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Developers say Salisbury’s Land Development Ordinance limits growth

By Liz Moomey
liz.moomey@salisburypost.com 

SALISBURY — With job announcements and improvements to Interstate 85, developers should be pouring into Salisbury to build homes, but Victor Wallace, president of Wallace Realty, says the city’s Land Development Ordinance was written to limit potential growth.

Salisbury Planning Board Chairman Bill Wagoner told board members in January that the City Council has tasked them to look at the development ordinance, which was adopted in 2008. At last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the council once again asked the planning staff to review the ordinance. 

“Developers won’t build anything in Salisbury because of the LDO,” Mayor Pro Tem David Post said.

Developers argue that requirements such as having sidewalks on both sides of a street, rules on landscaping and mandating surveys for lights, trees and traffic are costly.

Wallace said his realty company has built about 35 communities in Salisbury since World War II. With development restrictions and requirements to provide streets and access to water and sewer service, such projects are not worthwhile economically today.

“We will never build another under the current LDO,” Wallace said. “You can’t do it and make money.”

Wallace said when the ordinance was being drafted, being overwhelmed by the growth of Charlotte was a concern, but he argued if growth comes, put up a stoplight to slow it down.

“It’s very hard to create growth,” he said.

Rodney Queen, a Realtor at ReMax, said the ordinance is a major hindrance to development. It requires homes to have a residential buffer strip of at least 50 feet to allow for planting trees or shrubs. Smaller lots give developers the opportunity to build homes at a lower cost homes, he said.

People in the lower income bracket deserve to be homeowners, Queen said.

Post said neighborhoods like Hidden Creek and Wellington, in which properties sold quickly, could not be built today because of the development ordinance.

City Councilman Brian Miller, who served on the Planning Board for six years and helped draft the LDO, said revisions are needed, but he does not agree it has discouraged development. It’s more logical to buy than to build a house, he said.

The second phase of Drummond Village was the first subdivision in years to be approved. The first phase was built in 2006. Last year, True Home came before the Planning Board and City Council asking for land to be rezoned for general residential with a conditional overlay, which allows some parts of the development ordinance to be bypassed.

Wallace said in order to build a subdivision, you either have to follow the ordinance or wave a magic wand with the conditional overlay.

People are going to look at Salisbury in 20 years, he says, and ask, “Gosh, I wonder why subdivisions aren’t being built?”

Wallace and Queen agree that adding homes to the inventory will expand the tax base. Without that, the city will continually have to raise taxes, they said.

“It pays taxes forever until it burns down,” Wallace said.

Former Planning and Development Manager Preston Mitchell and Wagoner had begun asking developers what challenges the development ordinance created. Wallace was among those the two interviewed.

Wagoner said he asked developers locally and outside the county to be candid with their thoughts on the ordinance, “warts and all.”

“How do we make it so it is a better instrument of promoting and helping to not inhibit?” Wagoner asked. “That’s the key thing to not inhibit, prohibit, not to provide disincentive to provide capital investment in our city.”

City staff members also have been interviewed about potential revisions.

Mitchell left the city in November along with former Planning Director Janet Gapen. Former Concord City Manager Brian Hiatt has been serving in the interim. Hannah Jacobson, the new planning director, starts work Monday.

Wagoner said Jacobson is aware the ordinance needs consideration, and he’s eager for her to bring her experience in Durham to bear on the issue.

The planning staff has began to look at the ordinance and compare it with those in nearby cities.

Wallace said when considering updates to the ordinance, the planning staff and the board should think like a developer and calculate the costs.

Post has asked the Rowan County Economic Development Commission to step up and demand the city address the ordinance as growth comes into the county.

“We move at a snail’s pace, and we’re hurting ourselves,” Post said.

Queen said he would offer advice on updating the development ordinance.

“I know how to do the perfect ordinance,” he said.

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