CARY - The Town Council is setting the final form for a long-awaited downtown centerpiece, and one question seems to dominate the conversation: Should Carys Central Park be more park or development?
In earlier plans, open space dominated the opportunity site, a downtown block of 13-plus acres on Academy Street. Recent sketches by town staff and consultants, however, set aside significant acreage for commercial, residential and public development, in some cases leaving as few as three acres of parkland.
The balance of open space and construction has quickly become the downtown issue du jour.
Many locals demanded a larger park at a public meeting Tuesday, but other stakeholders argue that stores, restaurants or high-density residences could prosper on the town-owned site.
In discussion for a decade, the park plans now are entering the final phase. Ed Gawf, Carys downtown development manager, wants to see a firm vision by the end of this year and construction by 2015.
The council will discuss the park and development site at a Tuesday work session and members will have plenty of opinions to weigh.
This is the last chance we have. This is our last chance to build a central park, said Ed Tilley, one of about 70 people at the meeting last week.
This is it.
Maps circulating now include a plaza, amphitheater and water feature at the core of the site.
The outer ring, meanwhile, is divided into seven development parcels or opportunity parcels, which could go for either private or public development.Scaling back the park
The draft vision on display is a starting point for discussion, Gawf said.
Gawfs idea is that by selling land to the right developers the town could hasten downtowns resurgence.
If builders buy in, new residents could move into townhomes or apartments above retail stores at the edge of the park.
They could work in offices on the same block and finish the day with a meal at a patio restaurant, or on a deck overlooking the woods, fields and historic houses.
A specialty grocery store, such as Weaver Street Market, could be an anchor for downtown, and out-of-towners could stay at The Mayton Inn, a hotel planned for one corner of the site.
Some of the outer acreage also could go for a library or performing arts center, Gawf said.
If it comes to fruition, the idea may bring more construction onto the site than any earlier plan.Mixed use, mixed opinions
At Tuesdays meeting, downtown residents overwhelmingly called for more public space and less development.
Lisa Frantz, wife of Councilman Don Frantz, roused the audience with memories of Carys old downtown.
Well never have that property again, she said, recalling that she once knew the site as The Village.
To let it slip away from us now is the saddest thing ever.
That property does not need to have high-rises. That property needs to have a park, she continued, winning applause from most of the crowd at Town Hall.
The idea of development on the park site has its backers too, including influential downtown resident Doc Thorne.
I was always a little bit questioning of having 13.8 acres, right in the heart of our downtown, as open land, said Thorne, president of the Heart of Cary Association.
I think its a great step forward for building the prosperity of our downtown, by considering mixed-use, retail and residential surrounding the park.
Outside Tuesdays meeting, Len Clark, a downtown resident of 23 years, said development on the site could give downtown some momentum.
Im not saying to give all the land away, but we need some room for business, he said.
This will be the question for the council this week and in the coming months:
Is downtown Cary better served by a larger taxpayer-owned park or by a partnership between developers and the government?
The council appeared split on the plans when Gawf first raised them last year, and it may prove to be the most divisive issue in the redevelopment of old Cary.