In western Wake County, 2013 brought renewed development, debates about growth and plenty of opinions about public art.
Here are some of the biggest stories of the past year.
Cary imagines its future
The town publicly kicked off the 18-month Imagine Cary planning initiative, which could shape the way Cary grows for decades to come.
The process got started with the Summit on the Future in May. The event drew about 700 people and featured a guest speaker who talked about “new urbanism” and a shift toward more walkable communities.
Imagine Cary has prompted debates about Cary’s character. Some say they like the suburban town the way it is; others are pushing for a focus on public transportation and mixed-use growth.
The resident-led Committee for the Future is working out details, with public input. The Town Council is also weighing in.
Plans are taking shape as Cary continues to focus on breathing new life into downtown. The Cary theater is under construction on Chatham Street, a symbol of the town’s past and its future.
Fire sculpture gets mixed reviews
Perhaps nothing in Cary elicited more strong reactions than the “fire sculpture,” an 11-foot tower of cracked clay that became the center of debate about public art.
The town paid $40,000 for the piece, which an artist lit on fire downtown in November 2012.
After the embers died down, though, some Cary residents said the tower was an eyesore.
In June, the Town Council voted to move the sculpture a quarter-mile to a downtown empty lot, where it now rests.
Water tower draws debate
Another structure also brought plenty of opinions – the water tower near Cary High School.
The town of Cary is trying to figure out what to do with the aging tower, which was built in 1966 and bears the words “class of ...” each year in honor of local high school students.
Workers could repair it, rehabilitate it, replace it or tear it down.
Many Caryites don’t want to see the tower demolished, saying it represents tradition and history. An online petition claimed hundreds of signatures.
The fate of the tower is still up in the air, so to speak. Cary hired a consulting firm to help determine its future.
Amberly development gets a jump-start
In a sign that Cary is continuing to climb out of the economic downturn, the 5,000-home Amberly development in the western part of town made a comeback.
Construction was in full swing in 2013 on the 1,100-acre development.
Plans for Amberly were conceived in the early 1990s. Then the recession hit, and home-construction slowed.
But Amberly is moving right along, stretching Cary’s reach further westward.
Lawmakers talk Jordan Lake Rules
North Carolina lawmakers delayed the Jordan Lake Rules, a billion-dollar-plus plan to control runoff into the lake that provides drinking water to Cary, Apex and Morrisville.
An upstream-vs.-downstream debate has emerged: Upstream cities to the north and west most affect Jordan Lake’s water quality, and are most affected by the lake’s environmental regulations.
Meanwhile, officials in Wake County are hoping for measures to keep the water clean.
Green Hope soccer takes No. 1 spot; coach faces charges
The Green Hope High School girls’ soccer team had an undefeated season and won the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state championship in May.
As if that weren’t enough, the squad was ranked the No. 1 team in the nation.
In June, the team’s coach, Robert Jules “Bobby” Peterson was arrested by Cary police on charges that he possessed child pornography.
Peterson, 43, of Cary faced six counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. He later resigned from his job with the school system.
Stohlman ousts Holcombe as Morrisville mayor
Jackie Holcombe had emerged as a polarizing political leader in Morrisville. She had both critics and supporters when she asked retail company Gander Mountain to stop selling semi-automatic rifles in its local store.
In November, Holcombe failed to keep her mayoral seat. She lost to Mark Stohlman, who had served on the Town Council.
Now that he’s at the helm, Stohlman has said he wants to unify the council, which has experienced plenty of tension the last couple of years.
The Galaxy falls
Workers tore down the former Galaxy Cinema in May, a sign that redevelopment is changing parts of Cary.
The art-house theater, once known as the Imperial IV, was a popular hangout for years, starting in the 1970s. It drew crowds with foreign-language films, including an emphasis on India’s Bollywood.
Now the site is set to become a Harris Teeter supermarket.
Chinatown plans move forward
Morrisville is getting its own version of Chinatown.
An investment group that includes investors from the U.S., Hong Kong and mainland China acquired the Prime Outlets mall near Raleigh-Durham International Airport and unveiled plans for the property. Those plans include restaurants, a supermarket, retail and office space, and a potential hotel and convention center.
The first-phase renovations of the mall are expected to cost about $20 million.
Cary claims safest-city ranking
Cary claimed the lowest crime rate in the nation among cities of similar size. The town made the announcement in October.
In 2012, Cary had about 14.4 crimes per 1,000 people, based on data for eight crimes tracked by the FBI and analyzed by Cary officials.
Town officials said the designation was important because many people choose to move to Cary from other parts of the country.