City Planning Board approves use of government services at the mall, again

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 25, 2015

By David Purtell

The county’s request to use the former Salisbury Mall for government services has, for the second time, received a thumbs-up from the city’s Planning Board.

The board, in an 8-0 vote Tuesday, approved for recommendation a Conditional District Overlay that would allow government services as a use for the 25.5-acre parcel that the mall sits on. The site is zoned Highway Business.

Next week, the county’s new request will go before City Council.

The county owns the mall, now called the West End Plaza, and wants to use space in the 335,000-square-foot building to house the Veteran Services office, the Board of the Elections and the county’s maintenance department (called Facilities Management).

The Planning Board did attach three conditions to its motion for approval: the first is that the county’s proposed outside-storage area at the rear of the mall’s property must be visually blocked off to the residential area adjacent to the backside of the mall. Second, outdoor kenneling would not be allowed at the site — preventing the county from having an animal shelter at the mall. Third, Class 2 and 3 utilities, as defined by the city, would also be excluded as a use. This is so the county can’t turn the the property into a landfill or build a utility, such as a wastewater plant, at the site.

“That sounds like that’s going to handle everything you’re concerned with,” Preston Mitchell, the city’s planning manager, told the board about the conditions.

The County’s attorney, Jay Dees, was at the meeting and had no objection to the conditions, calling them  “appropriate.”

The Class 2 and 3 utilities do not fall under the city’s definition of  “government services,” according to Zoning Administrator David Phillips — government services lean more toward administrative and office work, he said.

But Planning Board member Bill Burgin said since animal shelters, landfills and water utilities are things that governments can and do operate, it would be smart to exclude them from the CD to alleviate concerns some city officials may have had in the past.

City Council has to approve the conditions too — and could also try to set others.

Conditions attached to a Conditional District Overlay need to be agreed upon by all the parties involved, Mitchell said. In a special-use permit, any conditions that are imposed must be supported by evidence, he said.

No one came forward to speak in opposition to the county’s request during a public hearing that was part of the meeting.

The request does not put a limit on the amount of space that could be used for government services at the mall. A design plan created by the county shows the portion of the mall that used to house a Big Lots store as being used for government services along with two other smaller spaces in the mall. It’s likely that the Big Lots space would house the maintenance department while the two smaller spaces would be for the Board of Elections and Veteran Services.

Last August, the Planning Board approved a special-use permit that would’ve allowed government services at the site, but City Council denied it in October — at the time, council members said they didn’t have enough understanding of what the county planned to do at the mall and wanted to have more dialogue on the issue.

But the larger, underlying problem was the fear held by some city officials that the county was planning an exodus of its employees from downtown.

After denying the special-use permit, Council asked the county to bring back its request in the form of a Conditional District Overlay.

The major difference between last year and now is that the County Board of Commissioners has three new members and new leadership — Chairman Greg Edds and Vice Chairman Jim Greene, along with Commissioner Judy Klusman, came into office in December. And the relationship between the county’s new leadership and city officials appears to be one of cooperation, when before there was tension.

City Council is set to hold a public hearing on the Conditional District Overlay for the mall during its meeting Tuesday.

Contact Reporter David Purtell at 704-797-4264.