Salisbury Council Discusses Non-Conforming Properties

SALISBURY — Discussion on the potential for bed and breakfasts in Salisbury’s Newtown Historic District as well as the status of non-conforming properties in that neighborhood caused some sparks to fly between the Mayor and City Council Monday.

Salisbury is looking for ways to improve Newtown and cater to the requests of residents. This could include allowing bed and breakfasts, bringing non-conforming properties into conformity or both. However, Mayor Jim Ireton and Councilwoman Laura Mitchell clashed over what, if anything, needs to be done regarding non-conforming properties in the area.

Ireton proposed the idea of amortization over 10 years that would allow non-conforming properties, generally those housing multiple families within a relatively small space, to return to single-family or other allowed uses. Amortization has received some criticism with opponents arguing that it unfairly targets minorities and that it walks the line of being unconstitutional.

But Ireton argued that the non-conforming properties are a problem for the neighborhoods and that amortization is neither racist nor unfair. Salisbury is in court right now over a house in Newtown and its non-conformity and a judge could have the final say on the issue.

“I think the people in Newtown should have a right to figure out what their destiny is,” he said.

City administration is working from the presumption that non-conforming uses are automatically bad, responded Mitchell, who asserted that such is not always the case.

“I feel as though it is made to sound like every one of these non-conforming uses, these conversions, is unsafe,” she said.

Mitchell disagreed with that idea and argued that many of the properties have fit well into their neighborhoods despite holding multiple families in what was only designed for single-family use. The structures are often rented and Mitchell remarked that the landlords have a right to run a business just as the tenants have a right to expect to keep their housing.

Establishing standards for non-conforming properties in regard to parking, upkeep and the rest was more tolerable to Mitchell.

However, Ireton stood his ground in defending amortization as a discussion worth having. He pointed out that returning properties to conformity wouldn’t necessarily mean they’d have to go back to single-family uses. They could, potentially, be used for things like a bed and breakfast, which was the other Newtown topic the council debated.

All of the council agreed that bed and breakfasts could be a boon to neighborhoods.

“They dramatically increase property value, they’re good for public safety and security and the perception about neighborhoods,” said Council President Jake Day.

There were some points to iron out such as parking and how the businesses would be regulated. Day suggested looking at towns like Easton and searching for an appropriate precedent that could be applied to Salisbury. He also asked the council, while thinking about the non-conformity issue, not to weave it together completely with establishing allowances for bed and breakfasts.

“What I think is important to remember though is that, while the allowance of bed and breakfast is not one solution to the ills or challenges that Newtown has, it’s a part of a solution,” he said. “It could be paired with this but it doesn’t have to be.”

The council agreed to further discussion on both topics.