Board gives new Civic Park apartments green light; now it’s on to City Council

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 11, 2013

SALISBURY — The vision for the new Civic Park apartments cleared another hurdle Tuesday when Salisbury Planning Board gave the project its blessing.
The board voted unanimously to recommend that City Council rezone about 19 acres off Brenner Avenue and Old Wilkesboro Road and establish a conditional district overlay to allow 181 apartments, a community center, day-care facility, parks, playgrounds and more.
City Council is expected to approve plans to raze and rebuild Civic Park, the centerpiece of an ambitious effort to transform the city’s West End neighborhood.
Civic Park’s big test will be trying to find funding for the project.
The project failed to win an $18 million grant last year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but Salisbury Housing Authority and the city of Salisbury will re-apply if the grants are included in the federal budget.
In the meantime, developers are competing for tax credits to help finance the project through the N.C. Housing Finance Agency.
Developers who win financing through tax credits agree to keep rent rates affordable for 15 to 30 years. The first phase of Civic Park would include 36 public housing units and 44 low-income units for people who make between $17,000 and $34,000 a year.
Several projects in Salisbury are competing for tax credit financing. Only one is expected to win.
Currently 72 units built in the 1950s, Civic Park would become a mix of garden-style apartments, townhouses and quadruplexes better connected to the surrounding community, planners said.
The greenway on Brenner Avenue would put residents within walking or biking distance of grocery stores, restaurants and drugstores on Jake Alexander Boulevard.
Consideration of the Civic Park project spurred discussion among Planning Board members about why developers sometimes seek rezonings and exemptions from city code. Civic Park needs rezoning and a conditional district overlay to allow the density and style of buildings in the plan, as well as fewer architectural details than required by city code.
Most development projects never come before Planning Board or City Council because they meet code and current zoning and are approve by city staff, said Preston Mitchell, the city’s Planning and Development Services manager.
But developers who want to do something not included in the code can request a variance. That starts a different process where the project is publicly vetted by Planning Board, City Council and any residents who want to comment on the plans, Mitchell said.
Planning Board member Bill Wagoner sang the praises of the conditional district overlay process.
While city code provides for “cookie cutter” development, the CD process allows developers “to help be a part of the new Salisbury and be creative and do things the cookie cutter could have never anticipated,” Wagoner said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.