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Future electronic gaming businesses to be limited to highway business zones

SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council voted Tuesday to only allow electronic gaming establishments to be in highway business districts.

The council also commended the planning staff for drafting an amendment in the Land Development Ordinance that responded to many concerns and complaints.

Zoning Administrator Teresa Barringer reported criminal activity at 12 so-called games-of-skill businesses.

Council members questioned how a business that has numerous calls for nuisances can still be allowed to operate after Salisbury resident Michael Young spoke during the public hearing.

“I look at some of these businesses and I see assault, assault, larceny, larceny, weapons, larceny, larceny, larceny, assault,” Young said. “When does somebody say enough? Where is that threshold?”

Police Chief Jerry Stokes said data presented Wednesday was from January 2017 through this month. Five or six instances over the course of a couple of years isn’t going to be enough for the courts to consider it reasonable for the government to shut down a business, Stokes said.

City Attorney Graham Corriher said state Alcohol Law Enforcement may be able to assist the city if the business has repeated or significant criminal acts on the property.

“That’s a tool that’s in the toolbox to use,” Corriher said. “Not just for these types of establishments but any type of establishment if the property itself is identified as the center of criminal activity.”

Councilwoman Karen Alexander asked how the proposed ordinance would affect existing businesses.

Barringer answered by saying existing businesses would be grandfathered in and considered legally nonconforming.

The council unanimously passed the amendment, with members agreeing that it’s more appropriate for such businesses to be in a highway business district.

“This is a good policy that you’re bringing to us,” Councilman Brian Miller said. “I personally have a bias against this type of business. I don’t think it has any productive use in our community or society.”

He said the new policy is forward-thinking.

“To me, what’s on the table is not what we’ve got today, it’s what we’re trying to keep from happening tomorrow,” Miller said.

The text amendment would permit future games-of-skill establishments to be located only in highway business districts. That zoning includes parts of Statesville Boulevard, Jake Alexander Boulevard, Mooresville Road, South Main Street, South Arlington Street, Bendix Drive and Faith Road.

The businesses also should not be within 500 feet of any religious facility, child care center, public or private school or municipal government facilities. Emergency responsers should be able to access the establishment during operating hours. All patrons must be 18 or older, and all gaming should be visible in a prominent place in the establishment.

“If someone comes in or contacts our office and says I would like to open a new internet gaming business, where are those allowed?” Barringer said. “Then our response will be highway business is the only district that you can request this type of business, and these are the additional standards that would have to be adhered to.”

In other business:

• Council members voted unanimously to approve designating the Salisbury Southern Railway Passenger Depot as a local historic landmark.

The Historic Preservation Commission recommended that action to the council Monday.

Susan Sides, president of the Historic Salisbury Foundation, asked the council for its consideration and said many people were at the meeting in anticipation of the approval.

“There are very few people in this community who don’t recognize the Depot as something that is outstanding,” Sides said.

Miller asked how the designation would affect the proposed two-platform train station expected in the future, especially with making it handicap-accessible. He wondered if the city should hold off on the landmark status until after the investment. He later backtracked.

“As I sit and think about that process, I want whatever they do to be sensitive to the design,” Miller said. “I would want that. Even if this does in any way slow the process down or create another step or two, I think it’s still appropriate.”

Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield said she was married at the Depot and would hate to see the landmark destroyed in the future.

“We can maintain our historic landmarks and move forward,” she said.

• The council also approved revisions for the city code addressing public demonstrations and noise.

• Mayor Al Heggins announced the Mayor’s Spirit Forum will be 6-8 p.m. April 30 at City Hall, 217 S. Main St.

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