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Salisbury Planning Board to hold workshops, not hearings, for special use permits

By Amanda Raymond

amanda.raymond@salisburypost.com

The Salisbury Planning Board will no longer have quasi-judicial hearings for special use permits.

At the board’s meeting on Tuesday, Preston Mitchell, Planning Services and Development manager, said city staff reached out to the UNC School of Government about the board’s use of quasi-judicial hearings for special use permits. David Owens, a Gladys Hall Coates professor of public law and government at the school, wrote a blog on the topic that recommended that advisory boards not operate in a quasi-judicial manner.

Instead, Mitchell said advisory boards like the Planning Board should treat the hearings more like workshops during which the board can advise applicants on what evidence they should bring before City Council.

Mitchell said it is not required that special use permit hearings be evidentiary, and the School of Government recommends that they not be.

“These workshops are meant to be just our own little space in time where we are to talk informally amongst each other and with the applicants and make recommendations to them on how the should move forward to City Council when the actual evidentiary hearing will occur,” Mitchell said.

Holding workshops instead of quasi-judicial hearings on special use permits means that the Planning Board would not make formal recommendations on the approval or denial of the permit or on the findings of fact. The board can still recommend conditions on the permit to the council.

The change would only apply to special use permit applications.

Mitchell said the Firehouse Brew Pit case brought about the change.

In January, the Planning Board considered a special use permit for Todd Littleton to continue operating the Firehouse Brew Pit at 113 S. Lee St.

Littleton also owns Benchwarmers, and the Firehouse Brew Pit was originally supposed to be a temporary location for Benchwarmers. Littleton decided to try and make the Firehouse Brew Pit a separate, permanent location.

Mitchell said there was some “confusion and frustration” from community members over the case because the evidentiary hearing at the City Council meeting was not identical to the one presented at the Planning Board meeting.

“Unfortunately, there’s no way to make it identical,” he said.

The Planning Board recommended denial of the special use permit for the Firehouse Brew Pit, and the City Council ended up denying the permit.

Mitchell said conducting workshops instead of quasi-judicial hearings for special use permits was the safest method to go with in case any of the permit requests ever went to court.

“Honestly, this is a real opportunity to help the applicant,” he said. “This is a real big opportunity for us as a board, as a staff and as (applicants) to speak informally and to be able to work together to help them make the best presentation and submittal they can to City Council.”

“This is a better rehearsal because they get expertise, if you will, as to how to proceed to council,” board member Patricia Ricks said.

The board voted to suspend the rules for quasi-judicial procedures for special use permits for the meeting, and Mitchell said he will process the required amendment to the board’s rules of procedures.

The board got to test out the workshop method by discussing a special use permit for a proposed business at 115 Mooresville Road called Barbers & Billiards.

Board members asked Chris Earnhardt, the applicant, questions about security, hours of operation and lighting. The members let Earnhardt know what would be admissible in the hearing and the areas where he should be prepared with detailed, specific answers.

No one was present at the meeting to represent a special use permit request at 612 S. Main St., so that workshop was postponed until the next meeting.

New members of the Salisbury Planning Board were also sworn in at the meeting on Tuesday.

The Salisbury City Council appointed John Schaffer and Jon Post to the board during meetings in March and April.

Returning board members include Bill Wagoner, Thomasina Paige, Troy Russell, Patricia Ricks, Eric Phillips, Bill Burgin, Shaun Brixey, Josh Canup and Randy Reamer.

The board elected Bill Burgin as chairman and Josh Canup as vice chairman.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.

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