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Council hears about changes needed in city’s Land Development Ordinance

By Liz Moomey

liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Last spring, the Salisbury City Council gave planning staff and the Planning Board a task: to fix the city’s Land Development Ordinance. At a special meeting Tuesday, they were given an update about the work that lies ahead.

N-Focus, a Kannapolis-based firm, “stress-tested” the ordinance and presented it to the Planning Board in October. The board has since branched out into committees to address the findings.

Rick Flowe, of N-Focus, presented some problem areas of the Land Development Ordinance by looking at how understandable it is and testing out real-life scenarios of development. Flowe also looked at surrounding communities — Statesville, Mooresville, Concord, Lexington and Charlotte — and how Salisbury’s ordinance compared.

Flowe said the ordinance was an awkwardly constructed document that had inconsistency in interpretation, calling the user-friendliness the “real achilles heel.” If people can’t find the answer they are looking for, they are going to move on, Flowe said.

“Your ordinance right now is not out of kilter,” he said. “It’s not out of balance with creating opportunities, but I think it’s awkwardness makes it challenging. It was challenging for us.”

City planning staff has been tasked with cleaning up the ordinance and also making sure it is compliant with state laws.

Flowe said the Land Development Ordinance needs to focus on people, quoting Richard Pryor, “this is a neighborhood, not a residential district.” The ordnance is not for developers, though cities want them to succeed, but for people in the city.

Flowe gave an example of the highway business district that is typically a catch all: child care, auto repair and hair salons. That typically means bringing together people who don’t need to be together in that environment. A person going to a body shop to have repairs done or a tow truck dropping off a car after an accident doesn’t need to be beside a parking area where people are coming and going, he said.

He recommended “miniature downtown areas” that are strategic for growth. The city should consider making hot spots for specific growth.

One could be for seniors because the city was designated to be a retirement-friendly community in November, said Councilman David Post.

Flowe said the ordinance should be updated to adjust setback requirements that are done by a percentage and not a specific number. It can causes the neighborhood to have different setbacks due to the different size lots. He said it can also force people to have a “squashed” house to follow the setbacks.

Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins asked if the study looked into segregation and concentrated areas of poverty.

Flowe said lower income families are generally living in older housing stocks and may be impacted by the setbacks, since the homes may not be in compliance.

He said the ordinance also has a Traditional Neighborhood Development opportunity that allows for “he development of fully integrated, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods that are thought to minimize traffic congestion, suburban sprawl, infrastructure costs and environmental degradation.” The district can create a mixed and diverse area. He said the city can also use conditional districts to be able to see the plans of a proposed development, which the council can question.

Flowe also recommended looking things that may deter developers.

Councilman Brian Miller questioned if the stress test looked at other factors that could be deterring growth, including the school system. Flowe said N-Focus only looked at what “touched” the ordinance and not other bodies, like schools.

The council asked “Where are we now?”

Planning Board Chair Bill Wagoner said the Land Development Ordinance is the same as it was 12 months ago. The Planning Board has been working through short-term and long-term solutions, some of which will have to be addressed after the city’s comprehensive plan.

When the ordinance was put into place on Jan. 1, 2008, Wagoner said, the writers knew it would be amended from time to time.

Mayor Karen Alexander called it a sound document that just has to be updated after 12 years.

City Planning Director Hannah Jacobson told the council to be on the lookout for text amendments to update the it throughout the year.

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