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County request to use mall for ‘government services’ passes city test

SALISBURY ­— With reluctance from some members, the Salisbury Planning Board voted 7-2 Tuesday in favor of a special-use permit that would allow government uses in the West End Plaza, the former Salisbury Mall.
The recommendation goes to Salisbury City Council next week.
The action may seem like it’s going through the motions for something that’s going to happen anyway. The Rowan County Board of Commissioners already is making plans for the Board of Elections office to move into a spot that once was an Eckerd Drugstore at the mall.
The Veterans Services Office also will take the location of a former jewelry store, and commissioners plan to provide county storage space in the former Big Lots.
With its request, Rowan County simply is asking the city to add, through the special-use permit, “government services” to the allowed uses under its existing highway business zoning.
But Planning Board members David Post and Shaun Brixey raised questions as to whether the city would be paving the way for the county to move important downtown offices into the former mall.
Post noted how the county’s purchase of the Salisbury Mall property was controversial in some corners and that rumors since the purchase have had the county moving the courthouse and other offices at 402 N. Main Street to the West End Plaza.
“Once we pass this,” Post said, “we give the county blanket approval to do that.”
Post said it would have been better for city and county officials to have a discussion prior to the special-use request and put assurances in place that the downtown would not lose the county entities.
“I’m troubled by the rumors I’ve heard,” Post said.
Brixey said approval of government uses for the West End Plaza has the potential to leave large, vacant buildings on Main Street, which would be counter to principles spelled out in the city’s Vision 2020 Plan.
Rowan County Planning Director Ed Muire and retired Rowan County Tax Assessor Jerry Rowland spoke in support of the county’s request.
Rowland said he had 40 years of experience in property appraisals, and “I’ve seen this situation so many times,” when the economic life of older malls and shopping centers begins to fade.
Rowland said he dealt with all the managers and owners of the Salisbury Mall through its 30 years of existence, and he knew the last owner, before selling to the county, was frustrated because he couldn’t find suitable tenants nor persuade original anchor stores to stay.
The county’s purchase of the property will be good for the city and county, Rowland said, because it will keep the property from deteriorating and should have a positive impact on the surrounding areas.
The mall encompasses roughly 330,000 square feet, or about 7.6 acres under roof. There also is 765,000 square feet of parking. Salisbury Transit makes 10 stops at the mall every weekday, and there’s an average traffic count of at least 17,000 vehicles a day going by on Jake Alexander and Statesville boulevards.
Muire said West End Plaza represents an adaptive reuse of an older commercial property — the mall opened almost 30 years ago. He added it supports another policy of the Vision 2020 Plan which encourages “a flexible, yet compatible development environment that supports new business formation and growth in the city’s older commercial areas.”
Some Planning Board members questioned, however, whether the mall would qualify yet as an older commercial area as envisioned by the land development plan.
Muire noted the exterior and footprint of the building will not be changing. Overall, he went over how the county’s request meets the city’s three standards to approve a special-use permit.
In the end, the majority on Planning Board agreed the county’s request meets these three requirements:
• “The use meets all required principles and specifications of the ordinance and any adopted land-use plans and is in harmony with the general purpose and intent and preserves its spirit.”
• “The proposed plan as submitted and approved will be visually and functionally compatible to the surrounding area.”
• “The public health, safety and welfare will be assured and the proposed development will not substantially injure the value of adjoining property and associated uses if located where proposed.”
The Planning Board’s vote for the special-use permit included a provision suggested by Bill Burgin, who asked that any outdoor storage on the site be screened on all sides.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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