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Salisbury’s land development ordinance ‘stress-tested’

SALISBURY — Compared to neighboring cities, Salisbury’s land development ordinance has not inhibited developers from investing in the city, according to N-Focus, a Kannapolis-based firm that “stress-tested” the ordinance.

The Planning Board heard Tuesday from Rick Flowe and Tim Gauss of N-Focus about the good and the bad of the development ordinance. They determined that it does support housing and development projects at an affordable price. But they also concluded that the ordinance is not user-friendly, that the required setback dimensions could cause limitations or constraints and that it needs to be updated to conform with current legislation and court rulings.

Flowe and Gauss presented a 27-page report about their findings and their short- and long-term recommendations.

In their analysis, board Chairman Bill Wagoner noted one statement in particular: “Conversely, ordinances with fewer requirements, faster and simpler review procedures and clear, well-written standards may be considered more welcoming of development.”

He said the Planning Board should operate under this philosophy.

“How do we take that philosophically and become a leader in this community in having an ordinance that in fact promotes to the best extent we can — concurrent with the plan — with promoting capital investment of this community?” Wagoner asked.

Flowe said usability should be seen as a developer picking up the ordinance and finding what they are looking for. If they don’t find it in 10 minutes, they likely are gone since they are not married to a certain town.

“The information we share with them they’re going to use to make important financial decisions, and that’s a responsibility that we have to take very seriously,” Flowe said. “And what we learned from your staff is they don’t always have an ease of finding things.”

Because information is not easy to find in the development ordinance, there is no consistency in interpretation, he said. 

Flowe said to think like a developer who would likely have information about parking and landscaping on a computer screen side by side, since the two issues are related. He said separating the ordinance into separate files is helpful, which the city does

He added the ordinance has some narratives that are academic, which allows for a different understanding based on who is reading it. Gauss said it is ripe for misinterpretation.

Gauss said the board should consider the hot spots of Salisbury and zone accordingly. There is abundant property in highway business and commercial mixed use zones, he said.

He said the Planning Board should plan for future thinking about who is going to live there and what businesses will operate there. Flowe said the board can also zone properties to allow for pockets that provide for projects to roll.

“You have to create the right opportunities, and to do that you want to network of hot nodes throughout the city,” Gauss said.

Flowe said the ideal development ordinance should make both the tree hugger and the tree cutter happy.

“It’s actually five wins in the scenario,” Flowe said. “There’s the citizen. There’s the property owner — they’re not always the same. There’s the environment. There’s the business community. And there is leadership.”

The Planning Board was told to evaluate N-Focus’ analysis for discussion at its Nov. 12 meeting.

The city is working on an update of its comprehensive plan, and Flowe recommended making major changes to the development ordinance after it is finished. He recommended the board begin cleaning up the legislative and court issues and working on the organization of the ordinance.

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