City Council denies request for special-use permit at mall
Salisbury City Council denied the county’s request for a special-use permit for the West End Plaza during a meeting Tuesday.
The vote was 4-1 with Councilman Brian Miller the lone “yes” vote. The county owns what used to be the Salisbury Mall and has plans to move some of its services to the mostly vacant building — but those plans are now on hold for the foreseeable future.
The plaza is not zoned for government use, and the county needs the city’s approval before it can move services there. The county wants to move Veterans Services and the Board of Elections to the plaza.
City council members said they weren’t comfortable with issuing the permit without the county providing detailed plans of how it wants to use the plaza.
Mayor Paul Woodson said issuing the permit would’ve given the county broad control over how the plaza is used. He said the city wants to work with the county to develop the property.
Councilwoman Karen Alexander said the county should develop a Conditional District Overlay for City Council to consider. A “CD” would require the county to create a master plan for the West End Plaza. Alexander said it’s important for the county to have a concrete plan because what happens with the plaza will affect the city and county for decades.
Councilman Miller voted in favor of issuing the permit, but was skeptical about the county’s plans. “At the end of the day, I don’t like this use, … but don’t find it to be an unreasonable request from the entity that owns the property,” he said.
Ed Muire, the county’s planning and development director, told council he was confused by the decision because city staff told the county the special-use permit was the way to go.
During deliberation, when it was clear council was going to deny the permit request, a group of Rowan County officials — county manager Aaron Church, commissioner Craig Pierce and county Republican chairman John Leatherman — left the council chambers.
Pierce said he was upset because the county went through the process of trying to get a special-use permit and then was told to do something else. It was like being told to go down a road and finding out it’s a dead end and then being told to go down a different road, he said.
After the meeting, Commissioner Jon Barber said commissioners could’ve been more transparent during the process.
“This predicament could possibly have been avoided if commissioners had engaged city council and the public a year ago,” Barber said.
As part of its permit request, the county offered to set the limit of space it would use in the plaza for government services at 40,000 square feet; the plaza is 326,000 square feet. If the county wanted to use more space for government offices, the city would have to give permission.
This was done to reduce the fear that the county is planning an exodus from downtown. Woodson said he doesn’t think the county plans to leave downtown.
“We felt like if we did the conditional district situation that they’d have to come up with some plans; show us exactly what they’re trying to do.” Woodson said.
Reporter Josh Bergeron contributed to this story.