Some shopping center owners in Clayton say a zoning designation is scaring away tenants.
For the second time in three months, a property owner is asking the Clayton Town Council to remove the “special-use district” from his shopping center, saying the zoning designation makes it hard to fill vacant storefronts.
The owner of the Carolina Park building in the Walmart shopping center is seeking a zoning change from highway business as a special-use district to highway business only.
In zoning, the special-use designation allows a town to say yes or no whenever one business leaves and another wants to move in In Clayton, that means a 90-day review process and then a vote by the Town Council.
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Last week, Clayton planner Jay McLeod told the Town Council that shopping center owners say the lengthy review process is a hindrance to filling empty storefronts quickly.
“Any time there’s an added use in the shopping, even if that use is allowed in traditional highway zoning, it’s required to come to the Town Council for approval,” McLeod said. “It’s proved problematic for getting new tenants.”
Last fall, the Town Council removed the special-use label from the Grand Plaza shopping center., which is home to Adam & Eve and other stores. Like Walmart, that shopping center is on U.S. 70 business.
The council seemed sympathetic to the request from Carolina Park.
“We want to do everything we can to be more business friendly,” Mayor Jody McLeod said.
Planning director David DeYoung said special-use districts exist to protect neighboring properties, often homes and farms when a business wants to open nearby. In rural Johnston, County Commissioners often place the special-use tag on a business use. Commissioners, for example, might be OK with a car-repair shop along a rural stretch of road. But they want to have a say when the repair shop closes and a junkyard wants to move in.
“The special-use classification exists when a particular use may not be compatible with surrounding land uses,” DeYoung said. “Before these commercial shopping districts were established, the council was concerned some uses wouldn’t be compatible with the surrounding areas.”
In Clayton today, DeYoung said, the special-use label for shopping centers was unlikely necessary and did make it harder for centers to fill vacancies.
“These are well established commercial districts, and frankly, it is a hardship when a bay becomes vacant to have to go through a 90-day process,” DeYoung said.
“If you were a business looking for a place to open up, you find one and they say it’s going to take three months for you to open and another where you can open up in a couple weeks, which one do you think you’d choose? Losing potential tenants because of the long process is effectively punishing the shopping centers.”
Councilman Butch Lawter asked if the council was likely to see a rush of shopping centers owners looking to remove the special-use tag. McLeod, the planner, said the requests are usually on a case-by-case basis.
“It usually comes up when it becomes a problem,” he said.
DeYoung said he wasn’t looking for wholesale removal of special-use districts, and he stood by the effectiveness of the special-use process.
“I want it to remain in effect,” he said. “This is not a blanket thing where the town is going to start changing the zoning in these areas. I don’t think it’s a relic or antiquated use. There are areas where it’s appropriate.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdjackson