Conover business ban plan fails

Conover failed to approve amendments this week that would have banned new churches, funeral homes, non-profits and other non-commercial businesses from locating in its central downtown district.

Conover City Council members voted 3-3 on the proposed amendment changes.
The proposed text amendments to the city’s Zoning Ordinance would have tweaked the permitted uses in Conover’s B-3 Central Business District.

If approved, the amendments would have banned future churches, funeral homes, libraries, nursing homes, charitable organizations and public parks and playgrounds from the 27-acre downtown district.

Council members Jan Herman, Joie Fulbright and Kyle Hayman all voted for the proposed changes. Councilmen Don Beal, Bruce Eckard and Conover Mayor Lee Moritz all voted against the amendments.

Conover mayors have full voting rights. A proposal fails in a result of a tie.

“I can’t ban a church or non-profit organization that does so many things for the needy. That doesn’t sit well with me,” said Beal, who voted against the changes. “Just because they don’t bring in revenue, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t bring in foot traffic. It’s not always about the money. It’s about the quality of life and the need for non-profits. A lot of churches start up in small towns, rent buildings, get started and then get bigger churches. It’s not always about commerce. It’s also about quality of life and need.”

The proposed text amendments came from the city's planning board after several requests from city council members, including Fulbright.
Fulbright, who voted in favor of the changes, said he was approached by business owners in the downtown district, who wanted to see an “all-business area.”

“I’m a public servant and this is what the public spoke as far as wanting it,” Fulbright said. “It was a good business decision also. Our downtown is growing and we only have two empty buildings right now, and one is being worked on. We’d like to keep to keep the district all business.”

Fulbright and several other council members asked the planning department to look at Conover’s downtown uses that are non-commercial or uses that result in an empty building a majority of the time, said Conover Planning Director Lance Hight.  

The planning department identified several uses that don’t fit into specific wording from its Zoning Ordinance regarding the B-3 district, which states the district is “established for those uses which normally require a central location and which provide merchandise and services to be used by the entire city and its environs.”

“Though it generates people, it’s not commercial,” Hight said. “A church, for example, is one that is typically open one or two days a week at most and results in no business. We took those uses and brought them what they had asked for.”

Two churches and a Masonic lodge exist within the district currently, but Hight said the proposed amendments would not have impacted those organizations.

Moritz said he voted against the change for personal reasons.
“My church — First Methodist in Conover — started in the B-3 district and originally met in the basement of City Hall back in the late (1950s),” he said.

He said councilmen on both sides of the issue brought up legitimate points.

“I’m proud of our council. I thought we had a very transparent and professional dialogue about it and was proud of the way it sorted out and moved on,” he said.

Hayman voted for the changes based on wording from the ordinance, which reserves the downtown district for a “tightly knit core of commercial activity.”

“The reason I voted for the change is because I did feel that some of the permitted uses did not fall into the definition of the B-3 district. That was it in a nutshell,” he said. “There are certain things in the B-3 district that I did not see as commercial activity or providing merchandise to be used by the citizen.”

Though the issue failed Monday night, it can be brought up in future meetings.

Fulbright owns Conover Auto Sales, which is one of the first buildings in the downtown district. He said he hopes to bring the changes back to council again.