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Salisbury Planning Board begins review of land development ordinance

SALISBURY — City Planning Director Hannah Jacobson told the Planning Board at its Tuesday meeting that an independent contractor will begin “stress testing” Salisbury’s land development ordinance.

The board was tasked by the City Council with assessing the ordinance and proposing changes. Last fall, members of the board along with city planning staff members interviewed residents affected by the ordinance, including developers and architects, about what they like and what they don’t like about it. After the departures of former Planning Director Janet Gapen and Development and Code Services Manager Preston Mitchell, the review and research was delayed.

Jacobson said N-Focus, a planning consultant firm based in Kannapolis, would assess the ordinance by considering projects and the limitations the the ordinance has, including costs.

“They are going to approach it from the perspective of a perspective developer and understand areas where the LDO has internal conflicts and to understand how the results compare to the industry’s best practices and norms, as well as looking at some of our peer jurisdictions,” Jacobson said.

The study will have a turnaround of 60 to 90 days, and N-Focus will present its findings to the Planning Board. The board will then assess how it will use the information to evaluate the land development ordinance.

Chairman Bill Wagoner said the board has provided information gathered through interviews to N-Focus to provide some direction.

Wagoner said the LDO should be updated to be forward-thinking and accommodating.

“We don’t want to look at what we’re just attempting to do and maybe has been done in the recent past, but given the I-85 situation, given what’s happening with our increased railroad profile, and so on and so on,” Wagoner said. “Given what’s happening in Piedmont North Carolina and the foreseeable future, it’s positive.”

Wagoner said the marketplace is constantly changing and the ordinance should have flexibility.

Board member Bill Burgin said he would be interested to see the comparison of the ordinance to those of nearby communities and how much flexibility or strictness those ordinances have. When making a comparison to Kannapolis, he said, the ordinance may need to more open to developers since Salisbury is farther north on Interstate 85.

Burgin said it is “a real interesting balancing act” to consider development in a historic city.

Board member John Schaffer asked how the historic aspects of Salisbury will play into the evaluation, which can be seen as a hindrance to development.

The study will find problem areas in the ordinance, Jacobson said, but Wagoner said the city can continue to do research and interviews to understand issues with the LDO in Phase 2 of the process. The board will begin crafting text amendments for the biggest impediments that will go before the City Council for final approval.

Jacobson agreed with Burgin that the board will have to consider creating an environment for development while preserving history. That could be decided by community input, Jacobson said.

In other business:

• Tim Norris was sworn in as a member of the Planning Board. 

• Jacobson introduced herself to the Planning Board. She began working for the city in April.

• City Attorney Graham Corriher led a training session on quasijudicial procedure.

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