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Cary taking a renewed look at Downtown area with strategic plan process

Cary is taking a renewed look at its downtown area, including potential redevelopment opportunities, with the help of a consultant.

Chicago-based consultant The Lakota Group recently started working with the village to determine the vision for Cary's downtown area, work that began in April, and has recently included focus groups made up of Realtors, business owners and property owners, Community Development Director Brian Simmons said.

"[They're] looking at ways that we can encourage reinvestment into downtown, whether that is investment in existing buildings, or potential redevelopment of key properties within the village to encourage new growth in the downtown," Simmons said.

This includes looking at potential opportunities for where new development could occur and how parking is distributed.

Scott Ruhland, a senior associate with the Lakota Group, told trustees during a July village board meeting that while there's not a lack of supply when it comes to parking downtown, people might perceive one because of where the parking is located and whether it's easy to find.

"We'll looking at all kinds of different transportation and pedestrian improvements," Ruhland said.

The village received a grant through the Regional Transportation Authority, which will cover about more than 80% of the $115,000 project cost, Simmons said.

Consultants are paid directly through the grant, and the village will be billed for other costs at the end of the project, Simmons said.

"It's an open process," Simmons said. "As we go through the various stages of the planning process, we'll have different opportunities for the public to participate, get feedback on both how they currently view the downtown, what they see as the vision and then as consultants start to develop the plan, the public will be invited to participate and give feedback."

From these reports, the plan will be fine-tuned and potentially adopted formally by the Cary Village Board next year.

The COVID-19 pandemic could change the outreach process, but a project website will continue to provide updates and give residents and business owners a place to submit comments.

The three-phase project starts with community planning and information gathering, according to the website. That piece is expected to run through September.

During the second phase, set for October through January, the vision and goals of the plan will be outlined with concept and recommendations for future land use and development laid out, according to the website. In the final phase, planned for January through March 2021, the implementation strategy will be drafted, refined and presented to the Village Board for formal adoption.

Ruhland said the firm is concentrating on downtown Cary, generally within the quarter-mile radius of the Metra station.

Its team will be looking at not only what vacant sites are available development but also what already-developed sites could be redeveloped, he said. The assessment will also consider what kind of tax revenue could be generated if it's a commercial site or the kind of rents or property value it would have as residential.

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