Committee denies rezoning request, could clear way for Waffle House
By Emily ford
SALISBURY - A Salisbury Planning Board committee on Monday rejected a neighborhood's request to rezone 35 parcels in the heart of the city, including the lot where Waffle House intends to build a new 24-hour restaurant on East Innes Street.
The committee will make its recommendation to the full Planning Board Nov. 13. City Council has the final say.
Brooklyn-South Square neighborhood leaders and Waffle House proponents turned out for the hour-long meeting, crowding into the conference room in the city's new one-stop shop for business development.
Passions ran high on both sides, but it was clear early on that committee members Ben Lynch, Karen Alexander, David Post and Thomasina Paige not only didn't like the idea of rezoning three lots on East Innes Street from commercial to residential mixed use, they also weren't fond of third-party rezoning - when someone other than the property owner requests a zoning change.
"Third-party is asking to change someone else's dirt," Post said.
Committee members recommended the Planning Board deny the entire rezoning request and encourage property owners themselves to ask for any desired zoning changes, not the neighborhood.
The unanimous decision was a defeat for the neighborhood and the city's planning department, which had worked together for months on the rezoning package as a way to create a buffer between the fragile neighborhood and one of the city's busiest commercial corridors.
Preston Mitchell, Planning and Development Services manager, last week recommended the Planning Board approve all proposed rezonings except the three parcels under contract with Waffle House.
During deliberations Monday, chairman Ben Lynch urged the committee to consider only rezoning in general, not a specific business.
But it was nearly impossible to separate the two.
Waffle House plans to build an 1,875-square-foot restaurant and parking lot at the vacant corner of East Innes and South Shaver streets, sparking opposition to a 24-hour eatery in a high crime area.
"I want to make sure we are not attacking Waffle House," Lynch said. "They are good neighbors and taxpayers on Jake Alexander Boulevard and maintain that property well."
Lynch said he would have been more willing to consider the request if some property wasn't already under contract.
Committee members agreed it would not be fair to change the zoning midstream.
Butch Baur of Waffle House said the company has spent time and money choosing the East Innes Street location.
The restaurant will fit in well, he said. Unlike Waffle House locations just off the interstate, no big trucks will use this parking lot, he said.
He recommended the city ban third parties from requesting rezoning.
"This is bad public policy," he said. "The community should not be able to come in here and rezone our property out from under us."
Baur argued the city needs 24-hour restaurants if it wants to serve everyone who lives and works downtown. Paige agreed.
"When you start this escalation for being a real downtown, 24-hour businesses are protected and loved by people who live in the city," she said.
Committee members said they would have a hard time rezoning any lot on East Innes Street as residential mixed use, which doesn't mention the word "business" in its definition. RMX allows restaurants but requires them to obtain a special use permit from City Council.
But opponent John Cerny said the planned Waffle House doesn't appear to meet the definition for commercial mixed use, which encourages vertical and pedestrian-friendly development.
"I don't see this as moving us forward," Cerny said.
The use of RMX in commercial areas is not unheard of in Salisbury. Mitchell said sections of Jake Alexander Boulevard, which carry twice as much traffic as East Innes Street, are zoned RMX to transition between commercial and residential sections.
But Rodney Queen said the highest and best use for East Innes Street is commercial mixed use, and businesses need areas zoned for them by right. Queen served on committees that helped create the Land Development Ordinance and East Innes Gateway.
"To change midstream is wrong," Queen said. "This really throws out a real bad, bad signal for the city."
Alexander said while she loves neighborhoods, the zoning changes would reflect poorly on the city because the Land Development Ordinance is only four years old.
It's clear the rezoning attempts to preempt a specific business, and Alexander said that's bad for Salisbury.
"I can't support that," she said. "I just think it's wrong."
Alexander said she wished the Planning Board had known about the neighborhood's work with city staff to come up with a rezoning strategy.
Karl Sale said the neighborhood has been demonized for standing its ground. Leaders did not lie in wait and then ambush Waffle House, he said.
Sale said he began discussing rezoning with Mitchell two years ago as a way to preserve the neighborhood's integrity."This is a matter of protection," Sale said.
The city designed the proposed rezoning layout, not the neighborhood, he said.
Lorraine Reidda, the Neighborhood Watch captain for Brooklyn-South Square, asked Waffle House to conform to restaurants surrounding it. While many drive-throughs are open until 3 or 4 a.m., the dining rooms close much earlier, Reidda said.
"Close it at a decent time and open a drive-through," she said. "Keep it in alignment with what is there right now."
Baur said Waffle House decided long ago that drive-throughs would not work "because you can't throw a waffle out the window."
While most Planning Board members said they thought a well-lit 24-hour restaurant would help prevent crime, not increase it, Lynch said he would support more efforts by Salisbury Police and city traffic engineers to address public safety issues in Brooklyn South-Square.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
“Waffle House is fine. It is what goes on in the wee hours of the morning when most of us are asleep. And the negatives spill into the neighborhoods too!”
“It’s fine. It’s close to the police department and close enough to the bars, it should do well. We need more business in Salisbury, and it will pass.”
“We do not need any more 24-hour businesses anywhere between Arlington and Long streets. The city planners and City Council keep finding themselves in a situation where they are trying to play ‘catch up’ with the citizens’ needs! Based on the conversations at the Planning Board (last week), I would say we were a day late on preventing the Waffle House.”
“We lost our Waffle House in Lexington. Send them our way. We have very few late night choices.”
“If they put a Waffle House there it won’t (attract) anything but trouble.”
“Stop being so anti-business you liberals. We need more minimum wage jobs in Rowan County!”
“A Waffle House there is about as bad an idea as the Sonic on West Innes Street or the Salisbury Mall on Jake Alexander at Statesville. Bad crowd will run away business and they will eventually close.”
“That whole area is restaurant row on that end of town. I see no problem with one more being there.”
“A new (Waffle House) will add to the crime rate? Really? Lack of jobs/money does well enough on its own.”
“It’s several blocks from the interstate. It’s nowhere near ‘right off the interstate.’ You can’t even see it from the interstate. How many (Waffle Houses) do you know that far away?”
“I’ve seen Waffle House employees in a few different areas deny service to the intoxicated on multiple occasions and call the police when people became an issue. I for one would welcome the variety on Innes Street any time of day.”