Zoning Amortization, Other Changes Sought In Salisbury

SALISBURY — Fearing stagnation, Mayor Jim Ireton is calling for strong measures in addressing the city’s ongoing non-conforming use issues.

“Amortization is the only way we’re going to say this issue doesn’t exist anymore,” he told the City Council Monday. “… But if we don’t take the big step then I think we’re always going to be mired down.”

Ireton’s plan for amortization would mean gradually giving properties found to be non-conforming a time period over which they need to make the transition and conform to the city’s building and zoning codes. The amount of time given to conform would be based on a number of factors and is meant to make sure the owner has enough time to recoup investments they have made on the property.

Because amortization by its nature takes time, Ireton stressed the importance of beginning the process as soon as possible with the Board of Zoning Appeals.

“Every day we don’t get this done puts Salisbury in a worse position,” he said.
Council President Terry Cohen was less confident that amortization was the best and only answer.

“I don’t view it as a magic bullet,” she said.

Though she agreed that giving properties time to conform would make sure owners don’t have their “investments and invested rights” taken away, Cohen said that there is such a thing as a “legal” non-conforming use. Under Ireton’s plan, she argued, all non-conforming uses would be treated the same.

“It lumps everybody into the same basket,” said Cohen.

Instead, she would like to “consider the concept of special exemptions” for some non-conforming uses, particularly those that aren’t bad for a neighborhood.

“The goal here is not to villanize the property owners,” Cohen said.

Ireton maintained that the council is not moving decisively enough with the issue. He pointed out that amortization, along with other changes that would affect Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) procedure, has become an almost regular topic of discussion in the council work sessions the last few weeks. Cohen did not deny that, but advocates patience so that all aspects of BZA procedure can be brought up to the council’s high expectations.

“Otherwise you’re going to be in court all the time,” she said.

Besides amortization, details like BZA training, appointment, and procedures concerning affidavits versus live testimony, among other things, still need to be hammered out in future work sessions.