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David Post: We’re all aiming for the growth zone

Have you ever listened to a conversation where people seem to disagree with each other and yet are really saying the same thing?

That happened this week when the Salisbury Planning Board — of which I am a member — denied a request to change the zoning to allow the construction of a Zaxby’s drive-thru restaurant in the middle of an office park on Jake Alexander Boulevard.

Many citizens chimed in, many criticizing the Planning Board for not being business friendly.  Someone even suggested we had been bought off. Neither of those suggestions is true, but in reality, everyone agrees on the goal.

John Leatherman has spent decades and dollars developing the area surrounding the intersection of Jake Alexander Boulevard and Highway 150. Kudos and gratitude are due him.

Gina Dickens took over a failed restaurant location on Faith Road, opened a Zaxby’s and made it successful. That’s phenomenal and incredibly difficult to do. Her new Zaxby’s will employ 50 or more people.  More kudos.

The Salisbury Post argued that the Planning Board failed to see the big picture necessary for Salisbury’s business growth.

Karen Young, the first woman ever elected to the Salisbury City Council, argued that spot zoning interferes with wise growth.

Diane Greene said, “CEOs … say, ‘If Salisbury looks like East Innes Street, I don’t want to live here.’ We’ve lost a lot of business because of the inconsistencies of the way our streets look.” (Put her on the Planning Board.)

Rodney Queen, one of Salisbury’s best developers who has served on an untold number of governmental boards — always advocating for making Salisbury and Rowan County a better place to live — wrote that we should be thankful for the business and jobs that the East Innes corridor brings.

And there were more.

Zoning makes areas great or terrible and increases or decreases property values. Zoning groups like properties together, just as schools put elementary students together and high school students together. Zoning is planning for the future.

Hilton Head Island and Cary have strict zoning codes that laid out residential, commercial, government and school areas before any development.  Today, both are known for high property values and consistent, reliable neighborhoods.

At 262 years old, Salisbury cannot develop square miles of undeveloped land from scratch. It must work within an existing framework. Despite its name, the Planning Board only hears requests to make exceptions to existing rules. Development proposals that fit within the agreed upon rules happens without any need for the Planning Board or the City Council to approve or disapprove.

My first case as a lawyer in Salisbury almost 40 years ago, when I practiced with Glenn Ketner Jr., was a request to allow a bar at the corner of West Innes and Lily streets, less than two blocks from Catawba College in a time when 18-year-olds could buy beer. The house abutted a residential street full of children. The neighborhood was up in arms. Should a bar back up to a residential street? The city thought not. The ABC Board thought so. Fortunately, the bar failed and the building was converted into a quiet office.

Years ago, city planners decided that the Pinnacle Office Park area was a good location for certain types of businesses, but not all business. It is zoned residential mixed use. All of the businesses along that half-mile stretch on the north side of Jake are one-story offices serving the public from 9-to-5.  The entryway is not a public road. It is owned and maintained by those offices. A narrow alley and a fence, also privately owned by the businesses, behind their offices, separate them from a residential neighborhood.

Zaxby’s wanted into that office park. Since the zoning does not allow restaurants, it requested that the zoning be changed to highway business, which also accommodates an enormous range of businesses. Since that would be a problem, Zaxby’s proposed another exception called a conditional district overlay that would limit that lot to being only a drive-thru restaurant. Two changes to existing plans. The Planning Board thought the existing zoning was good.

Even so, Zaxby’s can still work. Within a quarter-mile are other lots that are already zoned to permit restaurants without requiring any exceptions. Please build it, Gina.

John Leatherman, the Salisbury Post and Rodney Queen are right: Salisbury needs growth and jobs. Diane Greene and Karen Young are right: business development planning can increases growth, value, jobs, and the tax base.

When the river rises, all boats rise.  Everyone was saying the same thing.

David Post lives in Salisbury and serves on the city Planning Board.




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