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East Spencer eyes redevelopment, business recruitment

EAST SPENCER — The possibilities are endless as to what could present itself in East Spencer as the town looks to attract potential businesses and other development.

The town is looking to create an attractive gateway for development around and near Interstate 85 Exit 79 and Andrews Street.

Andrews Street is located right off the interstate and is the road that connects East Spencer to the interstate.

The idea about potential development has been floating around East Spencer for at least 10 years, said Mayor Barbara Mallett.

She said there’s been talk about developing that area, but with the completion of the new section of highway and the new bridge, the interest in development has been renewed.

“Our main purpose of this plan is we want to make it as easy as possible. We are looking at ordinances, zoning and planning,” Mallett said.

She said when the time comes for developers to look at the town, it’s easier if the town doesn’t have to spend time changing ordinances and zoning that could instead already be in place.

The board decided at its March planning retreat that it would make economic development a high priority.  Since that meeting in the spring, the board created a project team that consists of two board members, officials from the state office of Community Planning Assistance, Rowan County RowanWorks EDC and a consultant in planning.

The team meets about every three weeks to discuss what the town could do to promote growth.

The group recently presented what they’ve been working on at an October community meeting.

“It won’t work unless it’s a collaboration between the property owners and town,” said F.E. Isenhour, head of public works.

Mallett said most of the residents who attended the meeting wanted to know how proposed economic development would affect them. There were about 40 to 50 people who attended.

About two years ago, Mallett sent a letter to property owners who lived or owned property along Andrews and Long streets just to get feedback from them and inquire if they would be interested in selling some property in order to redevelop it. 

Infrastructure

One of the first steps in the process is to look at the town’s current zoning ordinances and its water and sewer infrastructure.

Town Administrator Macon Sammons Jr. said the goal is to improve zoning standards that are geared to the type of development the town would like to see that is similar to the Aldi Warehouse. The town staff is going through making sure that there are no inconsistencies in the town’s zoning ordinances.

Mallett said the roads and how they are designed is also important. There may be opportunities to widen some roads to four lanes or reconfigure them to include turn lanes.

Isenhour said one idea would be to make Andrews Street a four-lane road with a divider.

The town has for some months been looking at its water and sewer to see where improvements can be made. About five years ago, the town replaced old waterlines because they were leaking, but have still struggled with water loss.

The town has worked with the North Carolina Rural Water Association to identify where the town has been losing water. Town staff along with representatives from Salisbury-Rowan Utilities have looked at where potential losses may have occurred.

Collaboration

Mallett said the town didn’t just want to make all of these plans and then present them to the town without getting some input.

“We want this to be a community-led vision,” she said.

There are many people involved in this undertaking, not just citizens, but the town, the state office of Community Planning Assistance, Rowan County, RowanWorks EDC and a consultant planner have helped in some way to draft the plans. It’s anticipated a plan of action will be prepared and presented in the winter or spring of 2015 after receiving input from the public and a report to the board.

Sammons said there is also a team of graduate students along with faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill who are working with the town.

“We look at the downtown area to attract investment and redevelopment,” he said.

The town is touting this development as a northern Rowan County development project, not just an East Spencer project.

“One of the things we focus on is product and business development. They are looking at more than just sites and what can go there. They are looking at streets, zoning, which is needed to help them recruit,” said Robert Van Geons, executive director of RowanWorks Economic Development.

Van Geons said he believes the corridor has the potential for light industrial.

“We’ve been looking at the town and seeing if property owners are interested in having a conversation. People have been very receptive. It’s still in the early stages of planning,” he said.

He said the earlier the town can gain feedback and engage people about their ideas, the better.

“We need to learn and hear feedback, and the last thing you want to do is go contrary to what the citizens want,” Van Geons said.

RowanWorks has been providing the town with research, marketing and technical support, he said, in the sense they are able to advise on what is feasible in a particular location.

“There are always different options for a piece of property,” he said.

He said the completion of this vision could take years, but the town is able to start some of the work within the next couple of months.

“The action to get there can start soon,” Van Geons said. “It could start with one or two businesses or streetscape.”

“The biggest thing is none of this is about restricting or telling people what they can or can’t do, but what they want to do and what they want to see their community be,” he said.

Van Geons said he’s excited at the passion and desire he’s seen from the staff and elected officials he’s met with.

In addition to checking the zoning ordinances, town officials are making sure East Spencer is attractive to potential businesses by thinking about green spaces.

The town board gave their support a couple of years ago to be part of the Carolina Thread Trail, which is a network of trails and greenways that will eventually connect dozens of counties. The idea is that the trail would come through Royal Giants Park.

Royal Giants Park

The town is being considered for a Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant to help make some upgrades to the park.

But, as of late August, the town has $116,000 of the needed $300,000 in match money. The Robertson Family Foundation awarded the town the money to be applied to the park upgrades.

The grant can be used to acquire land or develop parks and recreational projects.

The town hopes to create a new access road into the park because currently the Robinson Road entrance cuts through the middle of the park.

Another part of the plan would put a splash pool at the park to replace the old swimming pool as well as make improvements to the bath house and add picnic tables.

A report detailing specific ideas will be presented in December.

In the meantime, the town will hold a meeting to discuss its ideas to redevelop Royal Giants Park.

Mallett said there’s been a building at the park that’s been vacant for years and would be ideal for a health-care facility. She’s been advocating the need for a health-care facility in East Spencer for some time now.

The facility, she said, would be similar to China Grove Family Medicine, a clinic located on Centerview Street, and could serve not only East Spencer, but residents in neighboring towns.

The town will hold a community meeting from 3 to 5 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 20, at town hall, 105 South Long St., to discuss the proposed plans for Royal Giants Park.

Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.

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