Salisbury begins new look at its zoning codes

Salisbury officials are working to overhaul the city’s outdated zoning code that was first written in 1983 and includes 236 sections with multiple subsections and cross-references.

“It’s cumbersome to say the least,” City Planner Anne Roane told City Council members at a recent work session.

More importantly, the current code lacks the tools to achieve the vision and higher quality development the city seeks, she said.

Salisbury currently has 24 different zones with 21 overlay districts, compared to Cambridge that has only 14 zones. Although Salisbury has a larger population than Cambridge, the two cities are similar in land mass, Roane said.

In addition to simplifying the map and becoming more user-friendly, a new zoning code can offer increased flexibility, strengthen design standards and environmental sustainability.

It also will allow the city to incorporate newer master plans for downtown, Route 13 and bicycle routes, the historic district guidelines and the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area program into the zoning code, Roane said.

Mayor Jake Day said the current zoning code doesn’t require certain standards or offer incentives to developers. Although they are laid out in newer plans that have been adopted including the Downtown Master Plan, the zoning code doesn’t enforce them, he said.

The outdated code also doesn’t allow things such as home offices or granny flats, but they are happening anyway, Day said.

“This is where you start to think about what you want,” the mayor told council members.

The first phase of the overhaul is underway, Roane said. The city has hired Baltimore County-based consultants JMT who made a full presentation on the project to the Planning Commission in October.

Their job is to assess the current code and submit draft recommendations in spring 2020.

The next step will be to look at the zoning maps to consolidate zones, followed by the actual rewrite of the document.

Roane said she expects the entire process to be transparent with opportunity for public input. She also asked that an advisory committee of city stakeholders be established to help guide the process.

Members could include city residents, developers, representatives of Salisbury University and Peninsula Regional Health System, and members of the city Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals and Historic District Commission.

From start to finish, the process is expected to take up to three years, Roane said.

Money to pay the consultants was included in this year’s budget, but Roane asked City Council members to include more funding as the project continues. City officials also will be pursuing grants, she said.

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