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Ch. 1: Introduction

Salisbury is a community at a crossroads. As we look ahead to the next twenty years, it will become clear whether the city’s hope for long-term vitality – to be a livable, equitable and prosperous place – is just a dream or a probable future.

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Forward 2040 Chapter 1: Introduction


Salisbury is a community at a crossroads. As we look ahead to the next twenty years, it will become clear whether the city’s hope for long-term vitality – to be a livable, equitable and prosperous place – is just a dream or a probable future. There are signs today that suggest a strong probability of long-term vitality for Salisbury: careful stewardship of institutions and assets; respect for heritage and creativity; an ability to take measured risks; consciousness about the city’s position in an evolving region. All of these characteristics, and others, bode well for Salisbury’s prospects. But challenges exist as well: rapid growth that could outpace the city’s ability to provide quality services, wide disparities in neighborhood quality of life and civic engagement; holding on to Salisbury’s uniqueness in the face of homogeneous growth; establishment of new economic anchors. Salisbury is a unique place with a bright future. As development continues to converge on Salisbury, the city faces important issues related to urban growth. The Forward 2040 Comprehensive Plan process was initiated to address the city’s challenges and opportunities head-on. 

What is a comprehensive plan?

Comprehensive planning is a process to determine a community’s long term goals and aspirations related to the development of the community. The plan itself is designed to guide future actions of a community, specifically how to make decisions on public infrastructure investments, and private land development proposals. Despite the name, comprehensive plans do not address every issue impacting a community’s future. Rather, they strive to think comprehensively and holistically about the factors that contribute to good land use planning, including transportation, the environment, urban design, and more. 

What purposes do comprehensive plans serve?

Guides rezoning decisions. 

Zoning actions should be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan’s policies and Future Land Use Map. Private development applicants, staff, and elected officials will look to the plan to assess the compatibility and consistency of a development proposal with the plan’s policies and Future Land Use Map. 

Offers an opportunity to listen and involve the community. 

Developing a comprehensive plan is a multi-year commitment to engage, listen, and involve community members in dialogue about the future identity and vision of the City. The process, in and of itself, is a purpose of a comprehensive plan.  

Demonstrates the community’s position.

Regional, state and federal agencies often require projects they fund to be consistent with an overall community plan. The plan will be used in support of pursuing grant funding or advocating and demonstrating the community’s position on particular topics. 

Advises the expenditure of public funds.

The plan will help to identify strategic public investments that are necessary to attract and accommodate growth.

Guides private investment. 

Forward 2040 identifies priority areas where the City would like to encourage privately funded development and investment to occur, consistent with public investment in housing, transportation, utilities, parks, and other services. 

Provides a framework for strategic action plans. 

While the overall aspirations for what Salisbury should become in 2040 should not fluctuate dramatically from year to year, the plan needs to stay fresh and nimble to account for unexpected challenges and opportunities. The plan can offer a framework for which to create an annual (or bi-annual) strategic action plan that is endorsed by City Council. 

Provides the foundation for the modernization of the city’s land development regulations.

At the time of writing, the current Land Development Ordinance was adopted in 2008. As state laws and development trends change, we need to ensure development regulations remain current, streamlined, and produce high quality development. 

Who will use the plan?

The Comprehensive Plan is primarily used by City staff and private developers as a blueprint for future development. It is used to guide the expenditure of public funds, secure outside funding, guide private investment, respond to trends, and inform policy decisions related to development and placemaking. Community groups, development partners, housing and transportation providers, and other governmental agencies should also use Forward 2040 as a guide for their work in Salisbury.

Legal Basis, Role, and Content

As a condition of enacting zoning regulations, North Carolina General Statutes (160D-501), requires that local governments “adopt and reasonably maintain a comprehensive plan or land-use plan.” This enabling legislation gives significant discretion to the local government in the content of the plan, saying it, “may, among other topics, address any of the following as determined by the local government:

  • Issues and opportunities facing the local government, including consideration of trends, values expressed by citizens, community vision, and guiding principles for growth and development.
  • The pattern of desired growth and development and civic design, including the location, distribution, and characteristics of future land uses, urban form, utilities, and transportation networks.
  • Employment opportunities, economic development, and community development.
  • Acceptable levels of public services and infrastructure to support development, including water, waste disposal, utilities, emergency services, transportation, education, recreation, community facilities, and other public services, including plans and policies for provision of and financing for public infrastructure.
  • Housing with a range of types and affordability to accommodate persons and households of all types and income levels.
  • Recreation and open spaces.
  • Mitigation of natural hazards such as flooding, winds, wildfires, and unstable lands.
  • Protection of the environment and natural resources, including agricultural resources, mineral resources, and water and air quality.
  • Protection of significant architectural, scenic, cultural, historical, or archaeological resources.
  • Analysis and evaluation of implementation measures, including regulations, public investments, and educational programs.”

Relationship to other plans and ordinances

While it is the role of the Forward 2040 Comprehensive Plan to set the general direction for future growth and development across the city for the next 20 years, the plan is complimented by several small area plans, and plans focused on specific issues. As comprehensive plans are intended to be broad policy guides for decisions, plans created at a finer grain can be more specific and more thoughtfully implemented. Several small area plans or issue-oriented plans are in existence, and should be referenced alongside the Forward 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Each of these plans are the result of a process involving research, engagement with the community, and deliberation among policy makers. While broad consistency with the comprehensive plan is the goal, there are bound to be minor variations in detail. 

  • Salisbury Parks and Recreation Master Plan (2020)
  • Rowan County’s I-85 South Land Use Plan (2017)
  • Salisbury Transit Master Plan (2019)
  • Rowan County’s Forward Rowan Plan
  • Downtown Salisbury Inc.’S 2010 Master Plan
  • Salisbury Bike Plan (2009)
  • Downtown Main Street Plan (2020)
  • Rowan County Tourism Master Plan
  • Cabarrus Rowan Comprehensive Transportation Plan and Metropolitan Transportation Plan
  • Cultural Action Plan 
  • Innes and Long Street Master Plan

The plan does not change the current zoning of any property or the current zoning regulations; however, development proposals, rezoning requests, and text amendments will all be assessed to determine their consistency with the plan. This is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 4. 

Navigating the Plan

Forward 2040 is grounded in ten aspirational visions that help lay the foundation for goals, policies, and actions. Each theme is explored in more depth in chapters 3 through 12. The policy framework that makes up each chapter consists of goals, policies, and actions. Definitions of the hierarchy are provided below.
In addition to the written policy framework, Forward 2040 introduces a geographic policy framework in the form of a Growth Strategies Map and a Future Land Use Map. 
The Growth Strategies Map, found in Chapter 3, is meant to communicate high level priorities for growth by highlighting corridors, centers, and future growth areas.
The Future Land Use Map, found in Chapter 4, is parcel specific and identifies different “place types” designed to identify the design characteristics and land uses envisioned for the future of each area. The map is advisory in nature and should be used in conjunction with the policies listed throughout the Comprehensive Plan.
Supporting documentation is also provided as Appendices to the Plan. These include: 
Appendix A: Databook 2020. A repository of data highlighting existing conditions in several focus areas including demographic, economy, land use and development, infrastructure, health and wellness, and city services.  
Appendix B: Forces, Trends and Directions Report.  An examination of national and global trends that will effect Salisbury’s growth and development over the next twenty years. 
Appendix C: Policies by Topic. Search for applicable policies by topic such as “Infill” or “Historic Preservation” versus by theme.
Appendix D: Public Engagement. A compilation of results from various stages of public engagement throughout the plan’s creation.

Building from a legacy of planning

Since its inception as the westernmost town in North Carolina in 1753, the City of Salisbury has been intentional about planning for its future. Using the crossroads of Innes Street and Main Street, the City was laid out and developed on a grid axis from the beginning. Planning and zoning in Salisbury date back to the 1930s when the city adopted its first zoning code.
Appendix E contains excerpts from the Vision 2020 Comprehensive Plan which describe in great detail how the city’s history/form have evolved with changes in transportation from the colonial period, through industrialization, into the street car era and finally into the age of the automobile. 
Absent from the history found in Appendix E is the acknowledgment that planners and policy makers embraced urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s as policy and program to clear blighted areas. These programs had a disproportionate impact on African Americans, which is discussed in greater depth in Appendix B under System Barriers and Disparities.

Comprehensive Planning 

Salisbury 2000 Strategic Growth Plan 

Developed in the late 1980s, the Strategic Growth Plan was the primary instrument for the City in guiding growth and development during what was a period of population growth in the City. 

Vision 2020 

Vision 2020 was adopted in 2001 as an update to the Strategic Growth Plan of 2000. It sought to address past, present, and future residential and commercial development trends to create a more harmonious community. Vision 2020 also addressed areas within the city, transportation, the urban form and appearance, covering topics such as historic preservation, transportation, infrastructure development, and arts and culture.
Other topical plans and small area plans – Plans focused on neighborhoods, corridors, and specific issues have also been developed. Many of these plans, either targeted to a topic or a specific area, have been the most influential in bringing about better planning and design. One instance is the East Innes Gateway Overlay Plan, which began as an amendment to the zoning ordinance regarding land uses on E. Innes Street. One of the earliest successes was when Duke Energy buried their existing cable lines. This drastically reduced visual clutter along a busy thoroughfare and also increased safety to pedestrians and motorists in the area. 

Creating Forward 2040

Background, 2015-2018: 

The process to amend Vision 2020 began in late 2015 with staff discussions in preparation for the Salisbury City Council retreat in late winter 2016. The early vision was to build on Salisbury’s history as a trailblazing community. City Council appointed a Steering Committee, to work with staff and a consultant team. A Request for Proposals was issued by the City for a consultant and a firm based out of Alexandria, Virginia was chosen. The group, czbLLC was engaged in early research, steering committee engagement, and produced a draft plan. The contract with czbLLC ended 2018 and the project stalled with a period of staff transition. The City remains grateful for the work czbLLC did to create this early plan and provide so much detailed data on Salisbury’s present conditions and future trends, which have helped shape the focus of this plan. 

New Beginning, 2019-2020

The project was reengaged in 2019. The Forward 2040 brand was established in consultation with the Salisbury Communications office. Staff re-engaged the previously-appointed Steering Committee members to discuss where things had previously stopped and where the project would be going. Additional Steering Committee members were appointed to join the original members still willing to serve. In January 2020, staff began holding regularly scheduled Steering Committee meetings to move forward with the project, beginning with broader community engagement.

Visioning, 2020

Pop-Up Community Meetings were held in February 2020 in various places across town to engage community members about what their “big ideas” were for the city, and what their “big picture” for development and redevelopment would be. Additional information and the results of this engagement is in Appendix D. These meetings were hosted by staff and steering committee members. Additionally, steering committee members were encouraged to host a “meeting in a box;” where they obtained the “big ideas” and “big picture” exercises and hosted their own public meeting. Many chose to host these with neighbors and friends, several hosted their meetings in a public space either at their church or at another meeting or event they were attending for even more public input. Staff is very appreciative of the commitment of these steering committee members in obtaining so much more broad feedback on the community’s vision for the future of Salisbury. The visioning exercises were the basis for the development of the 10 aspirational themes by which the plan is organized.
Milestone: 10 Aspirational Visions

COVID-19 Strikes, 2020

Momentum in creating the plan was stalled by the arrival of COVID-19 in March of 2020. Steering Committee meetings were initially put on hold, but resumed in a virtual format by summer of 2020. Staff had completed compiling the 2020 Databook which would be used as a foundation from which to build the plan. Riled by the events of 2020, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial and social justice movements, the Steering Committee felt it was important to have a forward-facing companion to the Databook that examined the global phenomena that were impacting our local lives in such a tangible way. The result of those discussions is Forces, Trends and Directions Report. 
Milestone: Appendix A: 2020 Databook and Appendix B: 2020 Forces, Trends, and Directions Report. 

Policy Framework, 2021-22

By 2021, both Planning Staff and the Steering Committee were exhausted with Zoom and ready to resume public engagement. Using the vision statements as the backbone, ten surveys were designed to understand and prioritize community goals. The surveys were offered online and at various locations such as Lowes Home Improvement and the Salisbury Farmers Market, and at community events such as the NAACP’s Juneteenth and Downtown Salisbury Inc.’s Wine About Winter.  Results of the survey are found in Appendix D and helped shape the Goals found in each chapter of the plan. 
Milestone: Goal Statements
With the vision statements and the goals forming the skeletal structure of the plan, the Steering Committee set to work “putting meat on the bones”. Subcommittees for each chapter met throughout the remainder of 2021 and into 2022 to develop policy statements and actions steps. The results of these conversations form the bulk of the plan found in Chapters 5-12. 
Milestone: Policy Framework (Chapters 5-12)

Growth Strategies and Future Land Use Map, 2022

Informed by geographic information systems (GIS) mapping, the Steering Committee began the process of identifying the activity centers, priority corridors and future growth areas that would form the basis for the Growth Strategies Map. Factors that were considered included:

  • Existing Conditions. Existing land uses and the status of development (developed, undeveloped, vacant)
  • Development Constraints.  Flood Hazard Areas, Conservation Easements, Natural Heritage Areas, Major Utility Easements, Steep Slopes
  • Suitability Factors. Water/Sewer Availability, Fire Station Access
  • Community/Regional Input. Remain, Revive, Revolutionize Community Exercise
  • Legal Authority to Annex. Based on GS 160A-58

Building from the Growth Strategies Map, staff and the Steering Committee developed a menu of “Place Types” meant to describe the mix of uses and character that make up places that exist in Salisbury today and would be desirable in the future. More on the Future Land Use Map is found in Chapter 4. 

Public Engagement and Adoption, 2022

(To be completed)


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