Salisbury City Council approves Kesler Mill site design

Published 12:10 am Thursday, May 23, 2024

SALISBURY — During its May 21 meeting, the Salisbury City Council voted to move forward with one of the proposed designs for the Kesler Mill development project. The roughly 13-acre property that the city owns located on North Martin Luther King Jr. and Park avenues has been vacant since the original Kesler Mill closed in 2003, but Planning and Neighborhoods Director Hannah Jacobson said Salisbury is committed to transforming it into a “community asset.”

Since 2023, the city and the Development Finance Initiative of the University of North Carolina School of Government have conducted community input sessions, posted online surveys and met with people directly at their homes to find out the best way to proceed with the project. DFI also completed a “pre-development analysis” on the types of housing that could be constructed on the site. 

The guiding public interests that emerged indicate that the Kesler Mill site should provide housing for low-to-moderate incomes for mixed income households, respect the character and history of Park Avenue, incorporate connections to sidewalks and streets towards downtown, provide a greenway or trail, and maximize private investment.

Given the information on what the public would like to see, two different construction options were presented to residents, with “option one” being the preferred choice.

DFI Project Manager Sonyia Turner said in the meeting that the site is “ideal” for residential rather than commercial and the proposed designs reflect that. Turner explained further how the project is eligible for low-income tax credits that will let it be affordable for 30 years. 

“Option one” was favored because it did more in “respecting the character of the neighborhood,” according to Turner. It will have 60 senior rental units, 83 family rentals that are a mix of duplexes and townhouses, and five single family detached homes. The estimated public and private investment cost will be $43 million. Turner said the public investment portion will pay for roads, streetscapes, water and sewer infrastructure and a greenway/trail. However, Turner advised public investment could go up if the project can not obtain competitive tax credit financing. 

The rental amount will range from $550-$1,150; sale values will go from $230,000-$250,000; and mortgage payments will cost $940-$1,325. Units will only be available for those earning 80 percent of the area median income.

While public investment is important with these kinds of undertakings, Turner said other municipalities have utilized funds from HOME/CDBG, the American Rescue Plan, and the local level as well as “non-recurring competitive federal and state programs” to assist with the price. 

Turner said the next step in the process will be DFI soliciting developers to build what is being recommended. Once a developer is hired, the public investment amount will be set in stone. Construction is set to begin in early 2026.

“This has been one of my favorite projects since we got it. It needed to be cleaned up, it needed to be a better place for the people who live over there versus how it’s been sitting for decades,” Salisbury Mayor Pro Tem Tamara Sheffield said.