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My Turn: College growth shouldn’t come at cost of neighborhood

By Renee MacNutt

Neighbors of Catawba Heights continue to gather in opposition to the rezoning request from Catawba College. We are investing countless hours during this process during the evenings, on the weekends, on our own individual free time. Houses are dirty, clothes are unwashed and dinners are quick sandwiches because this opposition is vital for our neighborhood, our city and, we believe, even for the college.

We are not only financially concerned about the potential for decreased property values (which is also decreased revenue for the city) that Institutional Campus (IC) development and encroachment into the neighborhood will likely cause; we are concerned about our intangible loss of a sense of home, our sense of community that further IC development will take from our community.

We just moved here a year ago, and our search for a home was relatively easy because there are so few neighborhoods in Salisbury like Catawba Heights. It’s a truly lower-middle class neighborhood within a particular price range, lot sizes, etc. This neighborhood is unique for many other reasons as well and therefore should be considered a strong asset by the city.

Much talk is given to the need for Catawba College to grow. And we agree as well with these hopes for growth which is certainly in the best interest of every single resident in Salisbury as it brings in a revenue increase through consumer spending and the need for additional staff housing. As a non-profit college, this is the only way in which Catawba College actually contributes to the financial health of Salisbury as there is no property tax paid by a non-profit institute.

But what we see happening is this rezoning request makes it the “easiest” and certainly the best choice economically for the college’s future growth but it is NOT the only choice for development. Request rezoning; build offices out of existing homes; tear down a few homes for larger development such as dorms; a few dozen trees here and there; additional parking areas and voila, the development is done!

“Oh. darn, we forgot about those pesky neighbors and homes that have been here as long or longer than Catawba College.”

We will continue to ask the Planning Board and then the City Council to urge Catawba College to build off-site, perhaps on property they already own in other areas of Salisbury. Is this the best economic choice for the college? Probably not but either way, there will need to be an investment on their part for either choice. But planning growth off of the central campus could also serve to revitalize a few areas in the city that would greatly benefit from such.

I sat through the City Council meeting this past Tuesday. The zoning/ordinance department of Salisbury gave an informative discussion regarding new and refined ordinances affecting home based businesses. At the end of this discussion the city employee said (parahrased), “These ordinances are important because we need to value the neighbors of such businesses, we need to value the neighborhood. We need to make sure such home based businesses are run in such a way that they do not detract from the appearance of homes within the neighborhood.”

We ask the Zoning and Planning Boards and ultimately the City Council to offer such protective consideration to our neighborhood, Catawba Heights. Please give much thought to how further development creeping into this wonderful and unique neighborhood will certainly come with a loss of the “appearance of homes.”

Renee MacNutt lives in Salisbury.

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