Get the Facts

About Cary’s Community Plan Update

What is a Community Plan?

A Community Plan is a strategic guide that expresses the values and aspirations of a community. It is the broadest public policy document our community can create and will set forth the long-range vision for development, transportation, housing, environment, economic development, and related topics.

What is the Cary Community Plan?

It’s the name we have given to the document that will result from the Imagine Cary process — an integrated, strategic, comprehensive plan for the Town that looks ahead some 20 to 30 years into the future.  The plan is expected to be an extensive update to the Town’s already-adopted plans that make up the existing Comprehensive Plan.  The Comprehensive Plan guides many decisions made by the Town as well as private property owners.  The current plan includes a number of separate documents that cover topics like community vision, growth management, land use, housing, transportation, historic resources, and community facilities.

Those existing plans, however, were prepared over the course of several decades.  They are not as current or as coordinated as they could be.  And they don’t reflect fully the changing needs and emerging conditions in our community.  Thus, when finished, the Cary Community Plan will set out an updated vision and long-term guidance for future decision making.

Cary is just fine the way it is. Why do we need a new Plan?

Cary is definitely a very fine community – one of the best in the country where many people want to live, work, visit, relocate, or start a new business.  We didn’t get to this enviable position without planning ahead and thinking about the future of this wonderful place we all enjoy.  We benefit from the vision and sound planning done by those who preceded us, and have a responsibility to look forward to ensure that Cary is still a great community 20 or 30 years from now.  If we sit by and watch the world go by, we might miss opportunities to keep Cary great.

Additionally, some have said that the market and private businesses should drive changes, not the Town.  With this in mind, it might be that some of our current plans and policies may hinder private market innovation.   So, through Imagine Cary, we can help ensure that our community’s plan reflects a collective vision for our future and come up with a “game plan” that everyone can support in getting there.

Why should I care?

As a citizen, business owner, or property owner in Cary, you have made an important choice to invest in the Town. If you like the community just the way it is, you should care because change is always happening. If you want aspects of the community improved, you should also care enough to help identify what needs to be addressed.

The Town staff and consultants have already decided what the results of Imagine Cary will be and what the Cary Community Plan will say — isn’t that so?

No, it isn’t, although we’ve also heard that comment.  Imagine Cary is no different than the hundreds of other projects the Town takes on each year in that staff and consultants only give professional advice and recommendations; they don’t make any final decisions.  That’s the job of the citizen-elected Town Council, and, as stated in an earlier answer, as citizens themselves, it’s very important to the Town Council that there be lots of citizen engagement so that the Council will truly know citizens’ views before making final decisions.

Part of the extensive and unprecedented citizen engagement effort the Town Council called for with Imagine Cary is the Council appointed steering committee – the Committee for the Future (CFTF). The CFTF, which held its first meeting in January 2013, will meet at least two dozen times during the 2-year Imagine Cary process, and they’re involved at every level, including helping to gather citizen input and develop policy recommendations for the Council’s consideration.

Imagine Cary has several phases over its multiyear lifespan. Click here to determine where we are now so that you can stay involved.

About the Process for Preparing the Plan – Imagine Cary

What is Imagine Cary?

Imagine Cary is a community involvement process that is being used to help prepare an update to the long-range plan for the Town of Cary; when complete, the new, comprehensive plan will be called the Cary Community Plan. The idea to undertake this major planning effort arose about a year ago, and this planning process is expected to take about two years to complete.  The name, “Imagine Cary,” was selected by the citizens’ advisory committee (known as the Committee for the Future) which was appointed by the Town Council earlier this year.

How long with the planning process last?

The planning process will last 24 months.

Who is guiding the Imagine Cary process?

The Town of Cary is working closely with a team of planning consultants who bring national expertise and local knowledge to the Town of Cary. See “Who’s Who in Imagine Cary” on the about page for more information.

I’ve heard that Imagine Cary is just a “cookie cutter” project, it is the same as plans done in other cities, and it will yield “copycat” results. Is that true?

No, this isn’t true. While there are always similar ideas and ways to address common planning issues like transportation, or recreation, or other topics of interest to any community, the way they are addressed differs.  Every town, city, or county is different. The policies and vision established in each plan reflects the particular needs and character of a community as expressed by the citizens involved in the process.  Just because a planning process has a common name that may have been used by another community does not mean the product – the plan – will be the same.

As explained above, Imagine Cary is not a product; it’s the name of the planning process chosen by the citizen steering committee. The name could have easily been something else like “Cary Forward” or “Cary 2040.”

Some people say that Imagine Cary is just a front for “sustainability” and United Nations’ Agenda 21 – true or false?

False. Imagine Cary is a citizen-centric planning effort not unlike dozens the Town has undertaken over the generations.  As for “Sustainability,” it’s one of those words that means different things to different people.  Here at the Town of Cary, sustainability means building fire stations that cost 40-50 percent less to operate than older ones; sizing the Town’s vehicle fleet to reduce fuel costs; requiring construction practices that will protect water quality and decrease flooding; and acquiring more open space and protecting natural areas.  We expect that issues of ensuring a sustainable community of the future will continue to be raised and discussed as part of Imagine Cary.

The Imagine Cary update to the Community Plan is in no way associated with any national or international movement, but is a continuation of the award-winning planning that has been instrumental in helping to create the Cary of today.  As far as “Agenda 21” goes, the United Nations held a meeting in 1992 to discuss global social and environmental issues facing the world in the 21st century.  It produced a non-binding, voluntary action plan for the 21st century that various countries and other governments have endorsed.  However, there is nothing in that agenda that the Town of Cary must follow or implement, and the Cary Town Council has not voted to endorse it.

Why are we spending so much time on public involvement?

Citizen engagement is a hallmark of the Town off Cary.  The government is led by citizens in the form of the Town Council, and we value and encourage citizen involvement in nearly all that we do, especially planning initiatives.  Workshops and community meetings are common parts of our planning efforts, and it’s no different for Imagine Cary.  In fact and given the important role the resulting Cary Community Plan will play in our future, the Town Council called for an extensive and unprecedented public engagement effort to give everyone an opportunity to participate if they choose to.

The Town Council also asked that Imagine Cary include a variety of engagement techniques and ways to share information, so we’re employing Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter in addition to our website and public meetings to involve interested persons.  About 1/3 of the total cost of Imagine Cary is devoted to an extensive amount of public engagement so that the Cary Community Plan truly reflects the views and values of our citizens.

Isn’t this awfully expensive?

This effort to prepare a consolidated Community Plan is actually less expensive than the alternative of doing many other smaller plans over a longer period of time in a piecemeal fashion. That incremental approach still costs money, is duplicative, and when added up, actually costs more!  Staff shared this information with the Town Council, and the Council decided that an integrated project approach was more cost-effective, much better for citizen involvement, and can yield a more viable plan.

Are you using the “Delphi technique” to manipulate public opinion about the future of Cary?

No.  This term describes a process used by corporations or the military that involves panels of experts who go through several cycles of discussion on the same topic to narrow down their predictions of likely futures that might result.  Our process is much different.  Far from relying only on a panel of experts in a closed room, we are asking you – residents, property owners, and business owners – what they think about the future of Cary.  And we are using very typical public involvement and engagement techniques that have been part of Cary for years.  These include public meetings, roundtable discussions, exit questionnaires, focus group interviews, keypad polling, neighborhood meetings, open-ended questions, and the like.   Additionally, anyone can give their feedback or input via phone calls, emails, or visits to Town Hall.  Our contact information is available at

All the “raw” data gained from these sessions are public record under state law and will be available for public review and analysis.

About Imagine Cary Work Products and Reports

The Cary Community Plan Snapshot Report doesn’t provide statistics on every aspect of the community. Is the report biased?

The Cary Community Plan Snapshot Report is intended to provide a “snapshot” of information that is critical for the community to have as a base understanding as the Town moves through this planning process.  Containing hundreds of facts and figures, this report provides the community with important information on existing conditions and trends, and the future challenges and opportunities that are critical for informing the Town’s long-range planning discussions.

The purpose of the report is to highlight key trends in the community that have occurred, or are expected to occur, that could impact future policy decisions.  The report is not designed to serve as an “encyclopedia of Cary” but instead focuses on answering two critical planning questions:

  • What are the major regional and national trends that Cary will need to address over the long-term?   And how well positioned is Cary to address these trends?
  • What are the key local planning issues that could have significant impacts on Cary’s future?

Some have said the report is biased in that it doesn’t provide all statistics available on the Town of Cary.  The reason the report provides a “snapshot” of information, and not every possible statistic available on the Town, is twofold:  1) because it makes the document more user-friendly by providing a concise framework for information sharing, and 2)  the information is targeted to informing planning discussions and highlights information that may not be commonly known to the community.

As the community moves deeper into the planning process, it will be necessary to conduct further technical research to fully understand the implications of potential policy decisions.  This information will be published as a supplement to the Snapshot Report.

One example of this is Cary’s Population and Housing Trends Report that provides population and demographic statistics, data on housing and development, cost of living estimates, and employment and jobs in Cary.  An updated Population and Housing Trends Report will be released later this year that will supplement the Snapshot Report.

About What the Cary Community Plan and Imagine Cary ARE NOT

Is it true that the Town of Cary just wants to take businesses away from owners and bulldoze entire neighborhoods for new, more intense urban development everywhere?

No. This is not the case, and you can rest easy because there are laws that prohibit that type of activity.  Preliminary information from Imagine Cary reinforces the fact that most of Cary is fine just the way it is, and won’t be changing anytime soon.  We would never suggest that perfectly good neighborhoods or businesses be removed just for the sake of replacing them with something new.  Keep in mind that Cary is a fairly new town, relatively speaking. Many of our developments were recently completed: think about Lochmere, Preston, Weston, Regency, Silverton, Amberly, and many, many more neighborhoods all over town. No one would expect them to change in any appreciable way for decades.

However, that’s not to say that areas or parts of Town haven’t seen better days.    In those locations, we hear from neighbors and other citizens who are worried about what might happen to those places.  They don’t want them to become dilapidated, unsafe, or have negative impacts on adjoining homes and businesses.  So they expect the Town to have policies for dealing with such concerns.  Some areas are already undergoing change and redevelopment like part of downtown and some of our shopping centers, which is a natural part of the life cycle of cities and towns.  And the Community Plan might include policies and practices that enable the private sector to more easily improve failing properties.

Isn’t “Imagine Cary” related to or responsible for all of the public spending on new projects the Town is doing in downtown Cary?

No.   Town Council has been committed to improving downtown Cary for more than a decade, well before Council authorized Imagine Cary.  The downtown projects being worked on now are based on the Town Center Plan unanimously adopted by the Town Council in 2001 and other plans that have been adopted since then.  Renovating the Cary Arts Center, re-doing the Downtown Theater, constructing roundabouts on Chatham Street, creating a downtown park, or renovating an historic house for a retail use are part of Council’s focus on revitalizing downtown.  These projects are not a part of Imagine Cary.

Will this plan include new ordinances or regulations that will take away residents’ property rights?

No.  Plans like this don’t contain rules or regulations; they give policy direction.  They describe goals and objectives.  For example, a plan policy might say we should “provide a mix of housing types and choices for our residents” or “make sure that shopping and work locations are convenient and accessible.” So the Cary Community Plan will not contain any new ordinances.

This is not to say, however, that new or revised laws or ordinances may not be considered after the plan is done.  Because regulations are a way that communities make sure their adopted policies, goals, and objectives can get achieved. For instance, an existing planning policy in Cary is to “protect natural areas adjacent to streams for water quality and other environmental purposes.”  But that just doesn’t happen on its own.  Rules are needed to ensure it is accomplished.  Thus, the Town Council has enacted “stream buffer protection rules” to ensure that development is not placed too close to creeks, streams, and other water bodies.  Such rules don’t get put in place without anybody knowing it.  Ordinances (rules) have to be reviewed and approved by Town Council and they never get enacted without lots of study, discussion, community meetings, public hearings and other input.

About the Entities Involved in Imagine Cary

Is there a steering committee involved in the planning process?

Yes, a steering committee has been formed and is known as The Committee for the Future. They meet monthly on the 4th Tuesday from 6:30-8:30 p.m (see for meeting locations). The meetings are open to the public. If you would like to know more about the committee members please visit the Community Plan page on the Town of Cary website.

What is the role of the Steering Committee (the Committee for the Future)?

The Committee of the Future will make recommendations for the community in concert with the Town staff and planning consults. The Committee is charged with guiding the process and substance of the new community plan.

About Who Should Be Involved in This Process

Can anyone get involved?

Yes! Anyone that cares about the future of Cary will be able to participate and contribute their ideas and insight.

I don’t live in Cary, but I still care about what happens here because I own a business in Cary, can I get involved?

Yes! Anyone that cares about the future of Cary will be able to participate and contribute their ideas and insight.

What is the most important thing I can do to help?

The most important thing you can do is get involved in the planning process by volunteering and/or attending public input meetings. There are a number of ways to volunteer directly with the process or help spread the word about the planning process to your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.

About Ways the Community Can Engage, and Has Engaged, in Imagine Cary

What was the Summit on the Future?

The Summit was the first opportunity for the general public to get involved in Imagine Cary. During this launch event national and local trends were presented and the participants were asked to provide their opinions on a series of questions relating to the data presented.

I’ve heard that the presentations at the Summit on the Future were one-sided and all of the public feedback was biased because of that. Is that true?

While that was never our intention and we hope not the outcome, we are aware of such concerns and are taking steps to help ensure that future input opportunities will be free of such criticism.

The Town Council and some participants felt that the Summit’s schedule didn’t run as had hoped, and, unfortunately, we ended up making up time by cutting down time for the table discussions.  We may not have heard some important feedback from participants due to the shortened time.  A few folks were also concerned that  a couple of  questions were pretty long with even longer answer choices, so, there’s a bit of a concern that some folks might not have had long enough to really read through and respond the way they might have wanted.

There were also concerns over our main speaker. The goal was to spark discussion, which was/is a good goal.  But there’s a feeling by some on the Council and some in our community that having that part of the program before Leigh Ann King’s presentation and the table discussions may have led to different outcomes than if we had had multiple speakers or had the speakers later in the program.

So, with all that, we’re going to set aside the Summit results for now and focus instead on what comes out of the Area Conversations, which have no keynote speaker but lots of time for citizen discussion.  We’ll keep all of the Summit materials, including the video that’s on the web, but for right now, we’re not going to focus on the Summit results in terms of next steps.

At nearly 700 participants, the Summit was the largest public meeting of memory in Cary, and it couldn’t have happened without all the citizen volunteers, including many from the Committee for the Future.

What were the five Area Conversations?

The Area Conversations are a series of public engagement opportunities where the public is invited to express their vision and hopes for Cary’s future, share what they like and don’t like about Cary and exchange ideas and opinions with their fellow citizens.

How is the input I provide at these meetings being used?

All of the input gathered at the Area Conversations will be compiled with input from the Summit on the Future and other input activities. This material will be shared with the Committee for the Future and, at their July meeting, they will review and analyze the information based on the major themes of the plan. The input will become the basis for framing key choices the community needs to make for the best opportunity for a prosperous future.

What is Mindmixer and what does it have to do with Imagine Cary?

MindMixer is an interactive website that lets cities and other institutions engage the public and get input and feedback on defined topics. It is a “virtual town hall” now used by over in 300 cities around the country.  The Town of Cary is launching a MindMixer site to expand the ways that citizens can give input on a range of topics.   Activities on the site may include, idea input, surveys, polls, photo sharing, and identifying places on a map.  Imagine Cary will be the first project focus for the Mindmixer site.

Imagine Cary will use Mindmixer to engage the public on particular topics of interest for the Community Plan.  The site will be used to gather and “test” ideas, all while giving community stakeholders an opportunity to have their voice heard and to share their insights and opinions with other community members in an online forum format.

The first Imagine Cary Mindmixer exercise continues the sharing approach of the Area Conversation meetings and provides stakeholders with an opportunity to openly talk about geography – favorite places that should remain unchanged, and areas where change may be desired  for the community with a focus on housing and neighborhoods, and commercial and employment development.   Mindmixer participants will be asked to go through three specific mapping exercises: one  to identify the top five favorite places in Cary, one to identify the  top five areas that are opportunities for change relative to housing and neighborhoods, and one to identify the top five areas that are opportunities for change relative to commercial and employment development.  Participants will mark these places on an online map, and can provide a comment on each of these places to describe the reason it was selected.  They will also be given the opportunity to upload photos of areas that illustrate their insights.

The Favorite Areas/Opportunity Areas for Change mapping exercises will be used to help inform development of key community planning choices.  The Committee for the Future, the steering committee of Imagine Cary, will review this public input and use this information, and other community input and technical analysis, to set out key community choices related to development, community infrastructure, and transportation.

Will there be other opportunities to give my input? What are the next steps?

Yes! There will be other public events that will take place in November as well as open house events in 2016. Web-based tools will also be available where you can take surveys, give input and provide feedback about particular topics throughout the process.