City looks to urbanize codes

Jul. 27, 2014 @ 07:27 PM

Appearances may not be everything, but they play a big role in the first impression people have of a city.

Sanford Mayor Chet Mann wants to make sure Sanford gives a good first impression to visitors and potential businesses and residents. To do that, he believes the city needs to make an effort to update many of its ordinances and codes.

"What I recognized early on is that we have to make a shift in order to provide the kind of amenities people want," Mann said. "[I'm talking about the] transformation from a rural community with rural codes to a more urban community with more urban codes."

The Sanford City Council took the first step in urbanizing city codes by approving a nuisance abatement ordinance that allows the city more leeway in dealing with things like junk in yards and overgrown lawns.

But that is just the beginning, according to Mann. He has divided goals into short-term priorities, like revamping the city's residential parking codes, and long-term priorities, like cleaning up Sanford's corridors and commercial sectors.

"Cities like Wilson, Salisbury, they have put in parking ordinances," Mann said. "We don't currently have anything on the books to address that."

Councilman Jimmy Haire is also concerned with what he considers lax parking ordinances in Sanford.

"If you've got a car parked in your driveway that doesn't have plates and doesn't have insurance on it, the code says you've got to have it covered up with a tarp," Haire said. "But it doesn't say how long that tarp can stay there. It could be 20 years until it just rusts away. There should be a limit at the very least."

Mann said the city only gets one chance to make a first impression, and that a good first impression is imperative to attracting a more urban tax base to the city.

"If we have seven or eight cars in a driveway built for two," Mann said, "if we have buildings that are falling apart and are dilapidated in our main corridors, then what first impression are we making? If we allow the grass to grow knee-high, then what does that look like?"

Infilling is another major component of Mann's plan for Sanford. Infilling involves directing sewer, water and other infrastructure to areas where the city wants development to occur. Mann said that, in the past, the infrastructure followed development.

"Sanford is the least dense community in North Carolina," Mann said. "What we want to do with our growth and our codes in Sanford is to begin to master plan in targeted areas. We'll begin to lead infrastructure to areas like Deep River, where we want to draw and create the growth."

Mann said updating city ordinances and carrying out the master plan will be a gradual process. He does not want to shock citizens, but he believes the process needs to start now.

"If we want to develop a quality of place," Mann said, "if we want to have this sense of community pride, if we want job creation, then we've really got to start master planning. You can't master plan if you don't update and modernize your ordinances. Thus, we're embarking on a corridor clean up and an overhaul of ordinances one at a time."

Mann said the city council will hold a number of public hearings throughout the process to get public input, and that he had heard nothing but support so far.

"At the end of the day," he said, "the community just voted for a $15 million downtown streetscaping bond package. Businesses want a jump-start. Downtown wants to attract more visitors. Retail wants more sales. But if you don't expect your community to have a higher standard, you won't get it."

Downtown Development Manager David Montgomery of Sanford's Planning and Community Development Department said the streetscaping is in the planning stage, and that the department hopes to start work next spring.

"Looking at sometime next year, basically what we'll be doing is putting all the utilities underground, adding brick-banded sidewalks, period lighting and urban friendly trees and softening up our intersections with curb extensions," Montgomery said. "It's definitely going to make a very visual impact on downtown and the way that we encourage pedestrian use."

Haire said he was used to things happening fast, but that government doesn't always work that way.

"It's a slow process," he said. "But if you want your town to look good, you've got to enforce these codes. We're trying to put a little muscle behind some of these codes. We've got to do something."