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The Abbey amendment sent to special committee

By Amanda Raymond

amanda.raymond@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY – The Salisbury City Council decided to send an item concerning the wedding venue The Abbey to a special committee during its meeting on Tuesday.

Lori and Michael Diefenbach, owners of the property at 128 N. Fulton St., asked for an amendment to The Abbey’s conditional district overlay that would allow religious institutions to operate anywhere on the property and exempt them from the hours of operation restrictions placed on The Abbey.

To appease neighbors, hours for the future support services building were limited to 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sunday.

An issue arose when The Refuge, a church that had been holding services on the property before it was sold to the Diefenbachs, renewed its lease. The Refuge originally had plans to move into another facility, but those plans did not work out.

The Refuge holds youth activities on Wednesday night from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. that include playing basketball and other activities in the parking lot for the first 30 minutes and then holding small group discussions in the support services building.

Preston Mitchell, Planning and Development Services manager, said if The Refuge decided to hold a wedding on the property, that would not be considered an event under The Abbey. If The Refuge started to hold weddings for The Abbey so it would not be restricted to the hours of operation, Mitchell said code enforcement would handle the matter.

“That’s a bridge that we would have to cross at that time. That’s not something that we can consider right now because that hasn’t happened,” Mitchell said. “We have to be careful (to not persecute) a use for something that they haven’t done yet.”

He also said he had not received more than five complaints.

Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said having dual hours of operation seemed messy to her. Mitchell confirmed that if the line began to blur between the hours of operation for The Abbey and The Refuge the amendment is retractable.

During the public hearing, Pete Bogle, of Bogle Firm Architecture, said it was always the Diefenbachs’ intent to have religious institutions on the site. He also said weddings hosted by The Refuge will adhere to the hours of operations limitations.

Three people spoke in opposition to the amendment, saying the line would be blurred between the use as a business and the use as a religious institution.

Graham Carlton said enforcement of the hours of operation could be difficult.

“Who decides if it’s the church having a wedding or a wedding venue that’s having a wedding? What if the pastor of the church officiates a wedding venue wedding?” Carlton asked.

Lori Diefenbach said the city agreed to allow private consultations at the venue after-hours and she thought church meetings would fall under that category, but she admitted she misunderstood.

Councilman David Post was conflicted about the issue. He said youth services are important for the community, but he was uncomfortable with allowing religious institutions to have unlimited hours on the property.

“I think the concept of asking our city to police two different uses on the same property is very troubling. I don’t see how we can do that,” he said.

Post also said he doesn’t see the logic in allowing unlimited hours when The Refuge only needs extended hours three to four times a month.

He suggested that the special committee that was formed to hear The Abbey’s initial case be reconvened to discuss the issue, and council member Brian Miller, who was the other council member in charge of the committee, agreed.

The council voted to send the item to the special committee and the motion passed unanimously.

The meeting was scheduled for Jan. 11 at 5:15 p.m at the One Stop Shop, 132 N. Main St. Those who wish to attend the meeting should contact Myra Heard at mhear@salisburync.gov or call 704-638-5224.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.

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