Thoughts for “THE SEASON” by Dan Phillips

“THE SEASON”

By Dan Phillips

 

As you come back to Town to live and play for the season, we hope that you appreciate being kept up to date with what is going on in town.

The last thing you want to do is get involved in the political issues in BR, you are only here for a short time.

I know that you enjoy low Taxes, safety, great schools and property values.

We are fortunate that the BRCA (Blowing Rock Civic Association) is willing to go out front and deal with local challenges to make sure that people in Town government and organizations such as (Chamber and TDA) are held accountable.

They are catching a lot of unwarranted criticism.

This is not only hard work; it is very frustrating, and some cases sitting through hours of meetings (sometimes up to 5 hours) that are truly hard to understand the reasoning and decisions.

If you want to see what the BRCA is dealing with, go to Facebook and look at the clips people have posted about the last council meeting.

Please be careful of the rumor mill, no matter if it is verbal or written. These are always one person’s opinion. Including mine.

A perfect example is the current proposed Project for the Rainey Lodge at 221 and Morning Side Drive. This building will be close to 6 stories high from 221. It will overpower that road and neighborhood.

Just bring it within code and I feel more people will support it.

One of the commissioners was excused from voting based on talking with a DOT representative to find out basic information about traffic to make a good decision.

This person was elected to make decisions for the Town. This is wrong.

If we wanted to excuse others it would not be difficult to do. For example, how many council members have met with this Developer to discuss this project?

Get ready folks, very soon this in the hands of Lawyers. God help us.

Small Town politics can smell just as bad as Statewide or Nationally.

Most of the council members are good people that care enough to give of their time to serve.

Newly elected members have a steep learning curve.

That means that they must learn from their mistakes. (At our expense)

We can afford to say NO to tall Buildings. We need to stick with no higher than2-3 stories.

The way you keep something special is you limit the amount of it.

There are folks saying that a Higher Tide Floats more boats.

Personally, I feel you can only have some many boats the congestion alone will kill the sweet village character.

Runaway unchecked development has serious consequences.

We are just around the corner from becoming Gatlinburg.

The BRCA needs your support with your talents as well as funds.  If you can register to vote, you need to do it.  100 new voters can change the outcome of elections.

We need your help to keep this place special.

 

Disclaimer:  I need to remind readers that my blog contains my opinions and doesn’t reflect the opinions of any organizations or individuals that I might be affiliated with.

 

 

Watauga Democrat’s Review of the Town Council Meeting May 14, 2019 by Thomas Sherrill

Rainey Lodge public hearing finishes, council decision set for June 11
By Thomas Sherrill thomas.sherrill@wataugademocrat.com
May 15, 2019

BLOWING ROCK — After a combined 10 hours split between two meetings and a forced recusal of a council member, the quasi-judicial public hearing for the proposed Rainey Lodge hotel ended on May 14, but the Blowing Rock Town Council will decide the fate of the project at its next monthly meeting on June 11.

The project, developed by Grand Dakota Development — a limited liability corporation owned and operated by Stephen Barker, who also owns the tract of land — would construct a 40-room hotel on a 0.905-acre plot of commercially zoned land between Morningside Drive, Rainey Street and U.S. 221 in downtown Blowing Rock.

Rainey Lodge has faced opposition from a group of neighbors, who hired Stacy “Four” Eggers IV of Eggers Law Firm of Boone to contest the project as an intervening party. The group contends the project would diminish the value of their properties, cause additional traffic on residential roads and result in noise pollution due to a planned bar, outside seating and guest-room balconies.

The quasi-judicial public hearing starting at the April 9 town council meeting, lasting roughly five hours before being put on hold due to time.

At the resumption of the hearing on May 14, Chelsea Garrett of di Santi, Watson, Capua, Wilson & Garrett law firm in Boone, who is representing Grand Dakota Development, asked that Councilwoman Sue Sweeting be recused from the hearing due to an email she sent March 26 to N.C. Department of Transportation Engineer Mike Pettyjohn asking about traffic impact studies of the area, a point of legal contention on April 9.

Town Manager Jim Freeman said he advised council members of the rules before the March 21 Blowing Rock Planning Board meeting, which Sweeting attended. Per the rules of the quasi-judicial public hearings in Blowing Rock, council members act as a trial jury and may not solicit and receive input about the case outside of the public hearing. Council members told the public at the onset of the hearing on April 9 that they couldn’t talk about the case and couldn’t even read emails sent to them about it.

Sweeting denied Garrett’s request to recuse herself.

“I would have recused myself if I truly believed I did something wrong,” Sweeting said. “I have no fixed opinion on this. I trust my ability to be impartial.”

Garrett then asked the remaining council members to vote on recusing Sweeting from the hearing, per town code, which they did in a 3-1 vote. Council members Virginia Powell, Doug Matheson and Jim Steele voted in favor of recusal while Mayor Pro-Tem Albert Yount voted against Sweeting’s recusal.

“This is the hardest decision in my 10-year tenure,” Matheson said prior to the vote. “I hate that factors have put us against each other … a mistake was made and we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”

“I believe that Sue is a good councilperson with integrity,” Steele said prior to the recusal vote. “She made a mistake … this is important for everyone here.”

Sweeting will not be able to vote for or against the Rainey Lodge application on June 11.

After a lengthy back-and-forth discussion, council voted unanimously to reject Mary Shkut, an independent contractor and current village council member from Marvin, located in Union County, as an expert witness.

Shkut said she was hired in February by local activist nonprofit Blowing Rock Civic Association to provide feedback on the town’s code as it relates to zoning and ordinances. Shkut said she was later asked to provide feedback on the Rainey Lodge proposal.

In her closing statement later in the meeting, Garrett criticized the BRCA, saying they are well meaning, but have acted behind the scenes pulling strings and trying to impose their will on the council without directly getting involved. BRCA member Dan Phillips posted a blog on the association’s website on May 8, saying that the BRCA knows how to protect the town from developers while contending the organization is not against every proposed development.

Despite not being approved as an expert witness, Eggers was able to ask Shkut a question as a witness. Shkut said that in her opinion, the Rainey Lodge plan is not compatible with the residential neighborhood and said there was “a lot of lacking” in the application.

Powell protested that allowing Shkut to speak was “a waste of time,” wanting witnesses such as neighbors and residents to speak instead. Town attorney Allen Moseley allowed Eggers to ask Shkut questions, telling Powell that that they didn’t want to go through an appeal process.

The council also unanimously refused to admit Shkut’s written analysis into evidence as an exhibit.

Blowing Rock Planning Director Kevin Rothrock was called by Garrett, continuing where the April 9 meeting left off. Garrett asked Rothrock specifically about the application and whether it fit town code, to which Rothrock said it did in his determination.

Eggers requestioned Rothrock about his authority compared to the council’s. Rothrock said he is called upon to interpret the ordinance and in this case, would not provide a recommendation for council.

Newland-based real estate broker and appraiser Michael Lacey gave expert testimony for Eggers that there would be a substantial negative financial impact on the adjoining residential properties. Lacey said that even if Eggers wasn’t paying him as an expert witness, he would reach the same conclusions based on his findings. Garrett contended that Lacey, not having any numbers to support his thoughts, devalued his testimony.

Becky Browning, who lives on Rainey Street, said she doesn’t feel like the proposed development would lead to more cars on residential roads and people going right on Rainey.

Mark Crumpler said there would be more traffic on Morningside Drive trying to turn onto U.S. 221, plus he had concerns about food and beverage trucks going into the hotel lot.

Morningside Drive resident Lynda Lasseter said there would be damage to the neighborhood roads and that the hotel would be “out of place.” Marshall Sealey said the examples of boutique hotels for the town that are in the Comprehensive Plan are nothing like the Rainey Lodge proposal.

In his closing argument, Eggers asked the council what they wanted the community to look like.

“This project will set the standard for what Blowing Rock will look like,” Eggers said. “The roof sits six stories above (U.S.) 221; does that promote the reputation of Blowing Rock being the prettiest town in North Carolina?”

Eggers said the applicant did not meet the standard as required by town code for approval.

Garrett asked that the council review the record and said that it’s substantial and competent. Garrett said there’s been statements of support sent to the council and brought up that it was unanimously approved by the town’s planning board.

“The project complies, the application is complete, it will actually improve safety based on the testimony of a traffic expert,’ Garrett said. “Everything the way (Rainey Lodge) was designed was done for Blowing Rock.”

In other council matters, Blowing Rock Mayor Charlie Sellers thanked Jim Freeman for his service as interim town manager. Freeman’s last day is June 2 before new town manager Shane Fox takes over.

 

 

Blowing Rock Civic Association’s Response to Town Council Meeting May 14, 2019

Subject: Public Hearing on Proposed Rainey Lodge 40 Room Hotel & Restaurant in Downtown Blowing Rock Completed – Tipping Point

Blowing Rock Friends,

Tipping Point – Division versus Unity

This public hearing was a tipping point for Blowing Rock creating division rather than unity to protect our shared concerns for the future of our community, especially our historic downtown that is our leading economic development asset.   The issues raised during the hearing are not whether the community would benefit from a new hotel, but the polarization created by the developer friendly CUP process which didn’t allow for a full consideration of how the developer, the community, and council could work together for the best outcomes.

Unusual Actions – Attack on Council and Community

At the resumption of the public hearing on a permit for a 40 room hotel with restaurant, bar and patio service, the developer’s attorney, Chelsea Garrett, demanded that the Council vote to recuse Council Member Sue Sweetiing from the proceeding alleging that she had a bias against the project.  Council Member Sweeting adamantly stated she had no bias and could objectively consider the project.  Nonetheless, the Council voted to remove Council Member Sue Sweeting from participating in the Council’s decision on the project.  The pretext used by the developer’s attorney was Sweeting’s communication with the NCDOT to understand the NCDOT requirements for a project located on this site.  Attorney Four Eggers, who is representing a group of Morningside and Rainey residential neighbors in this process, raised strong objection to Sweeting’s removal citing laws governing recusals and objecting to the lack of opportunity to be heard on this issue.

Shortly thereafter Council was asked by the developer’s attorney to vote to exclude testimony from an expert witness who had done an extensive and documented study of the Rainey Lodge project finding that it failed to meet town codes in a number of ways. Blowing Rock Civic Association (BRCA) decided to hire a planning expert earlier this year to assist the board with understanding the Land Use Code and later to review this project. Her initial report was presented to the Planning Board when the board approved the project, but the Planning Board and action by the Council did not take advantage of the information.  BRCA also made her report available to the attorney for the Morningside & Rainey neighbors.  Why the Town Council wouldn’t even agree to listen to the concerns of this expert witness is a question that leads to some troubling conclusions.

 

 

 

In closing remarks, the developer’s attorney attacked BRCA for “pulling strings from behind the scenes” as a means to somehow discredit the legal challenge mounted by the neighbors.  Ordinary citizens are not normally organized and do not have the experience or individual resources to hire professionals to represent their interests. BRCA assisted the neighbors in a process that requires legal assistance and experts so that they could represent their interest against a well-funded developer and assure all facts were presented.

Goal of Blowing Rock Civic Association – Facts not Endorsement or Opposition

Blowing Rock Civic Association neither endorses nor opposes this or any project, but rather is committed to making sure all of the facts are available to the community and Council to use in making their decisions. Expert testimony to uncover all facts is critically important in the very developer friendly conditional use permit process that excludes citizen opinions.

BRCA’s Development Evaluation Committee issued positive reports on the 1150 Main Street project commencing in downtown on Main Street and Pine Street, The Inn on Cornish nearing completion on Blowing Rock Highway (221), and the Chestnut at Blowing Rock condominiums nearing completion at the old hospital site.  All variances were declared and on the table for review and approval by the Council.

Project Compliance – Form over Substance

While the developer has claimed from the beginning that the application totally meets the town code, the developer has amended the details of the project throughout the CUP hearing process to try and correct deficiencies raised by citizens.   The Planning Director has always supported the developer’s claim of compliance throughout the process, but the Council is responsible for the final decision based on the facts presented.   The developer hopes the Council will ignore or ‘interpret’ away non-compliance.  The developer’s attorney challenged all opposing facts presented by the neighbors and the community.

Members of the public including neighbors, citizens and a hotel owner cited concerns about the project. No one from the community spoke in favor of the project. The attorney for the neighbors presented evidence to support a conclusion that the developer did not meet the burden of proof required by the Findings of Fact.  The major facts that raise objections to this project are:

1.      The project does not comply with town code requiring 75% greenspace in the front of the building and all that parking be at the sides or back of the building.  The developer claims the primary entrance and lobby entrance (or front) is on Morningside Drive to gain the maximum height allowed with the setback, but not for the greenspace requirement which was used for parking rather than greenspace. This condition is clear in the Land Use Code and is not subject to interpretation and should have been declared as a variance when the application was submitted to the Planning Board.

2.      The market values of the surrounding homes will be negatively impacted by a large commercial building with this use and hours of operation.

3.      The project greatly exceeds the 24% maximum impervious surface requirement of town code.

4.      The project fails to adequately provide for fire trucks and tractor trailer delivery trucks to operate safely within the development and on to neighborhood streets that will be used for ingress and egress.

5.      The development fails to provide parking spaces that meet the code’s minimum design requirements.

6.      The overall height from the sidewalk on 221 is approximately 60 feet or 6 stories. The code requires that structures do not impede the scenic views of the natural environment.

 

The Council should not be intimidated by the legal risks threatened by the developer’s attorney as the code is clear:

 

The burden of establishing these findings of fact shall lie upon the applicant. In addressing the issue of compatibility, the applicant must demonstrate compatibility with the particular neighborhood in which the development or use is to be located. The fact that a use is authorized as a conditional use within a zoning district classification shall not give rise to a presumption that such conditional use is compatible with other uses authorized in the zoning district classification.

Next Steps – Improve the Process

The current CUP process is developer friendly, stacked against the citizens and restricts the judgment of the Town Council. This quasi-judicial process is essentially a trial that pits the developer against the community and puts a gag-order on the members of the Council.  Improvements are needed to achieve these key goals:

1.      Improve the checks and balances around review of project compliance by requiring a detailed compliance checklist to document conclusions and a second review by the Town Manager before presentation to the Planning Board;

2.      Replace or amend the CUP ordinances for downtown projects to allow property owners standing in the hearing process since our downtown, especially Main Street, affects the property values of all property owners;

3.      Make clear that the Town Council, rather than zoning staff, have the final word on what the ordinance they adopted actually means; and

4.      Establish a formal policy  for the Town Council, Planning Board, Board of Adjustment, and the Town Planning Staff to attend educational seminars offered through the North Carolina School of Government on these types of hearings so they are comfortable hearing from the citizens on these types of projects

 

Gigi Poole’s Town Council Meeting Comments May 14, 2019

My name is Gigi Poole and I live at 147 Dogwood Lane, Blowing Rock.  I was not here for the previous meeting, but tonight I have gotten to see the Interveners, but I don’t know who the Applicants are?  Oh, Mr. Barker and his attorney, Ms. Garrett.  And this is the same applicant who came to the Council several months ago asking to build condominiums on the property?  This was voted down, so they have come back now with an attorney to ask for a 40 room hotel to be built.  So, my question is, what is everyone here’s motivation, or vested interest, in the project.

My motivation, and I believe the motivation of most of the people/property owners in this room is to ensure that we maintain the character and beauty of our town.

So what is the motivation of the Applicant?  Since the applicant has now changed what he wants built on his property, it is apparent that he is just interested in money.  He bought this piece of property to make money and that is what he wants.  He may have paid alot or just a little for it, but he wants his money out of it.

Now, we come to our Town Council, what is their/its motivation?  Well, I hope it would be the same as the people in this room, but we know that they are called to a specific charge to vote according to the Findings of Fact, that is displayed on the wall behind me.  These Findings of Fact require that the Council not approve the project unless EACH of the 5 items is met.  It does not say OR; it says EACH.  That is an important distinction.  And I ask that they carefully consider this as they vote.

Thank you for allowing me to speak.

 

 

Lynda’s Lasseter’s Comments on Rainey Lodge at Town Council Meeting May 14, 2019

 

BR Town Council Speech May 14, 2019, by Lynda Lasseter (not verbatim as delivered)

 

My name is Lynda Lasseter.  My husband and I live at 559 Morningside Drive 6 months of the year.  Our home has been in my family for 45 years.  Our home is not a vacation home; it is our second home.

First, a few questions:

How do you know that this proposal isn’t a sham and that the developer’s ultimate aim isn’t to convert the rooms into condo units, as he had previously proposed?

Is there any guarantee that the developer will not run out of money in the middle of construction?

Has a determination been made of whether firetrucks could get positioned to adequately fight fire at the property, or would it be in danger of burning down as did the Best Cellar?

There are several points I want to make:

First, this developer is attempting to skirt the building codes by claiming that the front of the building would be on Morningside Drive.  Clearly, the de facto front of the building faces US221.  Surely the only effective signage would face 221, not Morningside Drive.  And if the loading dock is at the back of the hotel, and the loading dock is on Rainny Street, then the front of the hotel must be on 221 !  And I don’t see signage on this scale model .  Surely the signage will be on 221.  It’s hard to imagine the hotel’s being advertised to cars passing on Mornigside Drive !  So I would argue that the limit on the building height must be determined starting from the elevation of 221.

Second, I don’t believe the commercial trucks can safely navigate the turn from Morningside Drive onto Rainey Street to make deliveries.

Third, damage to the roadways is a certainty.  Already, at the top end of the circle that Morningside Drive makes, construction vehicles have broken off the edge of the road, and trucks keep driving off the road into the drainage ditch.  You yourselves have like seen this happen on the other local streets.

Fourth, I understand that drivers leaving the hotel parking lot would be directed onto Morningside Drive toward 221.  Many of them would want to turn left onto 221; but during  peak traffic hours, that would be problematic because of the well-known backup of traffic on 221.  Once drivers realize this, they will leave the property using other routes, which means ignoring signs saying that only left turns are allowed.  Drivers will then use residential neighborhood streets.  “No right turn” instructions will not be enforceable, and so Sophocles wisely said, “What you cannot enforce, do not command.”

Finally, the project is incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood.  The proposed development is bordered on 2 sides by single family homes.  The visual impact will leave folks with the impression that it looks out of place, particularly given it’s proximity to the  historic district.  And if it does not fit…It has to git !!

I would ask those who are present and who are opposed to this project to please stand.

Thank you.

RUMORS FROM UNDER THE ROCK

Rumors FROM UNDER THE ROCK!

By Dan Phillips

It’s always fascinating to see what kind of information will sneak out from under a rock.

There is a Rumor circulating in Town concerning the Blowing Rock Civic Association.

It is FAKE NEWS!

The BRCA has not had its Computer Server, (located in George and Betsy’s Garage) hacked by the Russians.

NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION!!!

The thoughts I will share, come from Serving a 4-year sentence on the Town Council, as well as being a merchant and homeowner.

The Leadership of the Town is being asked regularly by Developers and individuals to change Town Codes.

The developers have plenty of patience and money.

The current CUP (Conditional Use Permit) is a way to make changes to our Town Codes that may not be good for the Town.

We all have seen what Developers have done to or for communities.

This is where the BRCA comes into the picture.

The Real Rumor is that the BRCA is against everything being proposed in Town.

Not True!

Please be careful what you read or hear.

In my opinion they have done a great job of looking out for the Village.

The BRCA and its Board know what is happening in Town and know how to help us protect the Village.

If you want to know the details, don’t hesitate to ask.

As a Merchant our customers are worried about where the Town is headed.

Without the BRCA I would be a lot more worried.

Now the rumors can go back under the Rock.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR CONCERNING RAINEY LODGE

Letter to the Editor 6/6/2019

Subject:  Very Important Decision on Downtown Blowing Rock Development Next Tuesday Night  5/14/2019

Dear Editor:

A 40 room hotel with restaurant and bar has been proposed for downtown Blowing Rock by a Charlotte developer who previously has developed a Ramada Inn in Dickinson, North Dakota. The proposed hotel, if approved by Blowing Rock Council, will be located on a less than one acre property back of the Speckled Trout restaurant.  This is a major decision for Blowing Rock. The following are facts concerning this project:

1.       The building would reach a height of 60 feet or six stories above Highway 221. The hotel would therefore be a very visible landmark in downtown standing much higher than other downtown buildings.

2.       A question by Council member Virginia Powell at the initial hearing on this project revealed that the developer’s plan that was presented as meeting all town codes does not meet town green space requirements for the area from the street to the building entrance. It was further revealed at the hearing that some of the parking places presented by the developer do not meet the size requirements of town code.

3.       A traffic study was presented by the developer that was done in November of 2018 in an attempt to show that the hotel with its 40 rooms, 1750 square feet restaurant and bar and 36 seats patio space would have little impact on neighborhood or town traffic either daily or from special events held at the hotel.

4.       The developer plans to have 53 onsite parking places in the development.

5.       The developer stated that estimated room rates for the proposed hotel have not yet been determined.

We urge all interested Blowing Rock citizens to attend next Tuesday’s important council meeting starting at 6:00 P.M. at Town Hall. A hearing on this major matter will resume at Tuesday’s meeting.  Any citizen can speak at this hearing after which council will vote to approve or deny the request for a permit for this development.

Sincerely,

William H. Carter – Blowing Rock Civic Association

 

BLOWING ROCK HAS A NEW TOWN MANAGER

April 26, 2019

BLOWING ROCK COUNCIL CHOOSES SHANE FOX TO BE NEW TOWN MANAGER

The Town of Blowing Rock has chosen Cleveland County Assistant Manager and Chief Financial Officer Shane Fox to be Town Manager starting June 3, 2019.  Fox, a native of Granite Falls and a former Executive Director of the High Country Council of Governments,  spent fifteen years in public accounting after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in accounting  from Appalachian State University. He left public accounting to join the Finance Department of Cleveland County.  The forty year old Fox, his wife Jennifer and three children will be moving from Shelby to Blowing Rock within the next few weeks.  Fox’s starting salary will be $ 100,000/yr. He replaces Interim Manager Jim Freeman who will continue to consult with Fox over the next several months.

George Wilcox

Blowing Rock Civic Association

Proposed Rainey Lodge Hotel Project – Public Hearing will Resume on May 14th. @ 6:00 P.M.

All – A lengthy public hearing on the subject 40 room hotel in downtown Blowing Rock was suspended after 11:00 P.M. last night by the town council. Last night’s lengthy hearing primarily involved testimony by the developer and his professionals and by the Town Planning director presenting the proposed project. Part of the council meeting involved a separate but related hearing to qualify Boone attorney Four Eggers to represent several home owners in the neighborhood where the project would be built on a less than an acre property back of The Speckled Trout restaurant. It appeared from facts emerging from the hearing that the proposed project does not meet all requirements of town codes as had been previously claimed. When the hearing resumes citizens and professionals representing neighbors of the proposed project will give presentations. Council will then vote to deny, approve or approve with conditions the requested permit. We urge all citizens to attend this important meeting at Town Hall.

George Wilcox
Blowing Rock Civic Association

BLOWING ROCK PUBLIC HEARING TUESDAY NIGHT

All – The Blowing Rock Town Council will conduct an important public hearing Tuesday night April 9th. at 6:00 P.M. at Town Hall as part of a Conditional Use Permit process to approve, deny or approve with conditions a proposed downtown hotel. YOUR ATTENDANCE AT THIS HEARING IS IMPORTANT IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THIS PROPOSED PROJECT. Important pertinent facts concerning this proposed hotel are:

1. The developer plans for this facility to contain 40 hotel rooms.
2. The developer proposes a restaurant and bar with patio seating at the hotel.
3. The developer proposes 53 parking places on site.
4. The developer proposes THAT THE PRIMARY TRAFFIC ENTRANCE TO THE HOTEL WILL BE FROM MORNINGSIDE DRIVE.
5. The developer proposes THAT A SECONDARY TRAFFIC ENTRANCE TO THE HOTEL WILL BE FROM RAINEY STREET.
6. The hotel building will reach an estimated height of 60 feet above Highway 221 making it very prominent in downtown Blowing Rock.
7. The public will be able to speak on this project under oath because it is a quasi judicial process. Expert evidence is the focus of the process which can include observations about traffic, safety and other relevant matters.

 

See the Blowing Rock Town Website for the Tuesday meeting agenda and Town Land Use Code for more detailed information.