Name as it appears on the ballot: Jennifer Robinson
Party affiliation: Republican
Campaign website: RobinsonforCary.org
Occupation & employer: Global Government Strategic Advisor, SAS
Years lived in Cary: 27
1) In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the town council do differently or better over the course of your term?
It has been my honor to serve as a member of our Town Council. I hope that you have found me to be an approachable, caring, and responsive representative.
Over the years, my goal has been to meet the infrastructure demands created by growth and to offer our citizens the best value for their money. In spite of having the lowest tax rate in Wake County, we have been able to maintain and improve upon our transportation, water, wastewater, and stormwater systems as well as our fire, police, and solid waste/recycling services. We have programs for people of all ages and abilities and a growing network of greenways, sidewalks, parks, and open space. In addition, we are consistently ranked one of the safest communities in the U.S.
But, there is always more work to do. We will face new challenges as our land available for development decreases, infill occurs, our infrastructure ages, and traffic congestion increases. We will need to tackle environmental, affordability, and budget issues.
To address our challenges, our Town needs leadership that has experience that is built upon a deep understanding of our past, that fosters a big picture perspective, and fuels a vision for our future that is both ambitious and realistic.
If re-elected, I will continue to focus on:
- Ensuring that new development enhances our community
- Providing excellent roads, police and fire protection, and parks
- Growing our economy
- Budgeting responsibly so that we have the leanest budget and lowest taxes possible while still maintaining our high-quality services and infrastructure
- Protecting our watersheds and environment
- Planning well to ensure that Cary remains a great place to call home
I bring to this position experience, knowledge, innovative thinking, great relationships, and a resolve to get things done.
2) Given the direction of Cary’s town government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
I believe our town government is on the right course. Our Council is comprised of people from a broad spectrum of political perspectives. While this may be a challenge in some communities, our Council members work amicably with one another in pursuit of our shared goal to make Cary a great place to live. Our mayor, Harold Weinbrecht, is to be credited for his collaborative nature that gives every Council member an equal voice and who demonstrates respect for all people. I believe that each of us is open minded and quick to acknowledge that we are continually learning and growing. We value equity. We consider ourselves stewards of our environment. We embrace innovation. We value citizen input and opinions. We take our responsibility to serve seriously and are sincere in our efforts to do it well.
Our town has an excellent manager who has refined the organization to be comprised of highly skilled, hardworking employees who strive to provide premier services and infrastructure. Because of this, we run a very lean government which contributes to our ability to keep our tax rate low.
With this election, there is potential that the Council composition will change. Regardless of who is on the Council, I hope that it remains a respectful, balanced board. That will be important as we face new challenges (outlined in the next question).
3) What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific.
As the amount of our land mass available for development drops below 10%, we will face new and more complex challenges.
1. We will see more infill and redevelopment occur, impacting our environment and existing neighborhoods.
To address this, we will need to:
- Refine our land development ordinances to encourage environmentally friendly practices such as green rooftops, solar, and electric car charging
- Adhere to the values stated in the Cary Community Plan to ensure that new development complements existing communities
- Continue to track the performance of our roads and intersections, employing new technologies to improve through-put rather than simply adding more asphalt
- Continue to work on building out a viable multi-modal system and be open to new modes of transportation
- Protect our existing environmental standards and conditional zoning authority from being attacked by the NC General Assembly and remain vigilant to protect our right to govern at the local level in accordance with the values of our citizens
- Look for ways to divert waste material and plan for the next generation of waste as the County rapidly approaches the capacity of our land fill
- Continue to analyze and address stormwater in order to protect our citizens’ properties and lives
- Work cooperatively with the other communities in our region to address problems that cross municipal boundaries
- Reconsider our common gathering area requirements for residential projects to ensure that sufficient space is dedicated for people to socialize and children to play.
2. We will feel budget pressures as our revenue growth from new development slows and our infrastructure ages.
To address this, we will need to:
- Embrace redevelopment of underutilized land, recognizing that we can accomplish multiple objectives at the same time: creating more interesting places to work, shop and live while also supporting revenue growth.
- Invest in public infrastructure that drives private investment, such as the work that we are doing in our downtown core.
- Continue to perform frequent and proactive evaluations of our infrastructure and continue to maintain quality standards and improvement plans
- Use innovation such as asset performance analytics to pinpoint the maintenance needed on our fleets, buildings, and infrastructure so that we are not allowing failures while also not fixing, replacing, or repairing what is working well.
3. We will have a housing inventory that cannot meet demand which will impact affordability.
To address this, we will need to:
- Continue to do our part to support the Cary Housing Plan (adopted in 2021) such as our mixed income project and supporting the rehabilitation and preservation of existing affordable housing by offering grants to homeowners for roof repairs, HVAC and other needs
- Take actions to make our transit network viable for people so that they can rely on it. This includes working with the County and our regional partners to expand our transit network so that it is within walking distance of every home and office and decrease the headways so that buses run every 15 minutes.
- Work with our non-profits to address other components of affordability such as childcare, tutoring, job counseling, and food assistance
4) What’s the best or most important thing the town council has done in the past year? Alternatively, name a decision you believe the council got wrong or an issue you believe the town should have handled differently. Please explain your answer.
In the last year, the town council funded several projects that are important to our citizen:
- we purchased 240 acres of open space, using funds approved by Cary citizens in the 2019 bond
- we performed a gap analysis of our entire sidewalk network which drove our decisions in how to improve pedestrian access across the town with $13m in funding
- we approved our Cary Housing Plan and funded housing initiatives with $10m
As far as mistakes go, I wish we could go back to the point in time when the Council was negotiating the development agreement for The Fenton (a mixed use development consisting of retail, office and residential). A large grocery store is a component of that project. At the time, it did not occur to me that the tenants and residents of the tall buildings adjacent to the grocery store would be looking down at the rooftop of the grocery store. Plus, I was not thinking at the time about the environmental impacts of an acre-sized asphalt rooftop. If I could go back in time, I would require the developer to make that rooftop a green rooftop or an active rooftop so that space is used to improve our living environment. We need to think of rooftops as valuable surface areas, no different than ground area.
5) What prior experience will make you an effective member of the town council and advocate of the issues listed above? Please note any endorsements you have received that you consider significant.
I have a lot of valuable experience to bring to this role.
Before I joined the Council, I was an engaged citizen, attending Council and School Board meetings and petitioning the boards on issues that were important to people living in western Cary. Due to my efforts as an active citizen, the Town of Cary put Louis Stephens Drive back on the thoroughfare map and funded its construction, and Wake County buffered the eastern side of the Green Hope Elementary School site and designed its vehicular access to meet the preferences of adjacent neighborhoods. I also served on Cary’s Growth Management Task Force.
I was appointed to serve on the Council in 1999 to fill a vacancy. As a Council member, I have strived to be the type of representative that I would want to have: trustworthy, responsive and informed. I have worked hard to be a visionary and an ambassador for our town government. And, I have had a resolve to get things done.
There are many policies, laws, practices, and projects that would not exist if I had not initiated them, including (but limited to) the West Regional Library, the Good Hope Farm Park, Carpenter Elementary, the twin parks west of Hwy 55 (that are soon to be under construction), our land-banking program; the multi-use path approach to providing safe pedestrian movements, the policy that calls for grade-separated paths when major roads are built or expanded, the policy that limits driveway cuts on collector roads, the practice of having youth charettes for the design of new parks, and the tree preservation task force. In my last term, I continued to add to this list. I spearheaded the inclusion of funds in the bond referendum for new open space and worked with a landowner so that the Town could acquire an additional 240 acres. I initiated our staff’s study of autonomous shuttles which has led to a pilot being launched this month. I spearheaded a sidewalk gap analysis so that we could understand where sidewalks are needed and fund them. I advocated for sidewalks and a cycle track on Louis Stephens so that people can safely walk and bike between their homes, schools, the tennis park, and shopping. I initiated a bike and pedestrian study for Weston Parkway so that we can improve safety on that corridor. I spearheaded the fare-free policy for youth at GoTriangle. And, I encouraged my fellow Council members to “wait for great,” which led to better development projects for our Town.
I have represented Cary in several regional, state, and national boards that are dedicated to the success of local governments:
- I have been a board member of the Triangle J Council of Governments (which is a convening organization comprised of a representative from every government within the seven county region) since 2003 and chaired the board for two years.
- I have been a board member of GoTriangle (which is the transit organization for the region) since 2013 and chaired that board for two years.
- I have served on the board of the North Carolina League of Municipalities since 2013 and served as its President. I also chaired the League’s Vision 2030 committee, its legislative action committee, its Racial Equity Task Force, and its nominating committee.
- I have served on the board of the National Association of Regional Councils since 2015 and am the incoming President.
I have served on several other boards, commissions, and task forces:
- Regional Transportation Alliance – Tri Map Group
- Reality Check Regional Growth Study
- Cary Chatham Joint Issues Committee, Co-Chair
- Joint School Board/Cary Council Working Group
- Cary Morrisville Joint Issues Committee
- International City County Management Association Smart City Advisory Panel
- Cary Ethics Committee
- Cary Operations Committee
- Cary Planning and Development Committee
- Hotel, Occupancy, Meals and Beverages Tax Committee
- NC 55& I-540 Small Area Plan (Alston Avenue) Committee
Additionally, I have served as the Council liaison on the following:
- Cary Economic Development Committee
- Cary Public Art Advisory Board
- Cary Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Advisory Board
- Cary Planning and Zoning Board
- Cary Tree Preservation Task Force
I started the Cary Community Foundation in 2004 and the Cary Women’s Giving Network in 2006. I have also served on the non-profit boards of:
- Read and Feed
- Taylor Cary Family YMCA
- NW Cary YMCA Board Member (current board chair)
All of these experiences give me a big picture understanding of our past, present, and future issues. And, through my service to our town, region, state, and nation, I have established wonderful relationships with hundreds of elected officials and municipal staff members.
6) Given the rate of growth in Cary, how will you ensure that growth is well managed and enhances the town rather than detracts from it? Where does density and height fit in in planning decisions, if it does? How do you intend to balance growth with sustainability?
Since I joined the Council, I have been fueled by a passion to make sure that our Town stays a great place to live in spite of the challenges created by rapid growth. Developers who work with the town know that I have a high standard for development, only support projects that I believe enhance our community and complement what is already built and expect every stakeholder to do his part to improve our community.
We will need to continue to evaluate the impact of development on our infrastructure as well as our built environment. With each rezoning request, we evaluate how it impacts our roads, how it is served by transit, and how close it is to parks, greenways and sidewalks. Recently, I asked our staff to also explain to us whether above-ground electrical wires run along any boundary. I asked for this because I am seeing the trees in our streetscape buffers growing up into adjacent electrical wires. Consequently, the trees are being massively pruned and disformed. Now that we realize that this is a problem, we need to take action to make sure that it doesn’t continue.
With limited land left for development, we will see very few “greenfield” projects. For redevelopment projects, having development agreements in place will help ensure that what gets built enhances our town. In these agreements, the Town makes investments that serve the project in exchange for better aesthetics, amenities, etc. offered by the developer.
We must continue to keep track of land that is planned, zoned, or used for non-residential in order to ensure that we have an inventory of office space available to entice new businesses to relocate to or grow in Cary.
In our Cary Community Plan which was created with the input of hundreds of citizens, we identify areas of town that are appropriate for higher densities and taller buildings. It will be important for us to use that plan as our guide for zoning proposals. Higher density and taller buildings will be a driving force in our need to reevaluate our environmental standards and the land development ordinances that bring those standards to fruition.
Most importantly, the Council needs to do what I call, “Wait for Great” which means we need to be comfortable saying “no” to a project that doesn’t meet the goals of our town and the values of our citizens.
7) As with most places in the Triangle, Cary is grappling with issues related to affordable housing. How would you like to see the town approach affordability issues over the next few years? Should it promote apartment living, duplexes, and/or triplexes? Encourage density in single family housing? What do you believe the town is doing right? What could it do better?
The town cannot do enough to impact the affordability issue with which our region is grappling. The demand for housing is far outstripping the supply everywhere, but especially in towns in the heart of our region. We approved the Cary Housing Plan in November 2021which outlines strategies and actions to try to meet the housing needs of Cary’s residents over the next decade.
Some of the measures that we are already taking include:
- buying land and creating a mixed-income community which provides workforce housing in a central Cary location
- entitling land for transit-oriented development
- amending zoning regulations to expand the potential for Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) and Utility Dwelling Unit (UDU) development
- ensuring equitable access to parks and other amenities (including expanding our sidewalk network to meet the needs of modest and lower priced neighborhoods, providing park programs within lower income apartment complexes, building our parks scholarship program)
- supporting the rehabilitation and preservation of existing affordable housing by offering grants to homeowners for roof repairs, HVAC and other needs
- working with non-profits and developers to create housing choices for senior citizens
- providing funding to non-profits (such as the White Oak Foundation and Habitat for Humanity) to build affordable housing
- building out a viable transit network with our partners at GoTriangle, GoRaleigh, GoDurham so that people can inexpensively travel between their homes and jobs
- providing funding for non-profits that address other aspects of affordable living such as Dorcas Ministries and the YMCA
- providing financial assistance through the Oasis program to homeowners who cannot afford to pay their utility bills
Future initiatives to address affordability include (but are not limited to):
- piloting a low-interest loan fund for landlords to make repairs to rental housing
- supporting state-level legislation that supports housing goals
- funding emergency housing programs to help residents in a crisis keep their homes
- evaluating other programs to relieve seniors of housing cost burdens
- exploring developer incentives to support affordability
- integrating environmental activities into housing programs
- investigating land trust programs that allow people to buy an affordable home, generate wealth in it, but keep it affordable upon its sale
- implementing an ADU guidebook and library of code-compliant architectural plans to help homeowners who want to build an ADU.
8) How should town leaders work with the large organizations who are relocating to, or expanding or investing in Cary? What obligations, if any, should these businesses/companies/facilities have to the town?
We want all businesses to be corporate citizens, engaged in our community and with the non-profits that serve our citizens. One of the challenges that Cary has is that we do not have a lot of corporate headquarters in the town. Consequently, a lot of corporate charitable giving goes to the communities in which their headquarters is located. This is something that we need to continue to work on.
As mentioned earlier, infrastructure demands are evaluated for every development application. It is important that we recognize both the positives (job creation, revenue growth, etc.) as well as the impacts that the business brings.
For any business seeking financial incentives from the town, we calculate the incentive based on the goal of recovering the incentive within 3 years of the business paying property taxes. To receive the incentive, the business must agree to “claw back” provisions which obligate them to adding a certain number of jobs, sometimes with conditions on the types of jobs, and/or a designated minimum amount of capital investment.
9) In your view, how can Cary be safer and more accessible using different modes of transportation? What is your vision for public transit, pedestrian and bike safety?
With the growth occurring across the region, we will want to have multiple options for transportation. People often point to our region’s sprawling office campuses and neighborhoods to explain why transit cannot work here. But I am optimistic that two aspects of our region will overcome this challenge: (1) our region embraces new technology and (2) Wake, Durham and Orange have a dedicated funding stream for transit.
Autonomous vehicles will greatly improve safety and accessibility for people. Over the next few years, we’ll see early stage implementations of autonomous vehicles (such as shuttles and small eco-prt vehicles on dedicated pathways) being explored in our area. For example, the Town is piloting Cassi shuttles at Bond Park. These autonomous vehicles will likely play a key role in the problem of getting people from their departure point to transit and then from transit to their destination point (referred to as the “first mile/last mile” problem).
Wake County collects approximately $104m each year to fund the expansion of our transit network. The goal in the Wake Transit Plan is to bring bus routes within walking distance of every home and office and to increase the frequency of the buses. Additionally, the region may embark on commuter rail which I think is essential to serve expanding communities. In Cary, we operate GoCary buses and on demand, door-to-door services for people with special needs. I would like to see us roll out more bus routes, connecting schools and community gathering places such as community centers, gyms, parks, and shopping areas. By creating a youth culture that is comfortable using buses to get across town, we will be decreasing the number of parents dropping kids off, giving our youth greater freedom, and creating a generation of people who recognize transit as a viable option.
I have been a huge advocate for safe cycling and walking in Cary. A few initiatives I have spearheaded include: the introduction the multi-use path (extra wide sidewalks/paths along road corridors in lieu of a standard sidewalk) as an asset in our roadways; a policy that calls for including grade separated crossings when major roads are built or expanded; a policy that limits driveway cuts on collector roads; a policy that gives developers credit for building a public greenway on their properties; important sidewalk segments that promote safe walkability; and a gap analysis of our sidewalks system.
My vision for our sidewalks, multi-use paths, and greenways is for Cary to eventually have at least one east-west route and one north-south route that is completely grade separated from roadways.
10) What are your goals for Cary’s downtown and what does the town need to do to achieve those goals?
My goal is to create a vibrant, interesting place for people of all ages and cultures to visit, reside in, and/or do businesses. Our investments in downtown are yielding huge amounts of private investment and we are seeing both businesses and people move to downtown. I am concerned about the traffic congestion that will be mounting as more is built downtown so I will be looking for ways for us to address that. Having Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) run through downtown will be good, but I want to make sure that we implement it in such a way that it is not in conflict with people trying to drive and park around downtown. We may want to consider on-demand pricing for street parking which would encourage people to park in the parking decks. Having a safe cycling and pedestrian paths into and around downtown will be very important. With speed trains and possibly commuter trains going through downtown, it will be important for us to consider what downtown looks like from a train. We often consider the viewshed from roads, but we have rarely considered the viewshed from the rail. I look forward to having our downtown park programmed with activities so that people know there is always something fun going on downtown.
11) Cary residents love their parks and greenways. How should the town work to preserve, improve, or expand them?
We are doing a lot to preserve, improve and expand our parks and greenways. Since I have joined the Council, we have added 25 additional parks, 80 miles of greenways, 3.5 square miles of public open space and, through the implementation of innovative policies, over 8 square miles of private open space. With a land area of approximately 60 square miles, protected open space represents nearly 20% of Cary’s total land area.
To continue to grow our parks and greenway systems, we should:
- select portions of the greenway plan to build each year, prioritizing making safe pedestrian routes to parks and downtown
- work with our neighboring municipalities to coordinate efforts (as we did with Apex when we funded the connection of the White Oak Creek Greenway to the American Tobacco Trail through Apex’s jurisdiction)
- increase our community gathering space requirements for residential projects
- maintain our annual recurring budget expenditure of $765,000 to purchase land to protect our watershed
- invite diverse populations to weigh in on the design of future parks
- further our study of our tree canopy (currently believed to be over 50%) and encourage public and private tree planting
I recently recommended to our staff that we track the expansion of our greenway network, park system, and open space inventory with every development that we approve so that we are aware of the continual expansion that we undergo each year.
12) If there is anything else you would like to address please do so here.
I am honored to have served as your representative on the Cary Town Council and pleased to play a role in making Cary a great place to live. I hope you have confidence in me to serve our community well.
We all have a role to play in making Cary great so I encourage every resident to do his or her part by going to the polls and voting during early voting (April 28 – May 14) or on Tuesday, May 17.