With rezoning, Cary would break promises, undermine trust

Cary families, Realtors, homebuilders and homeowner associations, beware. Corporate developers want Cary’s elected Town Council to lower Cary’s development standards and start allowing strip malls and big-box shopping centers to be built next to established single-family neighborhoods.

That’s just wrong – harmful to our neighborhoods, our home values and our families. It’s unprecedented in Cary, whose growth policy for decades has required a transition between incompatible land uses. It’s also unfair, because we relied on that policy when we invested in our homes and our families’ futures. Cary’s foolhardy flip-flop would cost us dearly.

But not just us. The radical proposal by the Sembler Company, the Florida developer of more than 300 shopping centers in seven states, is a serious threat to neighborhoods throughout our popular town.

Hundreds of homeowners across Amberly, Cary Park and surrounding neighborhoods have signed petitions opposing Sembler’s proposal to build Amberly Village, a big-box shopping center, on 22 acres of woods, fields, streams and wetlands at the northwest corner of Green Level Church Road and Carpenter Fire Station Road in west Cary – a tract that has always been zoned for single-family residential uses, not commercial ones.

The victims this time would be the more than 150 hard-working families of Arlington Park, an ethnically diverse enclave of Amberly. We would bear the brunt of cut-through traffic, noise, lights, truck deliveries, late-night customer traffic and the loss of property values. But if Cary’s Town Council members turn their backs on us, they can do it to anyone in North Carolina’s seventh-largest municipality.

Instead, when it votes next week, the council should follow the wise lead of its counterparts in Apex, who last month unanimously rejected a proposal to build a shopping center next to established neighborhoods. “It would be a good asset,” one council member said, “but not on this spot.” Exactly right.

According to Cary’s planning staff, our town’s Comprehensive Plan has never let developers spring new shopping centers on unsuspecting, established neighborhoods.

Under Cary’s Land Development Ordinance, only a shortage of grocery-anchored shopping centers could justify changing the town’s Comprehensive Plan to allow commercial development there.

And yet within four miles of the site, 18 shopping centers are operating, approved or announced – including a mostly vacant one across the street. As a recent front-page News & Observer story put it, Cary is “the grocery capital of the Triangle.”

Some have compared the proposed shopping center to Cary’s Stone Creek Village, but they’re very different. Stone Creek has a row of townhouses between its stores and the neighboring homes. It was built on a corner that already had commercial development, in an area designated for more. And it has a protective buffer between the homes and stores ranging from 100 to 300 feet – wider than the entire tract next to us.

We’re realistic. We don’t expect the land next door to remain vacant. And we agree that Cary doesn’t need more apartment complexes. But that’s far from the only alternative.

Townhouses or low-impact offices, with a buffer along Arlington Park, would be far more appropriate – less harmful to us, quite profitable for the land owners and good for the community. According to Cary’s planning staff, our area has a much greater need for offices than stores. Town Council members looking for a win-win should insist on that.

If Cary abandons its longstanding growth plan and sacrifices Arlington Park – setting an anti-neighborhood precedent in a town that touts its livability – whose neighborhood in Cary with vacant land next door will be safe? What Realtor, homebuilder or HOA could assure homeowners that a shopping center won’t go up behind them? Based on what?

And if a town’s official consensus growth plan can change on the whim of an out-of-state developer, what good is the plan?

Every member of Cary’s Town Council claims to care about our neighborhoods – just read their online bios. This precedent-setting case comes down to one simple and important principle: whether Cary keeps its promises to its citizens.

Ryan McCormick is a founding member of Cary Neighbors Against Amberly Village. The Prajapati family’s home in Arlington Park backs up to the proposed development. Gregg Naclerio, Jiawan Chen, Richard Martin, Amit Kulkarni, Venugopalan Ullanatt, Mahesh Muthukutty, Arunachalam Chidambaram and Raghu Uppali also endorsed this opinion.