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Vision 2020 Comprehensive Plan steering committee talks priorities

By Amanda Raymond

amanda.raymond@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The steering committee for updating Salisbury’s Comprehensive Plan came together with czb, a planning firm, to discuss broad priorities on Thursday.

The Vision 2020 Comprehensive Plan was originally approved by the City Council in 2001. The city has been working with czb since the summer to start the process of updating the plan.

Thomas Eddington and Peter Lombardi from czb led the discussion.

Eddington discussed the values that the committee helped identify to guide the preliminary draft of the plan. Those values include a commitment to the arts, being a resilient, creative and neighborly community, being financial self-sufficient and taking equity seriously.

He also went over some planning principles, which include paying attention to architecture, promoting and increasing walkability and bikeability, asset-based building, protecting the environment and neighborhoods, and financing projects on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Eddington said prioritizing and focusing the plan is instrumental. From czb’s own research and the committee’s work, five priorities were identified: protect and strengthen Salisbury’s core, stabilize at-risk neighborhoods, improve gateway corridors, connect assets through place-making and collaborate to achieve priorities.

The priorities are based on physical needs, but Lombardi said they will work on weaving in other priorities, including education, crime and youth activities.

Committee member Dee Dee Wright asked how big to dream as far as improvement projects when the city’s funds are tied up in other things. One issue is Fibrant, the city’s fiber optic network that is receiving a significant contribution from the general fund.

Lombardi said that is something the group will have to determine. Committee members will have to put a price tag on certain projects and figure out where the money to fund those projects will come from, whether it is from the city, private contributors or a combination of both.

Committee member Eugene Goetz said they may be able to find the money to fund the projects but the economy has to improve in order to sustain the growth.

Goetz said that could happen either by raising the standard of living for Salisbury residents or attracting people from elsewhere to live and work in the city.

Eddington said the focus should be put on improving Salisbury internally.

“Our recommendation is that we look at this as starting more internal, kind of starting with ourselves and building that up and then bringing in entrepreneurs and other people…” he said.

Lombardi said the group needs to think about all of Salisbury because if projects are too focused on the downtown area, people may choose to locate their businesses in the city but live somewhere else.

Committee member Bill Burgin said some people are short-term minded when it comes to their personal finances, so the plan needs to have some evidence of possible results.

“Our tax rate is relatively high, but on the other hand, if you look at that impact of what might happen if we can’t do these things, as it relates to personal wealth, you could make a pretty good case that 4 cents is cheap,” he said as an example.

Eddington said the committee will have to work on a way to explain to the public how a few more dollars spent in the short-term can bring in a lot more money in the future.

The issue of absentee landlords and problem rental properties also came up in the discussion.

Committee member Sue McHugh said when she was president of the North Main Neighborhood Association, an effort was made to communicate with renters in the neighborhood and it went a long way, but it also took money and manpower to accomplish.

“As soon as we were communicating and they knew that people cared about the neighborhood, we saw them more interested in what the neighborhood was doing,” she said. “They knew somebody was watching.”

McHugh said it took a while for the changes to happen, but the idea was something the city could help neighborhoods do.

Committee member Tamara Sheffield said there are many renters who want to eventually become homeowners and more programs are needed to help them do so.

Eddington also asked the group about the growth opportunities on Interstate 85.

Committee member Dennis Lunsford said nothing has been done to get people off the interstate and into the city.

McHugh said people may visit the shopping center near Julian Road and not even realize that Salisbury is close by.

Eddington encouraged the group to think about where I-85 development should go. He said there is a need for car-centric development along I-85, but he encouraged the group to focus on growing inward.

“There is a tremendous amount of opportunity to grow within the city’s jurisdiction,” he said.

Wright brought up that when people leave downtown, there are areas in the city that are not well developed.

He said other communities have reinvigorated their cities and the group could tweak what was done in other places to fit Salisbury.

The next step for the committee is to go over the preliminary draft of the plan and send questions or suggestions to city staff. The draft will be tweaked and posted online for the public.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.

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