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Editorial: Catawba vital to Salisbury — and so is neighborhood

The Salisbury Planning Board made clear Tuesday that it will not rush into a recommendation on Catawba College’s request to rezone parcels around the campus from residential to institutional campus. This issue is too important to give it anything less than thorough consideration.

The debate involves two entities that are vitally important to Salisbury — Catawba College and residential neighborhoods. The college moved to Salisbury in 1925 and since then has awarded degrees to thousands of young men and women, many of whom settled right here in Salisbury. Catawba faculty and staff contribute greatly to community life as well as the local economy. Catawba also takes a leadership role in the community. The college’s financial impact on the city is huge. Its cultural impact is priceless.

At the same time, what is a city without thriving residential neighborhoods? People choose to live in the city to be close to commercial and cultural resources and to receive city services. For that privilege, they pay city taxes as well as county taxes, and most consider that a reasonable trade-off. But there’s constant tension between residential neighborhoods and the growing businesses and institutions they want to live near. Being able to walk to  Catawba for a play or a concert is a great perk of living in the neighborhood; having the college spread is a different story.

So here’s the city’s challenge: How can Salisbury encourage and even help Catawba to thrive, and at the same time preserve a neighborhood?

Catawba officials have not shared any specific plans for the property in question; instead, Chief Financial Officer Nelson Murphy told the Planning Board, the request is aimed at future flexibility.

Flexibility to do what? Neighboring property owners naturally want to know. They may not get an answer, since rezonings often set broad parameters. But they are right to get involved and follow the process. They showed up in force at Tuesday’s courtesy hearing, and they have been encouraged to participate as a subcommittee studies Catawba’s request. Ultimately, City Council will decide.

The college might have avoided this initial firestorm if residents had found out about the rezoning request directly from the college rather than through city letters. Either way, though, resistance was inevitable.

Both “sides” are really on one side — making Catawba and the neighborhood around it as stable and inviting as possible. That’s the common ground. Now, how can they come together on this rezoning?

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