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Carys biggest downtown project could be more development than park, according to the towns latest sketches of its 13-acre opportunity site.
Previously conceived as a block-sized downtown park, the latest proposal is three or four acres of landscaped open space surrounded by eight development parcels that could host restaurants, retail or attached housing.
As it has for about a decade now, the plan is inspiring some hearty debate around Town Hall. Some council members have said the plan would give too much of the Academy Street block over to private development, while a consultant and other officials reiterated the need for rooftops and restaurants downtown.
The town already has paid $9.5 million for all but four lots on the block, and it has a private partner ready to build a boutique hotel on one corner of the street.
Now the government is looking for public input on how to build a crown jewel of development, and its shopping around a brochure with a sketch map designed over two days this summer by a group of architecture, development and planning experts from across the country.
We got their thoughts on how they might approach this, said Ed Gawf, downtown development manager. Now we need to look at it, analyze it, talk to the community and see what we might want to modify.
Councilman Don Frantz said more than a quarter of the block should go to public use, and that it was the expectation during the towns decade-long property buying campaign.
If the town starts handing over this land for apartment development were going to get hammered and rightfully so, Frantz said.
The way I see it here, this is not a park for all Cary. This is a park for people who live in the development parcels proposed for the blocks edges, he said.
Councilman Jack Smith said his own stance on the debate has shifted over the years.
This whole concept of a big Cary version of Central Park its nice to have that vision, but if the rooftops arent there, and the incentive to go downtown isnt there, I sort of softened on that idea, Smith said.
Jon Wilson, one of the towns consultants, stressed that the three-to-four acre park was a suggested minimum, but said selling off part of the site for high-quality private use could be beneficial.
The idea of having restaurants and some development could be really beneficial to the whole town, he said.
Gawf also suggested that selling some of the property to developers could offset the money spent on acquisitions. The town has paid an average of $20 per square foot for the land and intends to sell the development parcels at that rate. (That means some developers could buy a lot for significantly more or less than what the town originally paid for the parcel.)
Councilwoman Lori Bush also said the town should make room for development.
If we want it to be all things to all people, then we have to put more development opportunities there, she said. I dont know that people are going to come downtown to come to the urban park theyll make a day of it in the park.
The project would require significant upgrades to the local water system. Carys plans may also include one of downtowns longer-lived institutions: The town and the county are talking about moving the Cary Public Library to make way for development.