Cary considers controversial development proposal

aspecht@newsobserver.comJanuary 31, 2014 

— A proposed residential development just outside of Cary’s southern border has put the town’s growth policies under the microscope and has divided nearby residents.

Dozens of people filled the Cary Town Council chambers Thursday night to protest a developer’s plan to build a subdivision on 52 acres of undeveloped land near the intersection of Holly Springs Road and Cary Parkway.

They said the development would be too dense, would cause traffic problems and wouldn’t blend in with the surrounding area.

The property owner, Rildia Pritchett, wants the town to annex and rezone the area to allow M/I Homes to build three houses per acre on 30 acres of the site, and an average of 1.5 homes per acre on the rest of the property.

“Most of us living the in the community now are fortunate to have had one acre of property or more. The proposed zoning for the Pritchett farm is totally out of character with the surrounding properties,” said Margaret Campbell.

Nearly 50 people stood in support of Campbell as she spoke Thursday. The majority of the people who spoke against the project aren’t Cary residents.

The council referred the request back to the Planning and Zoning Board, which is likely to review it in March.

If the case goes back before the Town Council, it will take six votes rather than four to approve the request because residents submitted a valid protest petition.

On Thursday, some council members took issue with the proposed density. The request technically complies with the town’s land-use plan, but it doesn’t match the “spirit” of the plan, Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said.

She said that was the case with several recent development proposals.

“And that’s exactly what’s missing here,” she said. “Somehow, this council needs to grapple with that issue.”

Issue of connectivity

Neighbors seemed even more upset by a Cary policy that would require the developer to build a road stub on the southern border of Pritchett’s land near the end of Fordland Drive.

Fordland runs parallel to Holly Springs Road and currently dead-ends. Residents don’t want the additional traffic that might be created by connecting their street with the new subdivision.

“It looks like a cul-de-sac, it feels like a cul-de-sac,” Ken Raber said. “You can find people out with bicycles, strollers, skateboards. Families are out with small children. That‘s the culture, that’s the environment of Fordland Drive.”

Others said Fordland Drive is narrow and winding, and that increasing traffic on it would make the road more dangerous.

Robert Maynard, a longtime Cary resident who serves on the Swift Creek Fire Department board of directors, spoke in favor of the proposal in part because a connector road to Fordland Drive would make it easier for emergency responders to access homes there.

Developers said they would be willing to forgo a road to Fordland Drive if Cary exempts the project from the town’s connectivity policy.

Council members seemed willing to do so.

“I just don’t think that connectivity is appropriate for this neighborhood,” Councilwoman Lori Bush said.

Others council members agreed but couldn’t simply vote to exempt M/I Homes from the town’s connectivity requirement. Rezoning rules say applicants must only submit proposals that meet or exceed town standards.

But if the annexation and rezoning are approved, the Town Council can exempt the developer from building a stub when it submits its site plan for approval.

Councilman Jack Smith tried to put residents’ minds at ease.

“Somehow I’ve got to believe that ... staff can figure out a way that we can work the system or, bluntly, beat the system,” he said. “I don’t care what word you use, but I don’t wanna see connectivity to Fordham.”

Historic value

The Pritchett land has historic value. It includes a cemetery, an old horse barn and the Franklin House – built by one of the families that Jones Franklin Road is named after.

Capital Area Preservation estimates that the house was built in the 1820s, which would make it the second-oldest house in Cary if the Town Council were to annex the property, said Gary Roth, the group’s executive director.

M/I Homes plans to preserve each of the structures.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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