The Cary Town Council on Thursday reached a deal with a local apartment complex to replace buffer vegetation that workers cut down earlier this year, prompting a $70,184 fine from the town.
Cary fines violators of its buffer rules $2 to $4 per square foot based on the amount of damage documented. In April, the town fined Amberwood Apartments for damaging more than 17,546 square feet of vegetation at the corner of Piney Plains Road and Southeast Cary Parkway.
The incident outraged some residents, including a Cary councilman who said he wanted the management group to “feel the wrath” of the town.
Amberwood representatives initially disputed the town’s violation report, saying it contained inaccuracies and that Cary was trying to make an example of the complex.
The deal approved Thursday requires Amberwood to deposit $40,000 into an escrow account, where it will stay until Cary says that new trees and shrubs have been planted in accordance with its revegetation plan.
Cary will refund $30,000 to Amberwood after the company complies with the plan while keeping $10,000 to ensure annual maintenance of the plants.
The town favored a settlement over a large fine, said Ricky Barker, a senior planner for the town. Barker said money from a fine would go to the court system and couldn’t be used for a revegetation plan. A settlement also gives the town more involvement in the revegetation process.
“We made a significant effort to put a long-term plan together that will provide a higher level of aesthetics to the community,” Barker said.
The Connor Group, which manages Amberwood Apartments, said in a statement: “Obviously, both sides in this matter felt strongly about their position. Fortunately instead of litigating, we were able to come up with a solution that is good for Amberwood and good for the Town of Cary and its residents. We’re ready to move on and we look forward to working with the Town of Cary in the future.”
In April, council members asked town staff to draw up harsher penalties for buffer rule violators. Thursday, they agreed the settlement is the best optionfor replacing the vegetation.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow given what they did, but at the end of the day we’re trying to right a wrong and get the buffer fixed,” Councilman Don Frantz said. “This seems like the best way to do that.”
The plan, which also requires Amberwood to pay $1,200 for sign violations, calls for the company to plant 110 trees from 20 species and 133 shrubs from nine species. The tree species include maples, oaks, pines, magnolias, hollies and dogwoods, among others.
Councilman Jack Smith, who once called the incident the most “egregious and outrageous” violation of “decency” he’d seen, said he is pleased by Amberwood’s cooperation but thought the deal should have more teeth.
“With all the growth that’s happening, the consequence should be equal to the original fine,” he said. “They’ve shown some good faith in trying to remedy the situation. But we’ve gotta wait years to realize it (vegetation regrowth).”
It hasn’t been determined whether the Lochmere subdivision, which Amberwood is a part of, will levy its own punishment.
Lochmere’s board of directors encouraged its residents to protest the Connor Group at a July hearing on the citation. Andy Siouville, who manages Lochmere for the company HRW, said then that the subdivision’s board wanted to see Cary’s response before taking action.
The board hadn’t talked to Siouville about the settlement by Thursday afternoon, he said.