N.C. State study says Fuquay-Varina needs public transit

aramos@newsobserver.comMay 2, 2014 

— Young professionals and baby boomers are expected to dominate the country’s demographics by 2035.

But while many seniors are moving to Fuquay-Varina to be close to family, millennials aren’t necessarily heading to town in droves.

The town’s lack of public transit and in-town jobs, along with few housing options, make Fuquay-Varina unattractive to people ages 18 to 34, according to a recent study.

Graduate students in N.C. State University’s landscape architect design program analyzed Fuquay-Varina planning and demographics data and were tasked with coming up with observations and solutions over the course of a semester.

Students presented their findings to the Fuquay-Varina Board of Commissioners on Thursday.

Town leaders say public transit options could improve this fall under a deal currently in the works with the Triangle Transit Authority to create a park-and-ride stop. They hope the move will helplure young professionals who don’t always want to drive to work.

The number of adults ages 18 to 34 in Fuquay-Varina decreased from 27 percent to 21.5 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to U.S. Census data.

By 2035, only 14 percent of the town’s population will be in that age group, said student Tyner Tew.

Fuquay-Varina has a homeownership rate of 73 percent, one of the highest in the Triangle. The town has lots of subdivisions, and that’s not what Generation Y is looking for, Tew said.

The recession caused many young adults to delay marriage and starting a family. That means they don’t need big houses, and apartments are often a better option, he said.

Those same apartments and additional assisted-living centers could benefit baby boomers who are looking to downsize, Tew said.

The needs of Gen-Y and baby boomers are similar, with both groups looking for walkability and public transit options, according to the students’ study.

Long commutes to out-of-town jobs can also be a barrier to attracting new residents. About 81 percent of Fuquay-Varina residents must travel out of town for work, mostly to Raleigh, Cary, Fort Bragg or Research Triangle Park.

Commute times average about 30 to 60 minutes during rush hour, according to the students’ analysis.

Once millenials get home from work, the last thing they want to do is get back in their cars to go to grocery stores or other amenities, the students said.

Most residents live further than 1.5 miles from a grocery store.

“There is no public transportation,” said student Andrew Furtado. “We think that’s a missed opportunity.”

Mayor John Byrne said the town is already working to resolve some of the issues brought up by the students.

“Ten percent of the workers employed at Wake Tech’s (main campus) live in Fuquay-Varina,” he said. “If we could find a way to get them to work, it would be great. I think it’s really a question of the whole region doing something, as opposed to individual towns.”

Fuquay-Varina is working with Franklin-based consulting firm PlaceMakers to encourage more mixed-use developments that would combine residential living with offices or retail space.

‘Transportation is critical’

Town Manager Adam Mitchell said it’s exciting to hear that Fuquay-Varina’s population could exceed 50,000 people in the next two decades. But it also means it’s important to get the necessary infrastructure in place.

“We have to be focused on providing the service,” Mitchell said. “Transportation is critical.”

Mitchell said the town is working with the Triangle Transit Authority to identify potential park-and-ride locations. A stop could be in place as early as this fall.

If bus service went from Fuquay-Varina to Wake Technical Community College, riders could connect to other buses to downtown Raleigh.

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Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews

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