Cary OKs commercial zoning for proposed Publix site

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Heated discussion about a proposed Publix in Cary.

Twenty-one acres of land that's been at the center of heated debate among residents has gotten the green light for commercial use.

In the town's Comprehensive Plan for the northwest corner of Green Level Church and Carpenter Fire Station Roads, that area is zoned for mostly medium to high-density residential. A developer wants to use the land for the proposed Amberly Village Shopping Center with a 55,000-square foot Publix.

Last month, in a 7-1 vote, the Town of Cary Planning and Zoning Board voted to send the Comprehensive Plan Amendment to the town council with a recommendation to approve, which is what the council did in a 6-1 vote Thursday night.

PREVIOUS STORY: Cary advances Publix plan despite residents' protests

Before public comment portion of the council meeting, Mayor Harold Weinbrecht took the time to make it clear that Thursday night's vote was not about whether to green light that proposed Publix project.

"It's whether or not to allow commercial there, it could be a Wegmans, it could be a Publix, it could be anything else, we're not deciding that tonight," Weinbrecht said. "What we're deciding tonight are not details, only a high level thing, do we allow commercial development or not, that is the only question we're answering."

Residents on both sides of the issue then voiced their opinions the podium.

"I feel we are underserved in regard to retail and grocery," said Cary resident Barbara Daniels.

"I think it's the worst thing we could possibly do," stated Cary resident Ryan McCormick.

His concerns were echoed by fellow resident Peter James: "If you'd like to live and have a supermarket 30 feet from your back window, that's the situation that we're facing."

"I would say the involvement with the community here has been very active," said Josh Beyer, the Senior Vice President of the Sembler Company.

Sembler is the company behind that proposed Publix shopping center. Beyer and his team said they have had four meetings with residents, and are planning a fifth, to try to model a plan that makes them happy or at least happier.

"A lot of the comments we've gotten have led to a far better plan in my opinion; we've made a lot of significant changes based on that feedback," Beyer said.

Before taking a vote on this, council members voiced their own thoughts on the land use.

Since the land is zoned for high-density residential use, an apartment complex could be built there. When council members asked how many units the land could hold, they were told more than 200.

At-large councilman Ed Yerha said he doesn't want to see another apartment complex. He also said though he feels bad that residents feel like a promise is being broken, he said a land use plan "isn't a promise, it's a vision."

He also said they will do what they can to ensure that whatever development goes up on the site will be a good one and said "that's a promise."

Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson voiced concerns from the residents' point of view. She said she sympathizes with residents who say they worry about losing a sense of community.

Councilman Don Frantz spoke in favor of using the land for commercial use but said they "can do something better than a traditional shopping center." He said he agrees with resident Daniels, when she said she felt the area is underserved by commercial property.

Frantz said he wants to create a space where people want to stay for a while and is optimistic that people will come around and hopes the developer will address their core issues.

Thursday night's vote is only one of several steps still to come for that proposed Publix shopping center. There will be many more meetings concerning the land and the project in the months to come.

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