Council hopes tougher measure addresses blight of problem properties

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 19, 2015

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY — Salisbury City Council approved Tuesday a tougher ordinance aimed at addressing neglected and abandoned residential properties, and council members also met the city’s new code services manager, the man who will be in charge of enforcing it.

Planning Director Janet Gapen stressed the new ordinance’s intent is not to go after vacant properties that are maintained and meet minimum housing standards. But it is designed to address properties that have become blights in their neighborhoods.

Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said taking care of blight is a form of economic development.

The ordinance gives definitions for “vacant,” “neglected” and “abandoned” and spells out the process in addressing those categories. It calls for identifying the owner or property manager, requiring the submission of a maintenance plan, making sure the property remains compliant with the code and requiring compliance in 90 days.

Geoffrey Hoy, a resident of Fulton Heights, said many Salisbury residents are looking forward to a stronger enforcement code  “with teeth in it.” Hoy has attended some of the monthly Salisbury Neighborhood Action Group meetings, and he said residents have looked for action on some problem properties for 20 years.

Rodney Queen, a former member of the Housing Advocacy Commission, which brought this measure to council, agreed that neglected and abandoned properties seem to represent an issue “that goes on and on.” He said the stronger ordinance isn’t trying to tear down properties, but it will aim at putting things in motion to bring them up to standards.

“We need to get it resolved,” Queen said. He also said he thought “abandoned” was too broad a definition when the city really needs to go after the most serious residential properties.

Surveys often cited in recent years have put the number of vacant, neglected and abandoned properties between 700 and 800. But Gapen, Blackwell and Barbara Perry, chairman of the Housing Advocacy Commission, emphasized the number of abandoned houses by definition will be much lower than that — more like 175.

Perry also stressed the tougher ordinance would not cost the city a previously reported $194,744 for two new code enforcement officers, their vehicles and equipment. The city has initiated a pilot program in which a Salisbury police officer becomes part of the code enforcement team. In addition, Troy Powell has been hired as the new code services manager.

Powell is from Randolph County, and his background is in law enforcement, with the Guilford County Planning Department and as a national vice president with the U.S. Jaycees. He replaces Chris Branham.

Council members unanimously endorsed the stronger ordinance, which the housing commission worked on for more than a year-and-a-half.

Blackwell noted a School of Government staff member, who reviewed the ordinance, said it could be a model for other cities in the state. She also praised the dedication and makeup of the commission, comprised of neighborhood advocates and two licensed Realtors.

Councilwoman Karen Alexander cautioned that enforcement related to the problem properties will not happen all at one time. She suggested Gapen return to council in the future with a progress report.

Mayor Paul Woodson  and Councilman Brian Miller said city staff members will have to employ some common sense in enforcing the ordinance.

“There’s a lot of due diligence that will have to go into this,” Miller said.

Woodson said every city has the problem of abandoned residential properties. “This is a good start for us,” he said.

During a public comment session Tuesday, Morlan Park resident Jerry Shelby said four things suggested seven years ago to make the intersection of Morlan Park Road and Jake Alexander Boulevard safer could still be employed. It would save the $400,000 estimated cost of installing a median, and that money could be used to make improvements in Morlan Park, Shelby suggested.

Shelby reiterated his invitation to council members to join him in looking at the intersection. Woodson asked City Manager Lane Bailey to arrange for a time when council can meet with Shelby at the intersection.

Council also approved two resolutions Tuesday related to possible expansions at the Salisbury Station.

In one resolution, council endorsed a proposed rail project that would build a freight platform on the eastern side of the tracks and also provide a grade-separate access to the new platform. Such a project carries an estimated cost of $7.8 million.

In a second resolution, council endorsed improvements to the existing Salisbury Station, including a bigger waiting room and expanded parking lot. The estimated cost would be $3 million.

Both rail projects will be submitted to the N.C. Board of Transportation as part of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which identifies transportation projects to be implemented over the next seven years with state and federal funding. The projects have to go through the Cabarrus-Rowan Metropolitan Planning Organization.

In other business Tuesday, council:

• Met the three high school students who participated in the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program: Justin Cousin (Salisbury Transit), Sarah Tran (Parks and Recreation) and Graciela Nunez (Finance). The students were employed for five weeks.

“I had a great experience,” Cousin said, describing the various duties he performed for Salisbury Transit, from learning the routes to answering customer calls and inspecting paperwork.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Nunez said. “I thought it was interesting.”

Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy said the youth employment program in years past had as many as 15 participants: “I would like to get that number back up if we could,” he said.

• Heard a presentation from Deedee Wright, Rob Kerr and Tamara Miller on Thursday’s Community Employment Workshop and a Sept. 1 Job Fair (See related story).

• Made a text amendment to the Land Development Ordinance in relation to child day care. The amendment creates a new category for daycare locations — the “child care center in residence.” It allows for the care of three to 15 children in a residence and requires approval of a special-use permit in residential zoning. The home also must have at least 100 square feet of heated space per child. For example, 13 children would require a minimum of 1,300 square feet.

The categories of “child care homes” and “commercial child care centers” are bookends to this new category.

• Approved revisions to the master site plan for phases 3 and 4 of The Gables at Kepley Farm. The changes create 3A and 3B phases. And instead of bonding sidewalks up front in those phases, the revisions allow Spencer Lane Construction to install sidewalks as each lot is developed.

Council also stipulated that Phase 3B can only be constructed after all the sidewalks in Phase 3A are installed.

• Approved on first reading a request from Archie Shavers of Safety Taxi to add a third vehicle to his fleet. It will be a 2005, seven-passenger Chrysler van. City policy requires a second reading before Shavers can add the vehicle.

• Approved reducing the speed limit on Monroe Street from 35 to 25 mph between South Fulton Street and Brenner Avenue.

• Approved changes to on-street parking on Crawford and South Railroad streets.

• Reported that applications are being accepted for the 2015-16 Historic Preservation Incentive Grants. The matching grants are available on a competitive basis for exterior projects on owner-occupied homes in the four residential local historic districts: North Main Street, Brooklyn-South Square, West Square and Ellis Street Graded School.

The applications are available by calling 704-638-5324. The city must receive all applications by Sept. 30.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.