Clayton’s embattled special-use districts, or SUDs, will likely survive, based on a recommendation by the town’s planning department.
Business owners have complained that the “special use” designation overly complicates their ability to replace departing tenants, because the designation requires a lengthy review process.
Earlier this month, the planning staff looked into exactly how special-use districts were causing problems. The answer, not that many are.
Since last fall, Clayton has removed the special-use label from three properties: two shopping centers and one mix of vacant and standalone businesses. In each case, the owner said the designation scared away potential tenants. Any time a new tenant wanted to move in, if its business was different than the one before it, town rules required a three-month review and a decision from the Clayton Town Council.
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Earlier this month, after the latest rezoning request, Town Manager Steve Biggs questioned whether it might be better to do a large-scale rezoning of any remaining properties seeing similar difficulties. The conclusion from town planner Jay McLeod is no.
“The planning department’s recommendation is to take them on a case-by-case basis, since there’s such a variety,” McLeod said.
Special-use districts are incredibly rare, representing less than 1 percent of all town land, McLeod said. Notable properties include the Walmart shopping center and the Caterpillar research and design campus. The rest are small parcels scattered around town and represent everything from a vacant industrial piece of land in the middle of a neighborhood to a church parking lot downtown.
“There’s not much commonality,” McLeod said.
The districts themselves are intended to protect surrounding properties from inconsistent uses, so that one new use doesn’t change the rest of the land.
Councilman Michael Grannis questioned the significance of the burden the districts really placed on business owners. McLeod said significance is usually subjective.
“It’s kind of like beauty, right?” McLeod said. ““Significance depends on who’s the one determining the significance.”
Among the remaining special-use districts is an L-shaped shopping center in the Walmart complex. Councilman Art Holder said those storefronts often sit empty and that the town should do what it can to see them filled.
“If we can change something and see those rented, we should,” Holder said.
McLeod suggested mailing letters to relevant property owners alerting the, to the possibility of a rezoning. For the rest, the majority, he said changing the districts wouldn’t change much.
“For most, it’s not going to change much about how the property is used; Caterpillar will always be Caterpillar,” McLeod said.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson