PILOT MOUNTAIN — Pilot Mountain officials met with a consultant this week while considering an overhaul of town zoning ordinances.
Vagn Hansen, of Benchmark Planning in Charlotte, traveled to The Pilot Center on East Main Street to to meet with the board.
The first session saw both sides feeling each other out, with Hansen trying to gauge where the town board would like to go.
“I think we’ve got a mess,” Commissioner Gary Bell said of the current zoning rules.
Commissioner Evan Cockerham said Pilot could use a buffer between residential and business areas. He said zoning needed to expand to allow a mixed-use category.
This transitional area between housing and business districts could allow residential dwellings and a limited segment of business, said Cockerham. A business office or doctor’s office is less intrusive next door to houses.
“Residential areas should stay residential,” agreed Commissioner Linda Needham.
There are also issues of safety, said Bell. He could think of one location where the business closed, but flammable material remained inside the structure. This could be a threat to the business adjacent to the property.
Bell added that he is also concerned about locations that don’t maintain their property, which devalues the whole area.
“What about enforcement?” Bell asked. Otherwise all the rules are worthless.
“One of the things that draws people to town is the aesthetics,” said Mayor Dwight Atkins. He encourages improvements to property, while keeping the feel of the downtown area intact.
Atkins said town rules could regulate downtown in a way to keep those aesthetics, such as not allowing ground floor spaces to be used just for storage. One building has kept stuff on the ground floor so long that the merchandise that can be seen through the windows is as outdated as Members Only jackets and fedoras.
“They are also full of mold,” Bell said of the storage areas.
Sounds like the board wants buildings to be actively used, said Hansen. Doing so would boost property values of all the downtown area.
Historic feel is important to draw people, said Cockerham, but businesses are saying they would like just a little more freedom to decorate as they want. The town has some burdensome restrictions, such as the color of paint used on a building.
Needham agreed, saying she once had a property up for rent. She wanted to draw attention to it so she painted it a bright color that she knew wasn’t up to regulations. Then once the space was rented, she could repaint the door to conform.
One guy wanted black awnings on the front of the building, but it wasn’t allowed, said Needham. Somehow he got clearance for the black color, and the awnings ended up looking great.
“Pilot Mountain needs to be proactive and almost aggressive to catch up to modern times,” said Commissioner Kim Quinn. “Our ordinances need to work toward economic growth, not against it by having so many hoops to jump through such as painting a door.”
The town still has to have regulations, said Bell.
“You don’t want someone putting vinyl siding on a downtown building,” Atkins said with a smile.
If the property is in an area designated as a historic property, then the work has to be done the way the Historic Preservation Foundation wants it done in order to qualify for tax credit, pointed out Town Manager Michael Boaz.
Atkins said he has seen some nice downtowns fall to disrepair over the years. If the town doesn’t have some control over what happens, how would people feel if Pilot’s downtown was made up of pawn shops, check-cashing businesses and tattoo parlors?
“When there’s not a market for what you consider ‘good stuff,’ you’re going to get what you might consider ‘bad stuff,’” said Hansen.
“You can zone your town in any way you want to,” said the consultant. “That could generate a challenge. … You could upset some people along the way.”
When it comes to creating regulations, he said, there is a balance between control and a vision against freedom and expression. “If the perception is that you can’t do anything in Pilot Mountain because of regulations …,” he trailed off.
Think about what rules are already in place, Hansen advised. What is being managed well, and what is frivolous and is impeding progress?
“Are you happy with what is regulated now and the spirit of those regulations?” asked Hansen.
Maybe reduce the number of improvements that require a permit, said Quinn.
Then there are issues with other rules, she said. Homeowners can’t put a front porch on their houses because of regulations like setbacks.
People will want to add something to their property, and the planning department has to tell them no because of things like setbacks, said Boaz.
After the work session, Quinn said, “My main concern is the downtown overlay ordinances, in addition to creating zones that allow builders to come into our area — whether with housing or big businesses — along the highway area. Thus increasing traffic flow to our exit.
“Then on the back end, work in this new Main Street Committee to ensure we have something to offer once they find the downtown — from the angle of beautification, infrastructure, marketing and so on.”
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.