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Candidates ask commissioners to drop permit appeal

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

Seven of the eight candidates for Rowan County Commissioner spoke with a united voice this week, requesting that the current group of commissioners stop any efforts to appeal the Salisbury City Council’s denial of a special use permit for the former Salisbury Mall.

Nearly all of the county commissioner candidates signed a letter asking that all decisions on the former Salisbury Mall — now West End Plaza — be made after three new commissioners start their terms in December. Local political group La Resistance, formed at the start of 2014 in opposition to the Rowan County Tea Party, drafted the letter.

Unaffiliated candidate Chris Cohen was the only candidate for county commissioner who didn’t sign the letter.

The letter states: “We, the undersigned candidates for Rowan County Board of Commissioners, feel that decisions regarding the controversial purchase and use of the Salisbury Mall now known as the West End Plaza should be made after the election by the new Board of Commissioners … We the undersigned candidates request that Rowan County stand down on suing the City of Salisbury. The lawsuit will only result in spending more taxpayer money on the Salisbury Mall project while continuing to damage relations with the Salisbury City Council.”

County attorney Jay Dees received approval to proceed with an appeal on Oct. 6 during an executive session of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. The approval came one day before Dees and planning director Ed Muire made a final presentation to the city council. After leaving it open for three weeks, the city council closed its quasi-judicial hearing on Oct. 7 and subsequently voted 4-1 to deny a permit that would’ve allowed Rowan County to place government services in the former Salisbury Mall.

La Resistance founder Todd Paris said the letter is a follow-up to one his group drafted earlier this year. The earlier letter called for the cancellation of a public hearing that was necessary to move forward with a nearly $4 million loan application with the Local Government Commission.

“It’s not so much about influencing the election, but keeping from spending more tax money on this thing,” Paris said. “It was a very easy thing for us to put together. We invited everyone honestly and equally and just gave them the chance to sign the letter.”

All candidates who responded to requests for comment expressed similar opinions when asked why they signed the letter. Candidates unanimously said new commissioners, regardless of who is elected, will have a space needs assessment in hand and be able to make a more informed decision about the malls future. Many of the candidates who signed the letter also said they would like to work with the City of Salisbury and figure out the future of the West End Plaza.

Cohen said he didn’t sign the letter because, as an unaffiliated candidate, he didn’t want to show favoritism to any special interest group.

“Basically we all know the judicial system does not move swiftly at all and I think this is a non-issue,” Cohen said. “Nothing is going to be done before the new board is elected anyway. I’m just not going to let anyone use my name to influence the voters and misguide and manipulate the election.”

Cohen said if he had known that all other candidates signed the letter it wouldn’t have changed his opinion.

Current county commissioner Jon Barber said the commissioner candidates were made the right decision by asking for the appeal to be dropped. Current commissioner Mike Caskey said he was still in favor of the decision to move government services out to the former mall because of a lack of space. Unless the city council at least allows the county to move veterans services and the board of elections to the former mall, Caskey said he wouldn’t be in favor of dropping the permit appeal.

No other current commissioners were available for comment on Tuesday.

New commissioners’ terms start in December. Dees has cited estimates for getting the appeal into court that place the appeal in court after new county commissioners are elected and potentially after new terms begin.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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