Zoning approved for new antique mall near GE

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Zoning has been approved that would allow for a new antique mall in Salem, on Rt. 419, Electric Road, near the GE plant.

Willow Tree Antiques & Primitives owner Dustin Clark said he hopes the relocated business in what is now a vacant building can open sometime between Sept. 1 and Oct. 1.

Monday night Salem City Council unanimously approved mixed use zoning for an unused building and acreage originally built in 1960 for J.M. Turner Construction offices.

Charlie Logan and J.L. Phillips, speaking on behalf of LMP Investments LLC which has been marketing the building and property, said it had been hard to interest businesses in locating at 515 Electric Rd because of 5,000 square feet split among a 2 story brick building on 1.002 acres and the remainder of the 2.5 acres of property with two one-story block buildings.

Willow Tree owner Clark told the four council members present that the smaller rooms would be what his consignment vendors are looking for, who want to set up their displays in what looks like a room, an actual space. His business is currently located on Buck Mountain Road in Roanoke, near Clearbrook Elementary School.

Clark, who is 38, emphasized he and his wife Tracy, who was at the public hearing with him but did not speak, and their young family live in Salem and he wanted to be closer to home.

“I’m looking to stay here long term,” he said. “This building has been one of the best things I have seen in the area.”

The entire Salem property is currently zoned Heavy Manufacturing. Petitioners asked for the front 1.002 acres and building to be rezoned HBD, Highway Business District and the rest HM. Jim Phillips said they had shown the property “to multiple people. That is why the building is sitting vacant. I hate to see it deteriorate, and it will.” Only 3,330 square feet is suitable for manufacturing out of the 5,000 square feet of office building space, with one electric service to the entire building.

“I kind of feel like heavy manufacturing has passed us by,” Logan said. The asked-for zoning would match HBD across Electric Road, he pointed out. The original use for the property Logan and his partners are promoting was office, he said.

Clark said another reason he is interested in relocating Willow Tree Antiques there is “It would be a one-stop shop off the Interstate, coming straight off I-81.” He said antique shoppers such as himself like to get off the interstate, buy, and go on to the next location.

Earlier in the discussion, Clark mentioned his father had a business in Elliston, and his grandfather had an unfinished furniture store when he was a boy. He said his son knows how to sand furniture to refinish it. We’ve got to teach people how to redo, and to take care of older things…we have vendors who can tell customers how to refinish. A lot of the stuff is just not taught anymore.” He has videos showing techniques.

Council voted to approve the zoning request on first reading, even though the Salem Planning Commission had recommended against it. The reason, Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess explained, was that traditionally cities had shied away from mixed-use zoning. He added that the Planning Commission’s role is to look at the technical side, which is what members had done.

“Council’s role is to look at what is overall best for the city.”

Salem Vice Mayor Jane Johnson, who served on the Planning Commission in the past, said she understood why commissioners did what they did, but felt comfortable making the motion for approval.

“I would feel very comfortable to approve this on first reading,” she said. The zoning ordinance amendment has to come back for a second vote by Council at the first meeting in August.

Councilman James Martin seconded the motion, saying, “I think this is a forward-looking way to look at this.”

Martin told him, “I can sense your passion for this. I think this is something we can explore, the zoning issue.”

Clark told Council his business’ sales were $365,000 last year.

In answer to a question from Martin, Salem Council Attorney Steve Yost told Council should the property need to go back to Heavy Manufacturing, it would be a relatively easy process. In his letter to Council concerning the property, LMP Investments’ Phillips noted that “If the opportunity arose to sell the entire tract to an HD user it would be beneficial to all parties to revert the entire tract to HD.”

The vote was 4-0, with Councilman Bill Jones absent due to a family vacation.