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Salisbury City Council approves rezoning that extends commercial zoning on Statesville Boulevard

SALISBURY — Members of the Salisbury City Council cited lack of opposition by residents and moving toward what they see as “the future” of Statesville Boulevard as reasons they voted unanimously to make a “big jump” from general residential to highway business zoning for a 16-acre lot on the thoroughfare.

The issue came before the council Tuesday night because the church on the 16-acre lot, Maranatha Bible Church, wants to install an electronic message sign to better advertise its congregation.

Because of the city’s new sign ordinance, electronic message signs can be installed only on property zoned for highway business.

Councilwoman Karen Alexander asked if it would be a better idea to change the sign ordinance than to make such an “extreme” change in zoning.

“I mean, since there are churches all over our community, and certainly we don’t want those churches to feel like the only way they can get an electronic sign is to ask for a highway business (zoning),” Alexander said. “So is this one of those times where it would be in our city’s best interest to go back and look at our sign ordinance?”

Preston Mitchell, the city’s planning and development manager, said Alexander’s question was “excellent.”

“But I do have a response for it,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said city staff members had analyzed that idea before bringing the decision before the council or the Planning Board, which discussed and unanimously approved the rezoning at its Jan. 23 meeting.

“There was a policy set by … City Council that we recognize that electronic signs are coming. They’re on their way,” Mitchell said. “But as a city, as a policy, we’re not ready to really bring those into all of our neighborhoods. So we’re going to start by allowing them along our nonresidential boulevards.”

Mitchell said if the city were to change the sign ordinance again, state law would prevent it from writing laws for specific users. He said that means the city would have to rewrite the law based on the zoning district.

“What that would mean is that we would have to amend the sign ordinance to say that the electronic signs … would be allowed in all general residential districts,” Mitchell said. “And so I think that would be a much greater shift in policy — an enormous shift in policy — to allow electronic signs in general residential districts than to allow for the rezoning to occur.”

Mitchell said his staff also took into consideration how likely it would be that general residential would be the “most appropriate” zoning for Statesville Boulevard in the future.

“Is it likely that we will continue to see general residential diminish and commercial development increase along Statesville Boulevard? That’s most likely the outcome in the future,” Mitchell said.

Because of these and other factors, Mitchell said rezoning the 16 acres would achieve the church’s goals as well as “look a little bit further into the future and recognize what is most likely going to happen with Statesville Boulevard.”

After further discussion and confirmation that no residents near the church opposed the rezoning, the council voted unanimously to approve the rezoning.

Other items on Tuesday’s agenda included:

• The council postponed a decision on whether to rezone four lots on Bringle Ferry Road.

After a discussion, members determined that rezoning the lots from urban residential to corridor mixed-use would not fulfill the needs of the lots’ owner and rezoning petitioner, Joel Flores.

Instead of voting to rezone the lots, the council appointed a special committee — on which Councilmen David Post and Brian Miller will serve — to meet with Flores and determine a solution that will work for both him and the city.

• Two Land Development Ordinance text amendments were passed unanimously.

• Miller and Post set a meeting date for their re-established special permit committee.

The committee will meet at 5 p.m. Feb. 13 at Park Avenue Community Center, 632 Park Ave.

The committee will focus on updating the free speech portions of the special permit ordinance.

• The council appointed 22 people to eight city boards and commissions.

The council will look at new appointments to boards and commissions at its next meeting. 

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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