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JunktionFET

Alston Center in NW Cary

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I live in Cary and so does my immediate family. We moved here in 1988 when I was in sixth grade. Back then Cary was a quiet town of about 40,000 people. Now Cary boasts a population of 110,000 and qualifies as a small city--I believe it is the seventh largest in NC?

Cary is as suburban as they come--it is safe and extremely white-collar, but it has very little or nothing in the way of grit or urban living. It is more than just a bedroom community however--It is home to several impressive office parks and regional retail centers. SAS Institute's global headquarters are in Cary, and several reknowned high-tech businesses have satellite offices/campuses here. Recently Cary approved a proposal for a building in one of the the office parks that would be the tallest in Cary and is probably just barely categorized as a "high rise" at 143 feet tall. Up until now, everything in Cary was in the neighborhood of 6-8 stories tops.

For more Cary CoC hot air, see this link: http://townofcary.org/aboutcary/superlatives.htm

Honestly, I was surprised to read some of those. :P

Anyway, the NC 55 corridor on the NW side of Cary is undergoing a massive transformation. Up until now it has remained highly undeveloped--just a dense forest with some rather nice hilly geography. With the construction of I-540 through that part of Wake County (currently underway), developers and the city itself are interested in doing something with all that land. The land is practically minutes away from Research Triangle Park, a very large employment center for Triangle residents, and NC55 slams right into it and Durham.

Cary is doing something a little different in planning this area. They are having a week-long workshop ("design charrette") for citizens to come in and mingle with designers, engineers, landscape architects, etc. to discuss the vision for the area they call "Regional Center West". I plan on attending as many of the meetings as I can, and will definitely make every effort to attend the first one tomorrow (2/28). It might be a total waste of my time or not--I still want to go and see what the scoop is.

The link has all the information as well as additional links to the schedule, directions, etc: http://www.townofcary.org/depts/planning/r...st/overview.htm

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I'm glad to see that Cary is doing more thinking about its development. It grew up so fast that there wasn't much time to plan very well, and it shows!

My hope for the NC 55/ I-540 area is that they'll do more thoughtful urban developent and not just another string of stores and cookie-cutter houses. Another regional mall would be nice, but a smart one with both indoor and outdoor areas, complimentary residential and office development, and a pedestriasn-friendly orientation.

You'll have to tell us how the charette went after you get back :)

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I attended the first Regional Center West meeting this evening and I am without words. The presentation and plans are great of course, but what really surprised me was the people. There were quite a few people at the meeting and nearly all of them live in the surrounding area or own the land that is being considered for development. They ranged from elderly couples to SUV-owning suburban 30-40-somethings.

The meeting started off with a presentation, showcasing several varied developments ranging from Birkdale, to Briar Creek, to some others outside of NC that I've never heard of. A previous meeting (that I did not attend) established some basic guidelines that people wanted to see--cater to all incomes, increasing density towards the core, etc.

Once the initial presentation was complete, we picked one of several tables (about 5-7 people per table), each equipped with a stack of cards portraying a single development option (rail transit, big box retail, live/work unit, etc) and a giant map of the area.

Every group immediately threw out the big-box retail, large estates, single family homes, and large parking lots, instead wanting a more urban and walkable layout with increasing density towards the unofficial "center" of the development.

Every group made very similar choices--things like apartment w/ street retail, greeways along the 3 streams in the area (since wake county requres buffers for streams anyway), a heritage trolley or modern streetcar system, street festivals, public art, and some way to really dress up the NC55/I540 interchange (a water fountain system was one idea thrown around). Parking would be in the form of architecturally pleasing parking decks and underground facilities.

There are already suburban single-family home developments popping up just outside of the to-be-zoned area--which fits the bill perfectly really. A campus style all-grades school would be placed near the edge of the development, at the crossover point between multi-family and single-family housing. Wake County already develops this type of school layout, and it is a perfect match for a development like this. Everything is linked together for easy pedestrian access--an effort to eliminate your reliance on a car for most things.

This was just a conceptual meeting and was designed to dictate the type of zoning the area will see. But the ideas from these people were quite surprising. I never would've guessed that established exurb and suburban residents, from such varied backgrounds, would desire such an urban environment. I guess there's hope afterall!

The team will be working on refining the concept all week based on input from this meeting as well as series of brief ones throughout the week. The final presentation will be on saturday at noon. I hope they release some renderings at that point.

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But the ideas from these people were quite surprising. I never would've guessed that established exurb and suburban residents, from such varied backgrounds, would desire such an urban environment. I guess there's hope afterall!

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Hey, sometimes people will suprise you! Glad to hear that Cary residents want something other than more of the same.

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since moving to raleigh last may I have been trying to figure out why cary has the smallest downtown i have ever seen for a city of 110,000. I realize it is a bedroom community to an extent. Over the years though, I thought that someone may have realized the importance of downtown. Plans like these just sound like the town continues to plan for development everywhere but downtown.

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since moving to raleigh last may I have been trying to figure out why cary has the smallest downtown i have ever seen for a city of 110,000. I realize it is a bedroom community to an extent. Over the years though, I thought that someone may have realized the importance of downtown. Plans like these just sound like the town continues to plan for development everywhere but downtown.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

You're right; Cary has a downtown for a city of 2,000 people, not 110,000. It fools people in Cary into thinking that they live in a small town, when that's really a huge lie. Cary truly is an amoeba that oozes uncontrollably over the landscape, absorbing everything in it's path. They were the poster child for the grow-at-all-costs mentality (they were experiencing something absurd like an annual growth of 13% in the mid 90's).

However, within the last three or four years, the leadership changed, and it seems like Cary has finally decided to attempt to become a city. They made a decisive swing towards planned growth by curbing annexation and enacting tougher regulations on developers. They created C-tran, demand-responsive transit, and now they're even adding fixed routes. I'd like to see some new construction in the downtown area; undoubtedly we'll see some condos go up when (if?) the TTA station is done.

Cary had been somewhat addicted to the influx of money provided by explosive growth; when things slowed down to a much more reasonable 3 or so percent a year, they started seeing the warning signs of financial troubles. Some people in the city government are apparently saying "These financial problems are the consequences of this slowed growth!" - but I say if you need 13% annual growth to stay solvent then something sure as hell ain't right.

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This new development is smack in the middle of the unincorporated community called Carpenter--so in a way this sort of validates a development like this. In the same way that Triangle Metro Center is the proposed "downtown" for RTP, this development (almost the same latitude but on the western border of RTP) could be the "downtown" for Carpenter.

Cary has annexed the land of course. We had a brain storming session in which we selected an appropriate name for the development, and "Carpenter" was a recurring theme--"Regional Center West" is too sterile sounding.

I am curious about what plans there are for downtown Cary, if any at all. I really hope that it sees some nice development around the train station when the TTA line is implemented. I would think that at least some conceptual stuff would've been presented by now if it was going to happen.

I envision downtown Cary as a dense collection of midrise mixed use structures near the train station along Harrison Ave and Acedemy St, while preserving the historic strip down Chatham St.

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Heh, talk of downtown Cary planning sparked a little curiosity, and I came up with this:

http://www.townofcary.org/depts/dsdept/P&Z...capoverview.htm

Multiple chapters describing the vision can be found in the "Plan" link on the left column. They recognize that this is a very long term plan but it will help shape what gets developed. Given the tentative schedule they speak of, we should start seeing things change perhaps this year or next.

I rather like what they propose--mixed use midrise structures with high density in the core and especially around the train station. Other areas near the core will be of high density with more specialized focus on residential or commercial. Density gradually loosens up as you move away from the core areas.

A clickable map can be found here: http://www.townofcary.org/depts/dsdept/P&Z.../landusemap.htm

The large line running across the middle which splits into a "V" shape just above the text "Area 5" is where the two existing tracks split. The train station is situation between the tracks at the apex of the "V". Presently the station serves the northern track (NS/NCRR), but a platform is being constructed to service the southern track as well (CSX).

The new TTA double tracks will be situation alongside the track that splits off to the north (NS/NCRR), and the TTA platform will naturally be on the north side of that. I like the way development is/will be zoned around the transit stop--looks like it would work well and would provide a nice balance between residents and those who are simply visiting via the train (or transferring from bus to train, vice-versa).

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4 reel!!!!!11!11! :D

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Good Stuff, we really need more of this in NC. I've never been to Cary so its difficult for me to quite place it into perspective, but it does sound good. Does the political will exist in Cary to stand up to the Developers who will work to undermine the plan?

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I attended the final presentation for this project on Saturday and got to see the result from the design team's week of hard work. They have done an excellent job and seem to recognize that this is a great opportunity to offer a great and extremely functional living environment so close to a large employment hub.

The final product can be divided into 5 areas. There is a center or hub of course, followed by 4 surrounding neighborhoods each offering a different kind of lifestyle. Someone could potentially live in this development all their life, as it offers a little something for everyone. There is a low-density residential component along the outside, but the rest of it features medium to higher density as you progress inward. There are interconnected streets designed to give people different options for moving around by car, and the development uses all existing roads (extends 2 of them), in addition to several new ones of course.

Everything tries to be life size--all the entrances and gateways are pedestrian sized and manageable, all the overpasses (about 4 proposed over NC55) are clad in brick or some other attractive material. The development features an extensive greeway system and NCDOT has agreed to build their overpasses (for a discounted price) with provisions for the greenway in order to ensure continuity. The system will also connect to the ever-growing American Tobacco Trail--a rail-trail that runs from New Hill to downtown Durham.

They ran some traffic models and found that if NC55 was expanded to 6 lanes (7 lanes for managing traffic pulling in and out of the side streets), and at least two of the roads were extended into neighboring RTP, most intersections would see rush hour traffic similar to that seen at Walnut St and Maynard Rd--there would be some congestion but it wouldn't cause miles of backups and wouldn't be more than 1.5-2 hours long.

The NCDOT is expanding NC55, but only to 4 lanes. Funding must be secured for additional lanes or the project traffic model will not work.

I requested a CD containing all the presentation renderings, I'll share them when it arrives. The same data will also be posted on the website eventually.

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Also, forgot to mention this... They had a map up of NC55 projects and it looks as though that entire corridor is going to eventually be a line of medium/high density projects with some lower density residential sprinkled between. A number of developments from Apex up to RTP were new/quasi-urbanist in nature. Though I would prefer to see the genuine article, I definitely do not want more of the same 80s and 90s crap. I wonder why Cary is so active in persuing such projects along NC55? Is it like a clean slate for them?

The town engineers I spoke with really surprised me. They were all talking down on Cary's existing suburban nature and really pushing to urbanize parts of the town in an effort to give it a more well-rounded appeal. These people have some awesome ideas and it has changed my opinion of the place. I've always seen Cary as a sterile suburban hole with no soul, but it looks like they are trying to change this before they run out of land! :lol:

Another little tidbit--the CSX rail corridor which lines that part of NC55 and forms the western border of RTP presently sees two trains per day, but that is about to fall to one train per day due to the closing of the Triangle Brick up there.

Some of the transportation guys were talking about how Cary is considering doing a study on that rail corridor for transit use from RTP, through this new development (which coincidentally reserves space for a transit stop according to the presentation), then south through all the new neighborhoods and dense developments that will line NC55.

The idea is to lighten the traffic load on NC55 which will become quite heavy, even if they get their 6 lanes out of it. The project would not be a TTA endeavor but would probably fall under C-Tran. Some of the people spoke of a 10-15 year time frame if successful! :thumbsup: That may be a lofty time frame, but the principle of the matter says a lot.

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Very exciting stuff!! I live in Cary and I am very happy to hear they seem to be doing much more planning regarding future development. Keep the updates coming :).

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960 acres...2 million square feet of retail...900 homes...2 hotels. Wow! Talk about explosion...

Building Boom

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960 acres...2 million square feet of retail...900 homes...2 hotels. Wow! Talk about explosion...

Building Boom

Sounds like Brier Creek's Beige sister. If I'm not mistaken, these developments will only be 2-3 exits apart on I-540, wow.

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I found Cary's master plan for this area, called the Alston Activity Center Plan, located here.

I can't see how we can keep approving these massive developments without planning for transit somehow in the future. If you look at the following picture, there is the CSX rail line that borders the planning area.

IllustrativePlan.jpg

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I attended the charettes, and they gave some lip service to a transit future, but the worst part is that they are planning a 55-mph speed limit road right through the middle to meet the interchange. Most of the people came to the meeting were all interested in where they could park.

I think it will be slightly better than Brier Creek, but not much.

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It probably will be like Brier Creek. This area will probably grow at an incredible rate given its location to RDU and RTP. I am so glad that I do not need to commute on 55, 540 or 40 west everday!

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I think this looks great... but based on what the renderings show, there will be 4 new at grade intersections (at least) for Highway 55. With Panther Creek High School AND this development AND commuters, widening 55 will be useless. Of course traffic counts will increase on 55 as this will be a new regional (?) destination for shopping and entertainment, but adding stop lights too will probably make the drive up 55 from Cary, Apex to RTP the same nightmare that it has been. Maybe I-540 from Holly Springs up to north of Cary may be the answer... but construction won't start for another 3-5 years?? I guess I wish people would just leave Hwy 55 alone. <_<

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Check out how close Carpenter Fire Station Road is to this area. Amazing that this little crossroads was merely a farming locale a few years back with little more than a feed store. It will be somewhat depressing to see the stark contrast between these 2 spots. Boy, times change fast.

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I know right? I remember driving on 55 right before the widening began and trying to take in everything. Don't get me wrong, the widening is wayyyyy overdue and I don't mind that at all. I think that development will take things 2 steps back with traffic though. Defeats the purposes of the widening IMO.

Check out how close Carpenter Fire Station Road is to this area. Amazing that this little crossroads was merely a farming locale a few years back with little more than a feed store. It will be somewhat depressing to see the stark contrast between these 2 spots. Boy, times change fast.

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I know right? I remember driving on 55 right before the widening began and trying to take in everything. Don't get me wrong, the widening is wayyyyy overdue and I don't mind that at all. I think that development will take things 2 steps back with traffic though. Defeats the purposes of the widening IMO.

It does somewhat defeat the purpose, but they are assuming 540 will be in place to alleviate the traffic currently on 55 from the south. Once 540 gets completed, Wake county will look like one big pink blob on a map once these areas get annexed.

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From the looks of the map it seems that already the design of the interchange is inadequate. 55-S to 540-E and 55-N to 540-W both require left turns, since this is half a cloverleaf. They'll just have to pay gazillions of tax dollars in the future to fix it after it becomes a disaster at buildout, just like at Crossroads.

Meanwhile, transitman, any hope of rail transit on that CSX line in our lifetimes? NS seems much more amenable to working with passenger initiatives lately, but CSX still seems unwilling...

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My point exactly...!

From the looks of the map it seems that already the design of the interchange is inadequate. 55-S to 540-E and 55-N to 540-W both require left turns, since this is half a cloverleaf. They'll just have to pay gazillions of tax dollars in the future to fix it after it becomes a disaster at buildout, just like at Crossroads.

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