My Turn, Sam Post: Rezoning would hurt Catawba’s neighbors

Published 7:35 pm Monday, February 27, 2017

The Catawba neighborhood is an old neighborhood, a perfect neighborhood for a middle class family. Many children have grown up here, ridden bikes up and down the streets, built snowmen, walked to and from school, counted the hours by the Catawba bells. Many have fond memories of childhoods in this neighborhood. I do, and I still live here.

It’s the kind of neighborhood a city would want more of, not less.

It adds value to the city, and it adds value to the college it surrounds.

Unfortunately, it’s now under siege by the very neighbor that makes it special, the college itself.

The college is now requesting to rezone a vast amount of residential area around the college — over 40 parcels. The college’s master plan indicates that it will request more in the future.

Some of the residents of the Catawba Neighborhood, living their lives in their houses, with their families, received a letter from the city. This letter informed them that Catawba College seeks to rezone their property, changing it from General Residential to Institutional Campus.

These letters arrived on Friday afternoon. The zoning board will discuss this four days later, on Tuesday afternoon.

Catawba College did not communicate with these homeowners, informing them that they seek to rezone the property on which they live.

The letter sent by the city is rather technical and includes a map. Not everybody understood, immediately, what it meant. It has caused a huge upset in our neighborhood.

In my view, this kind of communication is not effective, and rather hostile — and certainly not worthy of Catawba.

I can’t find it on the college website, but Wikipedia reveals that the college motto is “Scholarship. Character. Culture. Service.”

Homeowners in this community pay taxes. The college enjoys the benefits of services without paying taxes. In turn, they have an obligation to provide scholarship, character, culture, and service to the community.

I would assert that a commitment to character and service would include operating in a way that supports livability for families.

Salisbury needs good, safe, middle class neighborhoods. This neighborhood has always been that kind of place. In the past, when a house was put on the market, which was rare, it sold quickly.

This is no longer the case. Catawba, and its chaplain, and one of its trustees, have bought dozens of houses and turned them into rentals. Our property values are down. Salability is down. Good people whose homes are their primary financial investment have been harmed.

Now – because they own so many homes (because they recently bought so many homes) they seek to rezone.

Destroying a residential neighborhood in order to grow an institution is a financial decision. It’s a business decision. But Catawba is not a for-profit business. It’s a non-profit dedicated to “scholarship, character, culture, and service.”

I’ve taken walks around the campus at night and seen a campus that was pristine and quiet. Two blocks away, on our street, students roamed the streets, having amazingly loud conversations, going between various neighborhood parties. I’ve called the police a number of times at 2am and later, not because I want to be a party pooper, but because it was starting to sound dangerous.

When neighbors say something about this encroachment, we hear something like: “Too bad. It’s in the master plan.”

I would urge Catawba to get creative and adopt a master plan that fulfills on its mission – a master plan that contributes to the community rather than detracts from it. If it needs to grow, there are places in this town and in other areas that would welcome a satellite campus and benefit from it.

After all, many of us have lived here many years and want to continue living here. Some people just moved here, thinking they were moving into a residential neighborhood.

On the other hand, the staff turnover at Catawba seems to be rather frequent. We have the experience of dealing with people who are “not from here.” They are not Salisbury homeowners and they don’t remember the last time we had this conversation.

Please, Catawba – put on your thinking caps. Stop acting like a house rental business. Be proud of your motto. Post it on your website. Be responsible for it and live into it. Be a great neighbor and return your neighborhood to family living. Explore ways to really fulfill on being “Scholarship. Character. Culture. Service.” We would all love having that kind of neighbor.

Sam Post is a resident of Salisbury.