Salisbury rules ban downtown nuisances
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY - Saying they need to protect the investment made by downtown property owners, City Council members voted Tuesday to regulate nuisances like torn awnings, leaky roofs and graffiti in the heart of the city.
"This has been a long time coming and well overdue," Mayor Pro Tem Susan Kluttz said.
Several people spoke at a public hearing in favor of the new downtown maintenance code, and City Council received between eight and 10 emails in favor, Mayor Paul Woodson said.
One person opposed the new rules. The artist Clyde, who only uses one name, said neighbors already harass him and the city threatens him about code violations that do not endanger public health or safety, such as overgrown grass.
Property owners have 15 days to cut grass that's too long. Other violations now include:
• Graffiti on a building visible from a public right of way - remove within 30 days.
• Awnings that are more than 30 percent torn, tattered or missing - remove within 30 days.
• Broken windows and window frames that are more than 50 percent disfigured, cracked or peeling - fix within 60 days
• Leaky roofs that "endanger the integrity of the structure or adjoining properties" - fix within 60 days.
• Hazardous conditions that threaten public health, safety and welfare - immediately abate.
The rules apply only to the Municipal Service District, the special tax district in the heart of downtown.
Downtown leaders said downtown property owners are more likely to be affected by their neighbors because the buildings are so close together and often share walls and roofs.
The code suggestions came from property owners themselves, said Randy Hemann, executive director for Downtown Salisbury Inc.. He said the legislation reflects compromise reached after years of discussion.
"It's reasonable," Hemann said.
Downtown Salisbury Inc. must abide by the new rules as well and bring into compliance its 102,000-square-foot building, the Empire Hotel, that has several violations, Hemann said.
When the city approved a local historic district in 2001 that encompasses the downtown, naysayers claimed regulation would discourage development.
"That is a myth," Hemann said.
Since then, downtown has benefitted from $60 million in investment, he said.
People want to invest in locations with appearance standards, where their investment will be protected, Hemann said.
"This code will provide standards so all are protected," he said.
While Downtown Salisbury acknowledges the rules may create a financial hardship for some property owners, they face an even greater hardship from their neighbor's "inability or unwillingness to maintain their property," said Mark Lewis, DSI president.
Lewis asked City Council to reinstate the city's facade grant program, which was suspended for a year to help balance the budget. Council members said they would consider bringing back the grants next year.
Brian Davis, the new executive director for Historic Salisbury Foundation, said the new code will protect not only public safety and private investment, but also the city's image.
George Wilson, a downtown property owner, said graffiti written on downtown buildings in 2010 is still there.
Bill Greene, another downtown property owner, said the code will ensure uniform quality in downtown and give the city the way to enforce standards.
Councilman Brian Miller, a DSI board member for 13 years, said the new code is a measured approach that gives the city enforcement authority but is not so overpowering that it has unintended consequences.
Miller said he agrees with Clyde "that we need to have common sense in the way we apply and enforce this."
Miller and other council members said they're confident the city's code enforcement officers can strike the right balance.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.