Salisbury Takes New Approach To Old Downtown Issues

SALISBURY — Looking to ignite growth downtown, the Salisbury Council discussed strategies for generating development in the area Monday.

“You have to understand that it’s not the equivalent of flipping a switch,” said Planning and Zoning Director Jack Lenox. “This is not going to happen overnight.”

Lenox explained that the city has been having “a discussion on downtown for decades” and that triggering growth in the area is a long-term project.

“There are lots of very good ideas, but very little details on how to get that done,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing the revitalization of Salisbury’s downtown is that no one wants to be the first private entity to take the initial step, according to Lenox.

“We’ve got some difficulties attracting development,” he said, explaining that developers are more interested in properties in established neighborhoods. No one wants to be out there alone, he added.

Another issue, said Lenox, is the perception of parking issues downtown.
“There is an obvious concern about the parking,” he told the council.

Spurring development would necessitate the elimination of several of the downtown’s seven parking lots. However, a recent study conducted by the city found that even with the elimination of five lots, significant parking would remain in the area if parking garages were sufficiently utilized.

A third worry Lenox touched on has to do with the distribution of EDUs. Revitalizing derelict lots downtown could in many cases mean that the use of those properties would change significantly. What was once a clothing store could become a restaurant, for example, and would have greater water and sewer needs and therefore would require more EDUs.

While EDUs can be transferred, it is a complicated process and one Councilwoman Debbie Campbell pointed out would be cumbersome.

“It raises a lot of issues,” she said.

Lenox estimated that by 2020 the downtown will have 750 new residents in 500 new housing units and hopefully will support 300 new jobs. Councilman Tim Spies said that he is in favor of growth but wondered what kind of demographic the city should be attracting to the area.

“We want people not just to come downtown but to come down again and again and again,” he said. “To whom are we going to make it attractive?”

Spies reasoned that downtown would probably be appealing to a younger generation, such as students, graduates and young families looking to settle down.

“We need to look to the future,” said Spies.

That would be a good crowd to attract, agreed Lenox. He told the council that the next step will be to coordinate with private developers and that the best results will be seen by combining city and private investments.

“So we need to look at the city’s overall programs, overall policies,” he said.

The council was receptive to the discussion, but Campbell pointed out it is still early in what is guaranteed to be a lengthy process.

“We haven’t really had the opportunity to really consider the legal issues and policy implications of this … this is six months ahead of the council,” she said.

Council President Terry Cohen was in favor of encouraging growth downtown but reminded the council that there needs to be a focus not just on a short-term “jolt” of development but on sustaining new and established business.

“We need to take care of what we have,” she said.