Siler City commissioners approve sweeping ordinance changes to improve town aesthetic

Posted 3/2/21

SILER CITY — In a bid to enact frequent calls for the town’s revitalization, Siler City’s board of commissioners authorized several ordinance amendments during its regular meeting Monday to …

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Siler City commissioners approve sweeping ordinance changes to improve town aesthetic

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Posted

SILER CITY — In a bid to enact frequent calls for the town’s revitalization, Siler City’s board of commissioners authorized several ordinance amendments during its regular meeting Monday to promote and enforce building maintenance and minimum aesthetic standards.

Town Planner Jack Meadows has spearheaded the effort to establish a “tool” whereby town staff, with commissioner guidance, could launch an improvement program to enhance the town’s appearance. Plans for ordinance adjustments that would empower the town to improve commercial real estate have been in development for years, he said.

“We hired a contractor to do ordinance enforcement about two years ago and he started sharing new tools and ideas with us,” Meadows said. “... So, I put it in my brief(case) and held on to it.”

The recommendations from State Code Enforcement Inc. — led by contractors Dennis Pinnix and George McDuffie — sat idle for a short time until the Siler City Downtown Advisory Committee started exploring options to enhance the downtown aesthetic.

“The Downtown Advisory Committee started talking about the appearance and structure of some of our downtown buildings when they were meeting,” Meadows said, “and I said ‘Well, we’ve got a potential tool, I’ll just share it with you.’”

Committee members were thrilled with what they saw. They have since recommended the board adopt the ordinance changes more than once, most recently in January, but Monday was the first time the board took action.

The amendments are to Chapter 8 of Siler City’s code of ordinances which establishes building standards. About 20 revisions fall under Article VI: “Minimum Nonresidential Code.” The updated language will permit an ordinance enforcement officer to work with commercial property owners to address ordinance violations such as broken windows, loose wires from junction boxes, flaking paint, damaged and dirty awnings, broken curbs and pothole-ridden parking lots — all of which have been routinely observed around town. The ordinance changes do not require any budgetary adjustments from the board of commissioners.

While the Downtown Advisory Committee initiated ordinance change recommendations, Meadows suggested the board include all of Siler City within the new enforceable standards.

“I get complaints from folks around town,” Meadows said, “Folks aren’t happy with the structure and look of some of our commercial buildings. There are no tools in our tool box in Siler City to address those concerns and complaints.”

He thus advised the board to extend the Downtown Advisory Committee’s plan to encompass all commercial real estate in Siler City.

“Our recommendation would be not to — if you choose to adopt this ordinance — not to just do it for downtown, but citywide,” Meadows said.

The commissioners were quick to second his admonition.

“I completely agree; I think we need to go within the entire corporate limits,” said Commissioner Bill Haiges. “I’m always a person who wants to make it for everyone instead of just targeting a group. Let’s include everyone in it.”

Dennis Pinnix, the contractor who suggested Siler City revise its ordinance, has overseen similar programs in other North Carolina towns. The results, he said, have been only beneficial.

“Their tax values have gone up dramatically because of this ordinance,” he said in Monday’s meeting.

Property owners, too — though behooved to perform building work they may not have done otherwise — appreciated their town’s direction, Pinnix said. In Mooresville, where his company helped enforce similar measures three years ago, only two out of 65 affected property owners pushed back on the new regulation, according to Pinnix.

“We went around and we talked to each merchant and we told them, ‘Look, in 90 days this is what we’re going to be looking for,’” he said. “And we gave them all a list of things that we would be looking for that we would be enforcing with this ordinance ... Once merchants started fixing up their buildings, they got enthusiastic about it, and the town of Mooresville never looked as good as it does today.”

Meadows emphasized that Siler City staff will similarly work with property owners.

“The way we designed this is not to go in and start tearing down buildings right away,” he said. “... It’s not a quick turnaround process. I think we can probably start with just communicating and talking with folks. It wouldn’t be right out of the door coming through with ordinances for demolition.”

Commissioners were enthused by the prospect of imminent town improvement.

“I think we need a draw downtown, and I think we’re starting to get that with people revitalizing,” said Commissioner Cindy Bray. “This ordinance, I think it’s going to help people.”

The board voted unanimously in support of a motion to adopt the proposed ordinance amendments as of July 1. Commercial property owners will have until then to familiarize themselves with the changes and begin necessary renovations.

With the same goal of townwide aesthetic improvement, the commissioners also gave consensus for Meadows and other town staff to launch an ordinance enforcement program prohibiting motor vehicles from “being parked on grass/dirt and more than four motor vehicles located in the front yards of single-family and two-family residential dwellings.”

Other news

• Impending demolition

The house at 1411 Martin Luther King Blvd. will be demolished soon. Last year, town staff evaluated the building’s integrity and deemed it unfit for human habitation and in violation of the town’s housing ordinance.

A complaint notice was served upon the building’s owner in December. In January, 2021, the notice was published in the News + Record. Following an administrative hearing later that month, town staff filed a notice of lis pendens, or formal notice.

On Monday, the board of commissioners approved a demolition ordinance for the property and committed to hiring KBS Earthworks to perform demolition within five days of notice, weather pending.

• Calls to commemorate Black-owned businesses

Commissioner Tony Siler asked the board’s permission to introduce Donald Matthews, a member of the public, to discuss the idea of a town-sponsored commemoration of historically Black-owned businesses in Siler City.

“I don’t know how many of you are aware of this,” Matthews said, “but there used to be Black-owned businesses in downtown Siler City.”

The stores included a jewelry store, a shoe store, a TV repair shop and a cafe according to Matthews.

“These businesses ran for several years during the segregation period,” he said, “It was really the only place downtown that we had available to us. Subsequently what has happened over the years during my research, I find that that particular set of buildings was not included in the registry when some of these buildings were designated historical.”

Matthews, therefore, proposed a “plan to honor those business owners and that particular district” with a mural to be painted on one side of the formerly Black-owned building and a complementary Juneteenth celebration commemorating the contributions of Black Siler City residents to the town’s history.

“When we do things in this city, we have to be inclusive,” he said.

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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