Four years ago, Cary voters ousted their mayor, Glen Lang, and elected banker Ernie McAlister. Lang and his supporters on the town council had dramatically slowed growth by sharply raising impact fees and instituting adequate public facilities ordinances that required funding be in place for roads and schools before new development could be approved. Naturally, developers were frustrated. Unfortunately, Lang also alienated his political allies, who found his arrogant personality and defiance in the face of an apparent ethics breach too much to take. (Lang failed to disclose his business relationship with the son of the lead developer of the huge Amberly project on the Wake-Chatham line.)
By contrast, McAlister has opened the floodgates for development. He has overturned the adequate public facilities ordinance for schools and shown a willingness to make exceptions to the town's land use plan, the recommendations of its planning board, even the opinions of its staff in order to accommodate development interests. He even negotiated directly with a developer during a recent council meeting, while hundreds of citizens in the council chamber watched helplessly. The landscape has changed considerably under McAlister's watch, with bulldozers clearing trees to make way for drug stores and apartment complexes all over town.
Today, many residents feel as if the pendulum has swung from one extreme to another, and a growing number of them are fed up with what they see as an administration that promotes development interests over those of citizens. The most glaring example is the controversial approval of two developments at the intersection of Davis Drive and High House Road in July—one of which is being challenged in Wake County Superior Court, after the town declared a protest petition invalid when the developer moved the boundary line of the proposed development (see "Cary citizens file suit over rezoning," Sept. 19). That decision has become a rallying point for citizens who want a new regime.
We strongly endorse challenger HAROLD WEINBRECHT in the mayor's race. Weinbrecht is a SAS software developer who served on town council from 1999-2003. We endorsed his election to council and his re-election bid in 2003, when he lost to outspoken conservative Mike Joyce (who later resigned), because he helped lead Cary's smart-growth turnaround under Lang. Weinbrecht's campaign mantra this election is "a balanced Cary." He says growth can be good for the town when it's properly managed, but it's been badly mismanaged by the current administration. As a result, the qualities people love about Cary—its small-town feel, green spaces and good schools—are at risk, along with the availability of drinking water and other long-term infrastructure needs. Weinbrecht says growth can and should pay for itself through impact fees, adequate public facilities ordinances (which he would reinstate) and a land transfer tax, should Wake County citizens approve it. Of the $16,000 Weinbrecht had raised by the end of August, most came from fellow high-tech workers. With only a fraction of the campaign money the incumbent has amassed, this challenger has run a grassroots campaign.
McAlister contends that he has solved the leadership crisis created by the Lang administration, and that he's brought Cary back from the "dark days" when would-be investors (read: developers) had the door slammed in their faces and neighboring municipalities didn't want to work with the town. He denies there's a growth problem, saying the rate of growth is just right and the town is "ahead of the curve" on infrastructure. McAlister has strong ties to the development industry, which could explain why he views Cary's growth differently. Campaign finance records show that, as of the end of August, he had raised more than $108,000, more than half of which came from real estate and development interests, including $4,000 from the N.C. Homebuilders Association's political action committee.
There's no question that Weinbrecht would do a better job of looking out for Cary's future.
No council seat is more hotly contested this year than that of District B in northeastern Cary, where all three candidates are strong and the incumbent is well-funded.
We endorse VICKIE MAXWELL, a homemaker who's quietly gaining a reputation as a neighborhood activist. Her political experience may be slimmer than that of her rivals, but she's a graduate of Cary's School of Government and served on the town's Citizen Budget Advisory Committee. She has demonstrated dedication and tenacity in battles over development projects affecting her neighborhood. As president of the Wessex Homeowners Association, Maxwell fought a developer's bid to move the town's greenway closer to Black Creek to build apartments on Lake Crabtree. While Maxwell's group lost the fight, her campaign to draw attention to pollutants in the creek and the lake helped lead to the creation of Raleigh's PCB Cleanup Task Force and the subsequent proposed cleanup of the Ward Transformer site. She and her neighbors opposed another dense apartment complex development that would put a five-story parking garage beside single-family homes; again, Maxwell's group lost, as the developer lengthened a buffer just enough to prevent a valid protest petition from the neighbors. In an effort to share information with other neighborhood groups about such development issues, Maxwell started the North Cary Community Coalition.
Maxwell isn't an aggressive campaigner and her appearance at a town-sponsored candidate forum was lackluster, but we believe she can provide what District B needs most: a voice independent of developers and of the (incumbent) mayor's agenda. We believe she'll not only listen to citizens' concerns but also make it easier for citizens to navigate complicated bureaucracy in order to make an impact on important decisions.
Incumbent Nels Roseland has served on council for eight years, and the Independent has endorsed him twice. When Mayor Lang was in office, Roseland supported his slow-growth agenda, and to Roseland's credit, he voted against McAlister's repeal of the adequate public facilities ordinance for schools. But more recently, Roseland has lost the support of neighbors in his district over his votes in favor of dense development—most controversially, his vote for the Crosland development at Davis and High House. During that meeting, he spoke of an "identity crisis" as Cary continues a trend toward high-density, mixed-use development at critical intersections and proposed an unrealistic moratorium on a zoning tool that allows for such density, but he nevertheless voted for the development proposal itself. Roseland has been an effective advocate for open space conservation, and he emphasizes stream buffers and other environmental protections in his public comments. But considering he's running on a green record, it's telling that the Sierra Club declined to endorse in the District B race this year. Campaign finance reports also show that of the $31,000 Roseland had raised by the end of August, approximately $20,000 came from development interests. In his questionnaire, Roseland said that "The current rate of growth in Cary is about right." Asked whether the town had done a good job incorporating public input into its decision-making, he replied, "Yes, Cary's public participation process far exceeds the minimum standards required by law." Roseland is smart, experienced and hardworking, but he is no longer the independent voice that Cary's council needs.
The other challenger, Don Frantz, is a strong candidate. Owner of a downtown automotive shop and a political gadfly, Frantz lost his bid to unseat Roseland in 2003 by fewer than 150 votes. He sits on the Planning and Zoning Board and is also a member of the town's Chamber of Commerce and president of the Heart of Cary Association, a downtown business owners' and residents' group. Frantz is a fierce critic of McAlister's wide-open growth policies and lack of concern for citizen protest, so it's no surprise he's earned the support of many unhappy with the current administration. Frantz's rhetoric is sometimes partisan, invoking Republican sentiments on spending and on "big government," and he advocates a separate Western Wake County school system as a solution to overcrowding and redistricting problems, which is ill-advised. He has a reputation for being outspoken, and in the heat of political debate he's been known to attack first and ask questions later. But Frantz's big personality could be an asset if he can work with colleagues while pushing back on McAlister's agenda.
The incumbent representing District D in the center of Cary, Marla Dorrel, is not running for re-election this year. She has said she doesn't want to play the political games that go on behind the scenes. That's unfortunate, because Dorrel has been a thoughtful, independent voice on council.
We endorse GALE ADCOCK, a nurse practitioner who runs the corporate health care program at SAS, because we think she can fill Dorrel's shoes. Adcock is running on a platform of more balanced growth and meaningful citizen participation. She says she wants to end the town's practice of forwarding all development plans to the Planning and Zoning Board regardless of merit: The council should stop some proposals after the public hearing; otherwise, she says, the town wastes time and resources and sets up expectations that every plan will be approved. She also believes appointments to town boards and commissions need to reflect more diversity—and not just development interests. While she has little experience in politics, Adcock does have a record of leadership in health care and education. She also has Dorrel's support.
Adcock's main opponent is accountant John Rigsbee, who served as Mayor McAlister's treasurer in the 2003 election. The other opponent in the race, Omar Ali, is a young political newcomer who has been running a very low-key campaign. We hope Ali will stay involved and gain experience in public service.
We strongly endorse incumbent ERV PORTMAN, who was appointed to the at-large seat on council in February after outspoken conservative Mike Joyce resigned. Portman, who owns a precision machining manufacturing company, has a degree in urban planning and previously served on the town's Planning and Zoning Board. He's smart, hardworking, independent-minded and understands the complex issues of development and growth at least as well as anyone else on council. He bases his decisions on data and open debate. Portman is a strong critic of the McAlister administration's growth policies and proudly cites his own vote against the Crosland development as proof that he's "willing to say no" to development that doesn't meet standards for infrastructure and environmental protection. In his few months on the council, Portman has earned strong support among neighborhood activists and shares much of his support base with Weinbrecht.
Commercial real estate developer and challenger Tommy Byrd is on the board of the Triangle Community Coalition, a group dominated by homebuilders and developers. While this longtime Cary resident is likeable, considering Cary's growth issues, electing a developer to council could be detrimental.
Lesser-known challenger Roger Hill lives near Davis and High House in a neighborhood affected by the Crosland development. He says he's running in protest of unbridled development and wants to nearly halt growth—and spending—in Cary.
Susan Lawson withdrew from the race on Sept. 10. Roger Hill withdrew from the race on Sept. 26, after publication of this article.