Council, boards and commissions meet to discuss Comprehensive Plan

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 21, 2016

By Amanda Raymond

SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council, Planning Board, Community Appearance Commission, Historic Preservation Commission and Housing Advocacy Commission came together for a discussion to update the city’s Comprehensive Plan on Wednesday at City Hall.

Under the guidance of Charles Buki and Thomas Eddington from czb, a neighborhood planning firm, the council, board and commission members heard a presentation about what a comprehensive plan is and discussed exercises and scenarios that made them think about Salisbury’s future.

The original comprehensive plan, named the Salisbury Vision 2020 Comprehensive Plan, was adopted by City Council in 2001. It is now time for the plan to be updated.

Charles Buki said the meetings were designed to tackle tough topics and decisions that the group will have to make.

“Today was designed for discomfort a little bit,” he said. “Some of the conversation pieces … have been intentionally shaped and designed to provoke some discomfort and see how you react so that we can learn from that.”

Thomas Eddington discussed how the update process would go. He said the goal is to develop the plan over the next couple of months and build off of the city’s current plan. A steering committee has been formed for the update, with some members present for the meeting, and they have been tasked with going out into the community and having kitchen table discussions.

“What we’re trying to do is not have a large public meeting where we simply invite people out, they come for an hour and a half and they disengage after that time,” Eddington said.

He said they wanted to hear from people who are not as involved in city affairs in a comfortable environment.

Eddington said that Salisbury may be falling behind other communities because of things like increasing poverty rates and static percentages of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree and median family income.

Buki said quantitative data collected about the city shows that the community is getting older, becoming less wealthy and has not figured out what to do with the Interstate 85 corridor.

Buki went on to explain what a comprehensive plan is and what it should do. He said comprehensive plans decide what goes where, plans for a couple of big things, prepares for the knowable and provides a framework for the unknowable.

He also said the plan will not confer or take away any vested rights and is a non-binding document that the city should feel free to amend.

“That’s why we view our job as not writing your plan but helping build a community of folks who want to follow it,” Buki said.

For one exercise, Buki and Eddington asked attendees to think about business as usual, however they wanted to define the phrase, and discuss in small groups how it did and did not serve the community.

Things that were not working well that were mentioned were the low staff and enforcement in the Code Services Division and the low staff and retention rate of Salisbury police officers.

Councilman David Post mentioned that the people in the room, who were majority white and middle-aged or older, did not reflect the demographics of the city.

Buki said they would have to determine what they would do or sacrifice to solve some of those issues without looking to state government for funding.

The attendees also mentioned things that were working in Salisbury, like the water and sewer infrastructure, strong performing and visual arts and multiple higher education institutions. Patricia Ricks mentioned that there was a strong sense of civic pride in the community, but neighbors needed to start to get to know each other do further develop that pride.

To end the meeting, Buki asked the crowd to tell them what they should know going forward. Eric Phillips said that the community needed to be walkable and bikeable. Bill Burgin asked them to look into how the city could take advantage of its location. Troy Russell asked how the city could tie higher education and local employers like the Hefner VA Medical Center and Novant Health together to increase population retention. Post said the downtown needed a change.

A first draft of the plan is expected to be complete in October. The company will continue to work with the steering committee to gather input from the community and relay the input to the council and other boards and commissions in the coming months.

The steering committee for the Comprehensive Plan will be meeting on Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at 217 S. Main St.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.