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China Grove councilman applies for zoning change to bring security business downtown

CHINA GROVE — Town Councilman Steve Stroud is seeking to change a zoning regulation that would enable him to move his security business downtown, prompting criticism from the town’s former mayor.

Since starting Tarheel Safe and Lock in 1989, Stroud has operated the business out of his home in China Grove. Now with the need for more space, he has plans to relocate the business to 221 S. Main St. and take over two buildings that have been vacant for more than a decade.

Before Stroud can go through with his plans, he must amend a definition in the town’s zoning laws.

Even though Stroud said that Tarheel Safe and Lock “doesn’t have anything to do with cars” and focuses more on installing security systems and selling safes, it is still considered a locksmith business. Under the town’s current Unified Development Ordinance, locksmiths are grouped in with automotive businesses. And automotive businesses are not permitted in the central business district, which encompasses most of downtown China Grove, including 221 S. Main St.

Stroud has applied for a text amendment change to remove locksmiths from the automotive grouping, which would allow him to relocate to the property. The request will first be reviewed by the town’s planning board in March and then will be voted on by town council members.

If Stroud’s request makes it to the town council, he will recuse himself from participating in the discussion about the request or the penultimate vote. With those precaution taken, Stroud said that he doesn’t see there being any conflict of interest.

“I have the same rights as any citizen,” Stroud said. “I don’t give them up because I’m a councilman. I’ve done nothing underhanded now or ever in the past to use my position to do anything.”

Town Manager Ken Deal said that any citizen has a right to ask for a text amendment for a rezoning and that he is thrilled that Stroud wants to give new life to the “dilapidated” buildings.

Not everyone has expressed similar enthusiasm for Stroud’s plan, including former China Grove Mayor Lee Withers. 

Although Withers said that appreciates anyone who is willing to invest in downtown, he doesn’t think the security business fits in with the current plan for downtown development.

“What’s really frustrating is you have a leader in town that’s going against the vision of what anybody else would want and the agreed upon land use plan and the way the zoning has worked out,” Withers said.

Withers and others have shared their opposition to Stroud’s plans on a Facebook page called “Citizens for a Better China Grove.” Withers said the page was created by a collaborative group of citizens who are concerned that the town isn’t “headed in the right way.”

Stroud said that he believes his business fits in with the vision for downtown.

“There will be foot traffic in and out,” Stroud said. “I understand that most downtown zoning is driven toward driving traffic downtown and I think I’ll do as well as anybody else downtown drawing traffic.”

His plans are to turn one of the vacant buildings on the property into office space, a storeroom and a warehouse where customers can browse his inventory of safes. As for the other building, Stroud said that he wants to rehabilitate it, but isn’t sure what to do with it yet.

Stroud said that he originally wanted to relocate to the property for two reasons.

“I hate looking at it every time I go by there,” Stroud said. “Nobody has offered in 12 years to buy it and I’ve developed a need for space. I thought, I can kill two birds. I can quit looking at that ugly building and have an office and have a sales floor as well.”

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