Salisbury council denies Hendrix Barbecue access to Ashbrook Road

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury City Council stuck with a decision it made almost five years ago and denied granting Hendrix Barbecue an access onto Ashbrook Road.
In voting 4-1 against restaurant owner Timmy Garris’ request, the council took the side of a majority of Westcliffe residents, who described how the neighborhood bypassed restrictive covenants in 2003 to allow Hendrix to spread its parking lot to the corner of U.S. 70 and Ashbrook Road.
But the concession ó one backed by the council when it approved a rezoning and site plan at the time ó did not allow the parking lot’s access to Ashbrook Road, which serves as the entrance off U.S. 70 to the Westcliffe subdivision.
Mayor Susan Kluttz, Mayor Pro Tem Paul Woodson and Councilmen Mark Lewis and Bill Burgin upheld that decision Tuesday. Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy voted for the Hendrix request.
Kennedy acknowledged he lost a lot of sleep over the controversy and cited personal driving experiences that made him change his mind.
Each of the council members indicated that they had recently driven to the restaurant to investigate some of the safety issues raised.
People on both sides crowded into Council Chambers Tuesday, waging a debate for almost two hours before council’s vote. In all, some 32 people spoke during the public hearing.
Each side argued that the public’s safety was at stake, along with submitting petitions supporting their positions.
Jay Dees, an attorney representing Garris, entered into the record 14 different documents as exhibits supporting his client’s case.
Garris approached the Westcliffe homeowners’ association in 2003 about securing the corner lot for additional parking because of land he was losing due to the U.S. 70 widening in front of his business.
Restrictive covenants were on the property limiting it to residential use only. Jimmy Greene of Willow Road said without the association’s consent, the covenants could have blocked a rezoning and prohibited the parking lot.
Westcliffe and Garris worked out an agreement to allow an expansion of the parking onto the corner lot, but Westcliffe residents were adamant, Greene said, that there be no access to Ashbrook Road.
Nick Langdon, of White Oaks Drive, said Garris’ agreement with the association stipulated four things:
– That the property would only be used as a parking lot.
– That there would be no connection to Ashbrook Road.
– That there would be no commercial sign on the corner lot.
– That there would be appropriate buffering of the parking lot next to its residential neighbors.
Langdon said Garris had “a complete case of amnesia after that.” But Langdon emphasized to council that nothing had changed ó all the issues and the people, including the council members, were the same as they were five years earlier.
L. Clark, a Westcliffe resident for 25 years, said Westcliffe gave up an attractive wooded entrance and an ornamental wall in exchange for the parking lot. But the neighborhood’s agreement with Garris did not include access to Ashbrook Road, he said.
“I was at all the meetings,” Clark added. “I know that was the deal.”
Jimmy Mason, of Willow Road, said the association recently surveyed the 166 occupied homes in Westcliffe. Owners of 116 of those homes signed a petition against the Hendrix request, 19 were for it, five had no opinion and 26 homeowners were not contacted.
Only one signature was allowed per household, Mason noted.
Several of the opponents said the proposed access, which the N.C. Department of Transportation allowed temporarily during the U.S. 70 construction, was too close to where vehicles turn off U.S. 70.
One White Oaks Drive woman said only two car lengths existed between U.S. 70 and the proposed drive.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” she said.
Jill McNeely, of White Oaks Drive, disputed the claims from Hendrix supporters that the U-turns required in getting back to the restaurant from west or returning to Salisbury after dining are dangerous.
“I drive an SUV, and I don’t have any difficulty doing it,” McNeely said.
She added that no one has cited any accidents that have occurred because of the U-turns.
A highway patrolman who said he works U.S. 70 every day offered words of caution, however.
“There’s going to be some tragedy there, it’s just a matter of time,” Carlton Killian said. He expressed concerns for elderly drivers making U-turns to visit or leave the restaurant against traffic that sometimes is going 55 mph or better.
The recent widening of U.S. 70 included the installation of a median, which leads to the U-turns.
Garris, who has had an ownership interest in Hendrix since 1989, said the U.S. 70 road project cut his business by 30 percent, and it still hasn’t recovered because of the dangerous U-turns.
Numerous speakers noted that allowing an access onto Ashbrook Road would give motorists going to and from Hendrix the ability to use the traffic signal at U.S. 70/Ashbrook Road and avoid having to make a U-turn.
Michael Cross, a Westcliffe resident who supported the Hendrix request, said it’s next to impossible at lunch to leave the Hendrix parking lot and move across to the left-turn lane to make a U-turn back to Salisbury.
“The driveway (to Ashbrook Road) would make a big difference,” agreed Kathy McKinney, who works at Hendrix. Residents from Hendrix Estates, located on the opposite side of U.S. 70, also spoke for the restaurant.
Council members said they understood why Garris sought the access, but they also felt an obligation to the Westcliffe residents.
“That’s their door,” Burgin said of Ashbrook Road. An access would make more sense if Ashbrook Road were a feeder road that went to other places, but it really only serves Westcliffe, Burgin said.
In its previous zoning decision, Burgin said, the council asked the neighborhood to sacrifice a residential lot without an access to Ashbrook Road, and “that’s what I have to honor.”
Kluttz said she wasn’t persuaded that it was a safety issue.
Lewis, who drives a Tahoe, said he managed to make the U-turns in question near Hendrix without any difficulty. While he was outside of his vehicle taking photographs, Lewis added, he noticed how fast vehicles were traveling while making a right turn onto Ashbrook Road from U.S. 70.
The thought of tractor-trailers and buses using an access drive so close to the intersection scared him, Lewis said. Westcliffe residents trusted the council before, and he would not renege on that deal, Lewis said.
Woodson acknowledged that a few weeks earlier he had been leaning in the restaurant’s favor. But in the end, he didn’t think the issue was all about the road. All businesses are suffering, and the neighborhood had been generous in allowing the parking lot in the first place, Woodson said.
Kennedy said it was a safety issue for him and he had to be concerned for all citizens.
When he surveyed others in the city, Kennedy said, they described it as “a no-brainer” and supported an access for Hendrix to Ashbrook Road and the traffic signal.