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Downtown grant changes hope to encourage new development

SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council approved changes to encourage the development of downtown residences at its meeting Tuesday.

The approval changed four items related to the Downtown Salisbury Revitalization Incentive Grants, created in 2014 to promote growth and offering financial packages to developers. They include:

• Adding a requirement for projects to begin construction within 12 months of the grant award.

• Clarifying ambiguity around requirements for applicants to show progress within six months of the grant award. Progress can include nonconstruction development and permitting activity.

• Adding a requirement that any substantial deviation from the council-approved project must be reviewed and approved in writing by the council before it can be undertaken.

• Adding project inspection procedures for planning staff, including a requirement for staff to maintain and update a project logbook and to submit quarterly progress reports to the planning director.

The third amendment had been presented in a different form in which the planning director and city manager would approve significant deviations, but multiple council members objected.

“I think if it’s substantial, then council needs to weigh in on it again,” Mayor Al Heggins said. “We certainly don’t want to delay development or stop progress.”

After questions arose, the council seemed inclined to delay consideration of the matter. Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield, however, pushed for a decision. Sheffield asked City Planner Kyle Harris if any projects would be harmed by the delay. Harris responded that the city has placed applications on hold.

Council members also discussed changes in the financial package available to residential developments downtown. Previously, the residential production grant provided $7 per gross square foot of residential space being created or upgraded. It now is $7,500 per residential unit created or substantially upgraded — as much as $97,500.

Questions arose about whether the change would encourage apartments downtown that are too small. But Harris said the market would dictate what’s built downtown, not the grant itself.

Because Harris presented the grant as helping ensure smaller apartments downtown, Mayor Pro Tem David Post questioned whether a grant of that size would be big enough to encourage a residential production project.

“Is that amount of money going to be a go-or-no-go issue?” Post asked. “Because it seems so small.”

Harris said he understands Post’s reasoning but any funding can help a project.

“It’s a modest grant if you look at it,” Harris said. “Several thousand dollars is not that much in a full scope of several hundred thousand-dollar project, but it would shift margins so it’s more accommodating.”

Planning Director Hannah Jacobson said the city hopes to encourage the development of apartments with multiple units.

“The major objective here is to create additional units,” Jacobson said. “We don’t want to create an incentive that creates a much larger one-unit building that would receive as much funding.”

Councilman Brian Miller said he was in favor of the amendments and how they incentivize the development of affordable downtown housing. 

“This is a good idea,” Miller said. “Otherwise we’re going to have a bunch of buildings with 2,000-square-foot apartments and only certain kinds of people can afford, and I don’t think that’s what this incentive is all about. It’s about development not creating a different class, especially because it’s public money.”

Miller added the more units that Salisbury’s downtown has, the more vibrancy it will have.

In other business:

• The council did not hear a presentation regarding the Empire Hotel redevelopment project as scheduled but opened up a public hearing that will continue into its next meeting.

DeeDee Wright asked about the possibility of receiving state funding for the project.

In Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget, he proposed $1 million for the Empire Hotel project — one of 68 economic development projects across the state. The funding was not included in the General Assembly’s budget that is now in negotiations.

“Right now, the legislature is going back and forth with the governor to try to hammer out a final budget, and there’s no word right now that grant is going to remain in the budget at $1 million or at any level,” Downtown Salisbury Inc. Director Larissa Harper said.

Post recommended writing to legislators to advocate for the inclusion of the grant in the final budget.

• The council received a final draft of the 2019 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice, which is due to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this week.

The analysis will be a living and breathing document and should go through changes as the city resolves problems or discovers new ones, said Victoria Avramovic, assistant director of community and economic development with Centralina Council of Governments.

The document includes five impediments and action plans that the Fair Housing Committee will begin working to reduce in August.

The impediments include: lack of formalized structure for a local fair housing system; insufficient supply of adequate and affordable housing to meet the growing needs of low- and moderate-income residents and including members of protected classes; public transportation limitations reduces housing choice for low- to moderate and special needs populations; lack of access to housing that accommodates special populations; and mortgage lending practices reduce homeownership opportunities for racial and ethnic minorities.

• Council gave the OK to include newly acquired property in a “Project Care” economic development incentive agreement. Scott Shelton, vice president of Rowan EDC, said all other terms would remain be the same and there would no additional requests for incentives. The change was just to add a legal description.

• The council approved a parking restriction for the 500 block of Grim Street and the 400 block of Institute Street near Livingstone College.

• Council members received a presentation on the summer youth employment. High school students learned about how the city operates day-to-day through shadowing different departments such as Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, code enforcement and city communications. Youth participants said it changed their mindsets of how the city works.

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