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Wedding venue proposal to return to City Council for second reading

By Amanda Raymond

amanda.raymond@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The zoning request that would allow a wedding venue to operate at the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church property will return to the Salisbury City Council for a second reading.

The request, made by Lori and Michael Dienfenbach, is to rezone 1.5 acres of land from an urban residential district to a residential mixed-use district with a conditional district overlay to convert the Sacred Heart property at 128 N. Fulton St. into The Abbey, a wedding venue.

The Refuge currently rents the property. Lori Dienfenbach has said arrangements will be made to move the church off of the property if the rezoning is approved.

At the council meeting on May 3, the council decided to have the petitioners and neighbors meet with a small committee, led by Councilmen David Post and Brian Miller.

Some of the changes that came out of the two meetings were the removal of the rooftop terrace from the plans with the chance to be requested again after six months, the sound level for music must be kept at normal conversation levels at the property line and an HVAC system would not be placed where it might be an additional noise burden on neighbors.

The Dienfenbachs also agreed to pay for a fence on the property to separate it from neighbors.

Pete Bogle, the project developer, said the Dienfenbachs have a letter of intent to lease a nearby parking lot that will add 33 spaces for visitors. There is a total of 87 parking spaces within the block.

Dienfenbach has also said that the Salisbury-Rowan Convention and Visitors Bureau has confirmed that the venue could have an impact of $1.8 million annually on the local economy.

Mayor Karen Alexander opened a second public hearing.

Michael Vaeth, co-chairman of the building committee for Sacred Heart, said the property has been for sale for about eight years.

“I really want to back these people because they do have a vision and they’re going to fill a hole that could be sitting for a long time if we don’t move on this project,” he said.

Mary Goodman said the area was used to being busy because Sacred Heart used to have five masses a day, as well as a school.

Graham Carlton, who lives next door to the venue, said in his research he found that destination wedding venues were in commercial or hotel districts or “out in the country.”

“There were a couple of downtown churches, but they were actually downtown as wedding venues,” Carlton said. “Ellis and Fulton street is not a downtown location according to the downtown Salisbury Master Plan.”

He also said more than 30 neighbors signed a petition in opposition of the project.

Other neighbors voiced concerns about parking issues and congestion the venue’s visitors would cause. Some were worried about the businesses proposed for the support services building. The Dienfenbachs plan to rent the spaces to businesses that serve wedding functions, like a bakery or florist. Neighbors have said that those businesses do not serve the neighborhood and other business may move in if the venue fails.

After the public hearing was closed, Councilman Kenny Hardin said he did think compromises should be suggested to neighbors who do not want the venue in their neighborhood at all.

“The community doesn’t want it and I am supporting the community in this,” he said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Maggie Blackwell said the neighborhood may not be able to withstand the businesses that may move in if the venue fails.

“Once we make this zoning, it is pretty much forever,” she said. “Conversely, no businesses are forever.”

Councilman Brian Miller said that although he had friends who lived in the neighborhood, it was his duty to look at the situation from a planning point of view.

“I happen to think that there are worse uses that could occur on this parcel than what’s being proposed,” he said.

Councilman David Post said neighborhoods change and the venue might change the neighborhood for the better.

“If I was a next door neighbor, I wouldn’t be happy. And perhaps that should be my criteria … what would make me happy if I’m there,” he said. “I recognize that, but on a broader scale, I think it will enhance the neighborhood eventually.”

Alexander said the use was adaptive, the petitioner would be preserving the historic buildings and the use would be less intensive than it was when Sacred Heart occupied the property.

“I can’t think of a better use for this property,” she said.

Blackwell and Hardin voted against the motion read by Post, while Alexander, Post and Miller voted for the motion.

According to City Clerk Myra Heard, because the motion did not get four votes in support of the motion, the item has to be brought back before the council for a second reading.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved the consent agenda, which included:
    • A $10,900 budget ordinance amendment to the fiscal year 2015-2016 budget to use Asset Forfeiture funds for the Salisbury Police Department. The funds will be used to replenish funds used to help bring Game Plan for Life assembly programs to 12 local schools.
    • A $2,000 budget ordinance amendment to the fiscal year 2015-2016 budget to use grant funds for Hurley Park. Half of the money will go towards plant purchases for the park and the other half will pay for the Hurley Park Spring Celebration advertisement in the Salisbury Post.
    • A $20,343 budget ordinance amendment to the fiscal year 2015-2016 budget to use 2015 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant funds. The grant can only be used by the Salisbury Police Department. The department plans to use the money to buy a MorphoTrak LiveScan Station and two ballistic shields.
  • Amended a conditional district overlay that will allow DaVita Medical Center to build two additions to its facility, totaling 2,619 square feet.
  • Heard public comment about the proposed fiscal year 2016-2017 city budget. Todd Paris, local attorney, asked that the budget not be approved before more money was put towards the police department.
  • Held a public hearing about a possible contract with Downtown Salisbury, Inc. to provide services for the Municipal Service District for fiscal year 2016-2017. Todd Paris asked that the contract include a sunshine provision to make DSI’s budget available to the public. Mark Lewis, board member for DSI, said DSI’s financial records are included in the city’s financial reports.
  • Heard a presentation about the donations received for the Dog Paws Park.
  • Approved a temporary right-of-way use permit at 113 East Fisher Street until June 23, 2016.
  • Made appointments to boards and commissions.
  • Heard public comment, during which numerous community members spoke about the crime and violence occurring in the West End and greater Salisbury community, as well as the vacant and boarded up houses with absentee landlords.
  • Went into closed session to discuss the acquisition of a property on tax map 471 parcel 1070 for a possible fire department substation, the acquisition of a property on tax map 07 parcel 399 for potential use by Salisbury-Rowan Utilities and a resolution to allow the city manager to complete a grant application from the state for Asset Inventory and Assessment grants for water and sewer.

The mayor proclaimed June 18-20 National Sports Media Association days.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.

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