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County’s mall is everyone’s

Salisburians complain that county leaders forget the city is part of Rowan County. But selective amnesia goes both ways. The West End Plaza belongs to all the people of Rowan County, including the people of Salisbury. City Council has nothing to gain by throwing up obstacles to the county’s use of the former mall.
Such action might delay the move of some county offices out of downtown. But a refusal would give the lie to all the city’s talk about building a better relationship with the county. This is a time to move forward, not to perpetuate old grudges.
Ironically, county commission Vice Chairman Craig Pierce was one of the people appealing to the council at Tuesday’s public hearing. Rowan needs a special-use permit to allow government offices at the mall, offices well along in the planning stages. It was Pierce’s strong language at a Republican Men’s meeting last year — caught on video, fortunately — that sparked fears of a county exodus from downtown and compelled some to urge City Council to deny the request. Pierce tried to undo some of that damage by making county plans sound less dramatic Tuesday, but no amount of smooth talking will put that genie back in the bottle.
The real question for the council is whether “government services” should be added as a use for the property, now zoned for highway business. The Salisbury Planning Board examined the issue and recommended approval with one provision: that any outdoor storage facilities be screened on all sides. Unless it uncovers gross incompatibilities that the Planning Board missed, City Council should vote the same way.
Whether we like it or not, our county owns the mall. If the county is barred from moving the Board of Elections and the Veterans Services Office to the mall, it will have to find space for them somewhere else, and you can bet it won’t be downtown. The county’s hopes of developing a healthy mix of retail and offices at the mall would go down the drain, as would the county’s investment — our collective investment — in the property.
Approving the special-use permit does not guarantee anything but permission to put government services at the mall. Voters will elect three new county commissioners in November and they could shift course on how to use the property. Both city and county would be negatively affected if the 330,000-square-foot mall deteriorated further and took surrounding property values down with it.
Council has delayed action for now, so members can have plenty of time to study the issue and consider the possibilities. An important county investment is on the line, one in which the city has a big stake as well.

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