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Land development ordinance begins upgrade to increase city’s capital investments

SALISBURY — Tuesday was the beginning of a yearlong process for the Salisbury Planning Board as it works to update the city’s land development ordinance.

The document sets rules for development in the Salisbury city limits. It regulates and restricts construction, reconstruction, alterations, repair or use of buildings, structures and land.

At a meeting Tuesday, Planning Director Hannah Jacobson and Zoning Administrator Teresa Barringer laid out the schedule for the board and staff. First up is concentrating on the short term and implementing changes to the ordinance that comply with state law or recent court cases.

Long-term items, which were assigned to committees, will focus on areas that research and policy guidance suggest. The board will also return to the ordinance after the city’s 2040 comprehensive plan is adopted.

Much short-term work will be handled by the city staff and presented to the board in the form of text amendments, especially to make the land development ordinance compliant with state statutes. All amendments and other major changes would have to get approval from the City Council.

Barringer said some parts of the ordinance could have an impact different than expected.

“We have to be careful to continue down a path that we want to see the value and the equity of the area be maintained but also promote growth,” she said.

Planning Board Chairman Bill Wagoner said the ordinance should make capital investment more probable.

Board member Tim Norris said it makes sense to continuously update the ordinance as time goes by, instead of waiting five or 10 years. 

Architect Bill Burgin, a board member, said the ordinance forces people to do things that the city wants. And it takes years to figure out whether its impact is what city officials wanted, Burgin said, adding that it is not the fault of the ordinance.

Member John Schaffer said Salisbury is different today than it was years ago. While the development ordinance is “soaking,” the community is changing, Schaffer said.

Schaffer said his takeaway from the presentation by consulting firm N-Focus, which recently stress-tested the ordinance for areas that need improvement or areas that are friendly, was that the ordinance does not deter investment. Instead, it is “extremely cumbersome to use,” he said. Making the ordinance more user-friendly would require a lot of tedious work, he said.

Barringer said the city is working to make the ordinance searchable online.

Burgin asked if there could be an index instead of a reorganization of the rules to point people to the information they are looking for in the document. 

“The criticism is it is difficult,” Burgin said. “Sometimes it doesn’t add up and move on or they operate under the assumption that this is the way it is when it wasn’t, so they get discouraged on their own.”

Jacobson said she has requested an index for printed copies of the ordinance.

Wagoner brought up other concerns or “hot buttons,” such as sidewalk requirements, which people have complained about to the City Council.

Jacobson said the N-Focus study showed the city is in line with a lot of other jurisdictions.

Ricks said the board should at least look at the matter, since it has been called into question.

Barringer said the board would have to decide if it wants to rewrite certain sections of the development ordinance because of requests.

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