With three new members, commissioners vote to continue appeal

Published 1:00 am Tuesday, December 2, 2014

With three new members and a newly elected chairman, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted to continue the appeal of a special use permit denial by the Salisbury City Council.

The vote came at the conclusion of Monday’s meeting with new commission Chairman Greg Edds at the helm and Jim Greene as the vice chairman. Commissioners discussed the matter during a closed session that lasted over an hour. In addition to continuing the appeal, the commissioners’ vote stated that the county would begin discussions with city officials about how to proceed.

Shortly after convening for the first time, the new board — consisting of Mike Caskey, Edds, Greene, Judy Klusman and Craig Pierce — elected a new chairman and vice chairman. For chairman, Pierce nominated Greene and Caskey nominated Edds. They voted on Edds first, and he won on a 4-1 vote, with only Pierce voting against him.

The board quickly and unanimously selected Greene as vice chairman, meaning both of the commission’s leaders are first-term board members.

The new commissioners spoke briefly after taking their seats, with Edds talking extensively about the county’s priorities.

“For the past few weeks, Commissioners Greene, Klusman and I have had a little time to recover from the elections, but then our focus quickly shifted to addressing those issues that the citizens have clearly indicated are most important to them,” he said. “[Those issues] are jobs, our economy, schools, poverty and our infrastructure.”

During the meeting, the board considered several items related to economic development, but near the end commissioners focused on one of the most controversial issues during the 2014 campaign season — the former Salisbury Mall.

The county purchased the mall in late 2013 to provide space for expansion of Rowan County departments. Salisbury City Council denied a special use permit in October that would have allowed county government departments to be moved to the former mall — now West End Plaza. County officials repeatedly stated their intentions to appeal the city’s decision. But, according to County Attorney Jay Dees, the county never actually filed the paperwork.

The City Council approved a summary of the special use permit denial within a timeline that allowed the new commissioners to have input on whether to file an appeal. During a recess in Monday’s meeting, Dees said he had begun the process of filing the appeal but had not submitted the paperwork because he didn’t want it to seem generic and rather wanted to state a more detailed case in the appeal.

Commissioners discussed the appeal in closed session before re-opening the meeting to the public and voting unanimously to proceed. Judy Klusman made the motion after emphasizing the board’s commitment to work in a positive, cooperative manner with others.

“I move that we direct Chairman Edds and Vice Chairman Greene to discuss this issue and negotiate an understanding with the city … in good faith to meet the needs and concerns of the city and county, while also protecting the county’s interests to continuing the appeal process,” Klusman said.

The vote comes nearly two months after all but one of the commission candidates signed a letter in support of dropping or delaying the appeal. The letter stated: “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.”

Dees explained Monday’s motion was a way to keep the county’s options open.

“Why would I pidgeonhole myself?” Dees asked. “It would be saying here’s one option; go make it work.”

When the City Council denied the special use permit, its members suggested that the county submit a conditional district overlay. One difference in a special use permit and conditional district overlay is that the county would be required to submit a master plan as a part of a conditional district overly.

Dees said submitting a conditional district overlay would be a part of discussions between city and county officials.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246