Cary reviews connectivity rules for developers

aspecht@newsobserver.comJune 9, 2014 

— Town leaders are working on tweaks to Cary’s rules that require developers of new projects to provide street connections to neighboring roads and properties.

Cary’s connectivity rules require developers of new projects to:

• Provide for future street connections to adjoining, undeveloped property;

• Connect to existing streets on adjacent property, since many of those were also set up in advance to continue the road network;

• Design the new street system to meet a numerical standard of connectivity that ensures fewer dead-ends and cul-de-sacs.

The number of entrances and streets each developer is required to build and connect to is determined by a formula.

The Cary Town Council approved the rules 15 years ago with hopes that they would improve traffic, reduce emergency response times and welcome other forms of transportation besides motor vehicles.

The rule has been successful in those regards, said Councilman Ed Yerha, an advocate for connectivity reform.

But “as Cary approaches build-out we are seeing more infill development where the (appearance of) rigid connectivity methodology is often causing much citizen angst,” Yerha wrote to town staff.

Developers can apply for an exemption to some connectivity requirements from the Cary Town Council. But town rules are set up so that the council can only consider exemptions during a quasi-judicial hearing.

The rules caused angst recently when Rildia Pritchett asked the town to annex and rezone 52 acres of her undeveloped land hear the intersection of Holly Springs Road and Cary Parkway.

M/I Homes hopes to build dozens of homes on the site. About 50 people attended a public hearing on the rezoning request to protest the project because Cary rules would require M/I to build a road that connects to Fordland Drive – which they described as a quiet, narrow street not suitable for heavy traffic.

Representatives for M/I said they’d be willing to forgo a connector street to Fordland if Cary exempts them from it. Council members seemed willing to do so and expressed frustration that they were handcuffed by their own rules.

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

That was in January. The council hasn’t yet ruled on the annexation and rezoning request. If the council approves it, it could be months before developers apply for an exemption and go before the council in a quasi-judicial hearing.

“The process keeps people sitting on eggshells,” Yerha said.

Quasi-judicial hearings can also be costly for applicants, he noted. During the hearing, council members are directed to only consider testimony from expert witnesses. So someone applying for a connectivity exemption would likely need to hire a professional traffic engineer to testify.

Cary staff recently proposed a change to town rules that would allow the council to consider exempting a developer from the connectivity rules during a rezoning hearing – so long as the developer submits a concept site plan.

The proposed rule changes are expected to go before the council for review in August.

In the meantime, “We are still studying other potential changes to the regulations which might further clarify connectivity requirements,” Jeff Ulma, Cary’s planning director, said.

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

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