New year means new projects for Cary, western Wake County

As we enter a new year, we look ahead to the issues, challenges and projects that will face southwestern Wake County in 2016.

As expected, growth will affect everything. It’s also an election year, with local candidates running at all levels.

Downtown Cary changes

It won’t be long into the new year before the Mayton Inn opens its doors on Academy Street.Streetscape construction will continue along that side of the road, but Cary town staff anticipate Walnut Street and Dry Avenue will open to through traffic by mid- to late-January. This will ease some of the concerns of nearby restaurant and business owners, who have said they lost business because drivers didn’t want to navigate through the construction. The entire downtown project is expected to be completed by the summer.

Some construction will still remain near the southern end of Academy Street as work continues on Cary’s new Downtown Park, which began fall 2015. Construction of phase one of the park is expected to be completed by fall 2016. However, the building of a new Wake County regional library and nearby parking deck near the corner of Kildaire Farm Road and Walnut Street will still be on the horizon for 2017. The county plans to open the library during the fall of 2018.

The downtown transformation has attracted several new business ventures – some of which will open this year. One new downtown development – Midtown Square – is already in the works. By the fall, the site at 215 E. Chatham St., will be home to a 25,000-square-foot, three-story brick office and retail space. The same developer, Northwoods Associates LP, will renovate the Midtown Shopping Center next door, which will be anchored by the brewery, Bond Brothers Beer Company, by this spring. Current shopping center tenants – Brentwood Carpets, Capital Vacuum Floor-Care World and Just Tires – will not be displaced by the renovations. The fourth space will be filled by a restaurant that has yet to be announced.

Because of downtown streetscape construction, the Cary Town Council has approved expanding the 2016 Lazy Daze Arts & Crafts Festival to a two-day event. It will be located at the Town Hall Campus for the second year.

New schools

Three new elementary schools will open in southwest Wake County to accommodate the fast growth in this area. White Oak Elementary, a new Cary elementary school expected to open in August, will ease crowding in several west Cary schools, particularly Highcroft Drive Elementary. Located at 1512 White Oak Church Road, the new school will accommodate about 900 children. The three-story building will cost $25 million. The school will also serve as a traditional calendar option in an area with several multi-track year round schools.

Meanwhile, Oakview Elementary is set to open on Holly Springs New Hill Road, Apex, with a capacity for 800 students. Pleasant Grove Elementary will open on Comstock Road in Morrisville for 780 students.

Town, county projects

In Cary, town staff anticipate construction for the second phase of Mills Community Park, which is next to Mills Park middle and elementary schools, to begin in the summer with completion expected in summer 2017. The town designed the park to be geared toward the 10- to 12-year-old age group after determining that the town’s playground didn’t necessarily serve that age range. Future plans for the park include a lighted ball field.

Apex will spend 2016 gathering more public input on its 92 acres southwest of town, which eventually will become Pleasant Park. Officials are hoping to use the park to create new space for local soccer, lacrosse, baseball, softball and cross country teams – and to attract youth travel team tournament to town as an economic development strategy.

The 8,800-square-foot Middle Creek Community Library, at the intersection of West Lake Road and Middle Creek Park Avenue on a portion of Middle Creek High School property, is expected to be completed in 2016. Although it will have an Apex address, the library falls within Cary town limits. The completion of the library has been long-awaited. After voters approved a $45 million bond in 2007 to repair, replace and build new libraries in Wake County, including Middle Creek Community Library, the economic downturn delayed work.

Wake County also plans to build a new library in Fuquay-Varina, although the exact site hasn’t been chosen yet and the costs are still unknown. Officials are considering either rebuilding on the library’s current site or looking for a larger property to accommodate this expansion as well as future growth. County officials said they will report back to the town with more details this month or in February.

Apex officials also plan to build a senior center downtown at the Town hall Campus near the Apex Community Center. The plans were finalized in late 2015, and 2016 will likely see further progress.

Holly Springs downtown changes

Construction on two road projects expected to improve traffic flow on Avent Ferry Road will begin this year. Work at the intersection of N.C. 55 and Avent Ferry is expected to begin in February and will be completed by the fall. Another project, extending Main Street across N.C. 55 to Piney Grove Wilson Road, will also begin this year. The town is receiving federal and state funding to pay for most of the costs of the improvements. Town staff plan to seek additional funding from the N.C. Department of Transportation after the lowest bid for the combined projects came in over the estimated cost.

Since these road improvements are moving forward, the Holly Springs Town Council can now place more emphasis on making changes, including some to local zoning rules, to encourage more developer interest in downtown. Town staff plan to update the town’s Village District Area plan – simplifying the plan to ensure that developers know exactly what the town’s vision is for downtown.

Holly Springs’ first co-working space will open early this year in downtown at 110 W. Ballentine St. Co-working space, a growing trend that can be found throughout the Triangle, allows people in different jobs and careers to share a space for work. The space, which would be operated by Holly Springs resident and businessman Jon Harol, would feature dedicated work stations and shared space with access to standard office resources, including high-speed Internet and parking. The building that will house the co-working space is now home to the Holly Springs Police Department, which will vacate the facility by mid-January for its new home.

Holly Springs Police Department

Holly Springs’ new 28,000-square-foot law enforcement center is expected to open by mid-January at 750 Holly Springs Road. The department’s operations were dispersed throughout the town with the 5,000-square-foot main office located at 110 W. Ballentine St. and the evidence room in the basement of Town Hall. Some officers also worked out of a training room at Fire Station 2. The new building includes a state-of-the-art 911 call center and space for an emergency operations center. Construction began in October 2014.

U.S.A. Rugby Collegiate National Championships

Cary will host the U.S.A. Rugby Collegiate National Championships May 27 to 29 at WakeMed Soccer Park. Sixty Rugby 7s teams from universities across the country will participate in the event, which will be broadcast on ESPN networks. Rugby 7s is a variant of the traditional rugby game with seven-player teams and shorter games. The event is expected to draw 15,000 to 20,000 people to the area and is expected to be an economic boost to the area.

Fuquay-Varina BalloonFest

Memorial Day weekend also will see dozens of hot air balloons rise above Fuquay-Varina in a multi-day festival meant to honor the military. The WRAL Freedom BalloonFestannounced that after last year’s inaugural festival in North Raleigh and Zebulon, the event would move to Fuquay-Varina for several years, and maybe permanently. The festival drew 85,000 visitors last year.

Costco in Apex

The Costco being built on U.S. 64 near Apex High School was supposed to be finished in 2015, town officials originally said. But it remains under construction, and it’s unclear when it might open. The development also will eventually be home to a small shopping center with a gas station and several stores and restaurants.

Transit bonds

Voters could see a referendum on a half-cent local sales tax on November’s ballot. The tax would help pay for the $2.3 billion Wake Transit Plan, which Wake County commissioners and two other boards are expected to approve this spring.

The Wake Transit Plan for a 37-mile commuter rail line, running from west Durham through Research Triangle Park and Raleigh to east Garner, and lots of buses could quadruple transit ridership in the county by 2027. The plan seeks to balance frequency of trips with connectivity to outlying areas that have little to no public transportation.

More locally, both Apex and Fuquay-Varina voters passed multi-million-dollar bonds to complete two beltlines around their respective towns.

In Fuquay-Varina, the $26 million bond will fund the completion of Judd Parkway, along with a handful of other road and utilities projects. The bond will likely require a sizable property tax increase. In Apex, the $15 million bond will go mostly toward finishing Apex Peakway and won’t require a property tax increase.

In Morrisville, 2016 could be the year that residents start to see results from the traffic portion of an $18 million bond voters approved in 2012. Work to start building theMcCrimmon Parkway Extension, as a bypass for N.C. 54, should begin this year with a completion date in 2019. The work will open up hundreds of acres of developable land and pave the way for the construction of the Western Wake Competition Center.

And starting in February, officials will shut down a portion of Morrisville Parkway near Park West Village for about six months. The closure is needed to build a bridge to take the rail road tracks there over the road, so that in the future trains won’t disrupt traffic anymore.

BY KATHRYN TROGDON AND WILL DORAN

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