all applicants know where we are coming from.”
Other council members were more hesitant about speeding up the process.
“This is a critical piece of our town,” councilman Ed Yerha said. “I don’t want to have any impression that we’re railroading this through.”
Staff also offered the council another option, which was to continue working on the eastern Cary gateway SPA and adopt it with the rest of the Imagine Cary plan early next year.
But Ulma said if the council adopts the plan and needs to tweak it later, the plan could be amended.
In other business
On Thursday, the council also reviewed the Imagine Cary plan for downtown Cary.
Council members highlighted the importance of wording the Imagine Cary planning document in such a way to see transitions in downtown without limiting themselves.
For example, the draft plan showed the East Chatham Street area, which runs from the roundabout to the intersection of Maynard Road and Chatham Street, allowing buildings up to seven stories tall.
“The vision for the East Chatham area is really a mixed-use gateway,” said Leigh Anne King of Clarion & Associates, an Imagine Cary consultant. “This would be the most intensely developed area of downtown, transitioning from the eastern Cary gateway to the other portions of downtown.”
But council members didn’t want to be limited in case an exceptional project with eight-story buildings came along.
Even if the planning document says up to seven stories, King said the council is not tied to that number.
“If it’s a compelling case and it comes in at 8 and it seems to match the evolution of the area and the transition of the gateway then we just deal with it then,” councilman Jack Smith said.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608, @KTrogdon