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Residents living near proposed Taco Bell site will get closer look at plans

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
Let’s call it the Taco Task Force.
A Salisbury City Council committee of Mayor Pro Tem Paul Woodson and Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy will meet at 10 a.m. Friday to review a site plan for a proposed Taco Bell on Jake Alexander Boulevard.
Council decided Tuesday that enough confusion existed among residents who live close to the proposed fast-food restaurant that it merited giving them a better look at the plans.
But the extra committee meeting probably won’t change things.
The Taco Bell meets requirements of the Land Development Ordinance and, in most of the council members’ minds Tuesday, does not renege on any special conditions placed on the property in 2001.
The 2,755-square-foot restaurant would be built in a vacant area just south of the Pizza Hut takeout location at the corner of Jake Alexander Boulevard and Mooresville Road.
It would have right-in and right-out access to Jake Alexander Boulevard. Customers also could enter and exit off Mooresville Road by using a private drive at the rear.
Senior Planner Preston Mitchell told council that as the Taco Bell was proposed Tuesday, it meets all the requirements from 2001, even though those conditions prohibited, among other things, “drive-in restaurants.”
To the zoning administrator, Mitchell said, drive-in restaurants are like a Sonic or What-A-Burger and not a fast-food restaurant with inside seating and a drive-through window. Fast-food restaurants were not prohibited under the existing Conditional District overlay.
And the proposed Taco Bell met all other criteria for setbacks, height and the like.
Mitchell explained that all council was really being asked to do was amend the Conditional District by approving the Taco Bell site plan.
When the city’s new Land Development Ordinance was passed, the Conditional District overlay took the place of the special district ordinance placed on the property in 2001.
Mayor Susan Kluttz said it really boiled down to a site plan approval, not a zoning issue, because all necessary zoning conditions were being met. But she agreed it was confusing.
“I feel like the neighborhood needs a chance to at least look at the site plan,” Councilman Mark Lewis said.
But he emphasized earlier, “the Taco Bell can go there.”
Residents who spoke at a public hearing suggested the owner of the property, John Leatherman, was reneging on a compromise he had reached with his residential neighbors years ago.
They expressed concerns about lights, noise and traffic that a Taco Bell would bring to them. Business owners farther south of the proposed Taco Bell had particular concerns about the extra traffic a private drive connecting to Mooresville Road will carry.
Mike Clawson of Mooresville Road said his house is probably the third closest to the proposed Taco Bell. He said the restaurant doesn’t conform to the residents’ original agreement with Leatherman, including that the property would not include a late-night restaurant.
Clawson also had concerns about the noise, light and pests that a restaurant might generate.
Duke Energy has taken down trees recently that would have provided more buffering to noise and light, Clawson said.
Councilman Bill Burgin said he wasn’t being indifferent to the residents’ concern, “but promises cut both ways.” The city made some promises to Leatherman in 2001, and his proposal apparently fits the city ordinance, Burgin said.
“I would have to support this,” he said.
Lewis agreed. Once a deal is made, it should not be broken for the residents or a developer, and “our deal is the ordinance,” Lewis said. It allows the use of a fast-food restaurant on this particular parcel, he added.
Woodson said the case reminded him of all the discussion that into with the building of the Walgreens drug store at West Innes Street and Mahaley Avenue. In that light, the residents should be given a chance for input, he said.
But Woodson also spoke strongly in support of new investment that will create more jobs.
“I just don’t think today we should make a decision,” he said.
Kennedy said Tuesday he would have voted against the Taco Bell. He said the fast-food restaurant would make the private road in back a much more public road and probably lead to other restaurants nearby.
Kluttz said she wanted council to have the committee report back Aug. 4.

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