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

 

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

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.

BLOWING ROCK CIVIC ASSOCIATION’S RESPONSE TO RAINEY LODGE HOTEL

Blowing Rock Civic Association, Inc.

PO Box 2471

Blowing Rock, NC 28605

 

April 2, 2019

 

RE Rainey Lodge Conditional Use Permit

 

Honorable Mayor Sellers, Mayor Pro-Tem Yount, Council Members Matheson, Powell, Steele and Sweeting and Town Manager Freeman

We strongly support developments that benefit our residents and business community like the substantial developments that are now underway in Blowing Rock. We do, however, share your concern that every proposed development be carefully studied to assure that it will be, in fact, beneficial to our uniquely charming  town and its residents and taxpayers.

Because of our concern about the community and specifically about our members who live in neighborhoods adjacent to the subject proposed development, the board of Blowing Rock Civic Association engaged the services of a professional planning consultant and attorneys to evaluate and document compliance of the proposed development with the Town’s Land Use Code.

We have attempted to assure that this project and future projects comply with the intent and rules established in the Town’s Land Use Code by:

1.     Communicating to town residents and taxpayers and to their elected representatives all pertinent facts necessary to evaluating any significant project, especially in our historic downtown, and

2.     Recommending improvements in the documentation required by the staff, Planning Board and council to evaluate compliance of proposed projects with the Land Use Code.

This project has the unique challenges of a sharply sloping lot and a location next to an established neighborhood with a number of residents and a very difficult traffic situation.

As you know, Code Section 16-4.10.3 enumerates the Findings of Fact that the applicant has the burden of proof to establish and the Council has a responsibility to specifically evaluate and document substantial evidence that any proposed development meets these requirements:

1.     Maintain or promote public health, safety and general welfare

2.     Comply with the Land Use Code

3.     Is compatible with the particular neighborhood as demonstrated by the applicant

4.     Will not substantially injure the value of adjoining property

5.     Conforms to general plans of the Town as embodied in the Town ordinances and Comprehensive Plan.

 

To assist with your evaluation of the Conditional Use Permit, we recommend that you ask yourselves the following questions:

1.     Has the developer submitted a 100% completed application or are there important details still to be determined?

2.     To maintain or promote public safety has the developer produced compelling evidence during high volume seasonal traffic that the additional traffic generated by cars and delivery trucks will not present a safety hazard on Morningside and Rainey, neighborhood streets that are not suitable for commercial traffic? Has the developer received NCDOT approval of such a traffic study?

3.     Has the developer produced evidence that public safety will not be impaired by the substantial additional traffic generated by his development at the intersections of Morningside and Highway 221 and Rainey and Main St. during high volume seasonal traffic? Has the developer received NCDOT approval of such a traffic study?

4.     To maintain or promote public safety has the developer produced an independent detailed fire and rescue plan for his development during high volume seasonal traffic?

5.     Has the developer produced independent evidence that traffic including delivery trucks and fire trucks can operate safely within the development and surrounding streets?

6.     Has the developer produced independent evidence that the development will be compatible with the neighborhoods surrounding it?

7.     Has the developer, as required by town code, produced an independent study to show that the development will not substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property?

8.     Has the developer submitted sealed final plans for his proposed development? If not, then how do you know what exactly is being approved? Issuing a permit without sealed, completed plans would be like signing a very binding contract without all important details being included.

It will be very difficult for the town to control these important details once the permit is issued.

We request that the Council consider these Findings of Fact and require the applicant to complete their CUP application, identify any variances and resubmit to the Planning Board and Council.

 

Sincerely,

William H. Carter, Vice President

Blowing Rock Civic Association

 

 

 

 

 

REPORT TO MEMBERSHIP OF BLOWING ROCK CIVIC ASSOCIATION’S ACTIVITIES 1/1/2018 TO 3/15/2019

REPORT TO MEMBERSHIP OF BLOWING ROCK CIVIC ASSOCIATION ACTIVITIES 1/1/2018 – 3/15/2019

1.       BRCA NOW HAS OVER 300 MEMBERS INCLUDING TOWN MERCHANTS, HOTEL OWNERS AND MANAGERS, COMMERCIAL PROPERTY OWNERS, HOMEOWNERS, RESIDENTS (FULL TIME AND SEASONAL) AND TAXPAYERS (ALL FULL TIME).

2.       A GREAT DEAL OF THOUGHTFUL HARD WORK BY BRCA BOARD MEMBER TIM GUPTON RESULTED IN THE FIRST BRCA ANNUAL COMMUNICATION AND ACTION PLAN INCLUDING THE FOLLOWING (SEE COMPLETE PLAN ON BRAC WEBSITE  WWW.BRCIVIC.COM

A. PROTECTING OUR NEIGHBORHOOD INFRASTRUCTURE, PROTECTING OUR RESIDENTIAL ECONOMY AND PROTECTING OUR VIBRANT VILLAGE

B. HOMEOWNERS ARE THE CORNERSTONE OF THE BLOWING ROCK ECONOMY PROVIDING 85% OF TOWN PROPERTY TAX REVENUE AND 60% OF TOTAL TOWN REVENUE

C. WORK WITH THE CHAMBER, TDA, LOCAL REAL ESTATE INDUSTRY AND OTHERS TO PROMOTE HOME OWNERSHIP, PRIMARILY SECOND HOME OWNERSHIP, AS THE TOWN’S PRIMARY ECONOMIC ENGINE

D. ENCOURAGE THE USE OF PROFESSIONAL EXPERTS TO ADVISE ON TOWN DEVELOPMENT. THE COUNCIL HAS RECENTLY APPOINTED A COMMITTEE TO EXPLORE THIS POSSIBILITY.

E. ENCOURAGE OUTSOURCING TO ENHANCE AND EXPEDITE IMPROVEMENT OF NEIGHBORHOOD INFRASTRUCTURE

F. ENCOURAGE A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN SELF FUNDED DOWNTOWN PARKING

 

3.       BRCA APPOINTED A DEVELOPMENT EVALUATION COMMITTEE THAT HAS BEEN VERY BUSY OVER THE PAST YEAR. THIS COMMITTEE IS COMPOSED OF THREE ENGINEERS, A COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE PROFESSIONAL, A CONSTRUCTION EXECUTIVE, A RETIRED SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE, A CONSULTING ARCHITECT, A CONSULTING TOWN PLANNER, AND THREE CONSULTING ATTORNEYS. THE MISSION OF THIS COMMITTEE IS TO EVALUATE ALL DEVELOPMENTS PROPOSED FOR BLOWING ROCK AND ANY PROPOSED CHANGES IN LAND USE CODE AND TO OBJECTIVELY REPORT THE PERTINENT FACTS OF THESE MATTERS TO THE PUBLIC. IN THE PAST YEAR THE COMMITTEE ACTIVITY INCLUDED:

A. EVALUATION OF THE MORNINGSIDE 12 CONDO SHORT TERM RENTAL DEVELOPMENT PROPOSED FOR THE .905 ACRE PROPERTY BACK OF THE SPECKLED TROUT. CONCERNS EXPRESSED AT TOWN HEARING ABOUT DENSITY AND SCALE – PROJECT DENIED UNANIMOUSLY BY COUNCIL.

B. EVALUATION OF THE 1150 MAIN ST. PROJECT WITH 6 CONDOS AND 2 RETAIL SPACES REPLACING THE OLD WHITE HOUSE AT THE CORNER OF MAIN AND PINE ST. DOWNTOWN. THE COMMITTEE FOUND NO CONCERNS – PROJECT APPROVED BY COUNCIL.

C. EVALUATION OF LAND USE CODE CHANGES PROPOSED TO GIVE DEVELOPERS MORE AUTHORITY FOR DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT. THE COMMITTEE WITH CONSIDERABLE ASSISTANCE FROM PROFESSIONALS EXPRESSED CONCERNS ABOUT THESE CHANGES DAMAGING THE CHARM AND CHARACTER OF DOWNTOWN – CODE CHANGES WERE UNANIMOUSLY DENIED BY COUNCIL. SIGNIFICANT DISCREPANCIES WERE DISCOVERED BY THE COMMITTEE IN THE PUBLISHED LAND USE CODE COMPARED TO ADMINISTRATIVE ACTIONS OF THE TOWN PLANNING OFFICE. THESE DISCREPANCIES ARE BEING ADDRESSED WITH THE TOWN BY BRCA LAWYERS. THESE DISCREPANCIES COULD HAVE A MAJOR IMPACT ON DEVELOPMENTS.

D. EVALUATION OF THE RAINEY LODGE 40 BEDROOM, 53 PARKING PLACES HOTEL DEVELOPMENT PROPOSED FOR THE .905 ACRE PROPERTY BACK OF THE SPECKLED TROUT. A SUBSTANTIAL EFFORT IS UNDERWAY TO ANALYZE FACTS ABOUT THIS PROJECT BY THE COMMITTEE AND PROFESSIONAL PLANNING, ARCHITECTURAL AND LEGAL CONSULTANTS AND TO GET FACTS OUT TO THE PUBLIC ABOUT IT. WE HAVE STRONGLY URGED COUNCIL TO REQUIRE THAT THE DEVELOPER PRODUCE A TRAFFIC STUDY, FIRE AND RESCUE STUDY AND  A STUDY OF THE IMPACT ON HOME VALUES CLOSE TO THE DEVELOPMENT.

4.  THE BRCA MUNICIPAL ASSETS COMMITTEE ADVISES ON BENEFICIAL USES OF TOWN ASSETS

A. THE COMMITTEE RECOMMENDED THAT THE TOWN REJECT A REQUEST THAT A GROUP BE  GIVEN THE OLD FIREHOUSE BUILDING BY USE OF A TOKEN LEASE TO CREATE A THEATER/CULTURAL CENTER. THE COMMITTEE REPORTED THAT THE BUILDING HAD AN ESTIMATED VALUE OF $ 800,000. TOWN MAINTENANCE EQUIPMENT FOR ALL DOWNTOWN PARK AND GREEN SPACE IS CURRENTLY STORED IN THE BUILDING. THE TOWN DETERMINED THAT A NEW BUILDING COSTING SEVERAL HUNDRED THOUSANDS WOULD HAVE TO BE BUILT TO STORE THIS VALUABLE EQUIPMENT IF THE OLD FIREHOUSE WERE TRANSFERRED TO THE GROUP. BRCA ATTORNEYS POINTED OUT THAT STATE LAW WOULD REQUIRE COMPETITIVE BIDS IF THE OLD FIREHOUSE BUILDING CONTROL WAS TRANSFERRED. COUNCIL REJECTED TRANSFER OF THE BUILDING TO THE REQUESTING GROUP.

B. THE COMMITTEE HAS REQUESTED THAT THE MAYVIEW TOWN STORAGE YARD BE TRANSFERRED TO THE BLOWING ROCK CHARITY HORSE SHOW FOUNDATION IN EXCHANGE FOR PROPERTY FROM THE FOUNDATION CLOSER TO THE TOWN’S MAYVIEW MAINTENCE FACILITY. THIS WOULD ENHANCE MAYVIEW BY TURNING AN UNSIGHTLY INDUSTRIAL SITE INTO AN ATTRACTIVE PASTURE IN ONE OF BLOWING ROCK’S PREMIER NEIGHBORHOODS. THIS WOULD ENCOURAGE HOME DEVELOPMENT IN THIS IMPORTANT AREA. THIS EFFORT WAS PUT ON HOLD BY THE TOWN UNTIL A NEW TOWN MANAGER IS HIRED.

5.    OTHER IMPORTANT FACTS AND ACTIVITIES

A. VERY IMPORTANT BLOWING ROCK NUMBERS:

1. FULL TIME POPULATION  1213

2. PEAK SEASONAL POPULATION  9,000

3. TOWN OPERATING BUDGET $ 8,216,000

4. TAX BASE PER PERSON  $ 941,467  ONE OF THE HIGHEST IN NORTH CAROLINA!!!

5. PROPERTY TAXES PER PERSON  $ 3,557

6. MEDIAN HOUSE VALUE $ 556,900  ONE OF THE HIGHEST IN NORTH CAROLINA!!!

7. WATER AND SEWER BUDGET $ 2,114,000

8. FULL TIME TOWN EMPLOYEES 68

9. MEDIAN AGE OF BLOWING ROCK RESIDENTS  60.1 YRS.

B. BLOWING ROCK HAS THREE EXCELLENT DEVELOPMENTS UNDERWAY THAT ARE ADDING THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN TAXES TO A VERY SOUND TOWN FINANCIAL STATUS

1. CHESTNUT AT BLOWING ROCK – 23 LUXURY TOWNHOUSES SELLING AT $ 1,050,000 AND UP

2. THE TOWNES AT BLOWING ROCK – 6 LUXURY CONDOS SELLING AT $ 849,000

3. THE INN ON CORNISH – A 21 ROOM BOUTIQUE HOTEL

C. AN EXTENSIVE ANALYSIS WAS DONE OF THE BLOWING ROCK PARKS AND RECREATION OPERATION WITH THE FOLLOWING RESULTS:

1. BRCA STRONGLY RECOMMENDED THAT PARKS AND REC OUTSOURCE VARIOUS FUNCTIONS INSTEAD OF HIRING A PROPOSED TWO MORE EMPLOYEES.

2. IT WAS DISCOVERED THAT 64% TO 92% OF PARKS AND REC ACTIVITIES BENEFIT NON RESIDENTS OF THE TOWN. THE POOL IS 92% USED BY NON RESIDENTS PRIMARILY BY OTHER WATAUGA COUNTY RESIDENTS. BRCA HAS URGED THE TOWN TO SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE FEES FOR NON RESIDENTS’ POOL USE AND WE HAVE ASKED THE COUNTY TO CONTRIBUTE MORE MONEY TO THE POOL OPERATION.

D. BOARD MEMBER TIM GUPTON HAS DONE A THOROUGH ANALYSIS OF TOWN FINANCES AND HE CONTINUES TO CLOSELY MONITOR TOWN FINANCIAL STATUS AND ACTIONS.

E. BRCA CONTINUES TO ENCOURAGE VOTER REGISTRATION BY BLOWING ROCK HOMEOWNERS. THIS FALL IS A CRUCIAL ELECTION OF TWO COUNCIL MEMBERS AND THE MAYOR. THERE ARE SOME SHARPLY DIFFERENT PHILOSOPHIES ABOUT THE FUTURE OF BLOWING ROCK AMONG THE LIKELY CANDIDATES IN THIS ELECTION. SOME FAVOR VIRTUALLY UNLIMITED GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT THAT FAVORS TOURISM AND BUSINESSES. WHILE OTHERS TAKE A GREATER INTEREST IN BLOWING ROCK PRESERVATION AND COMPATIBLE DEVELOPMENT WITH SIGNIFICANT CONSIDERATION  FOR HOMEOWNERS . WE DO NOT ENDORSE CANDIDATES BUT WE FAVOR PRESERVATION OF THE COMMUNITY AND QUALITY DEVELOPMENT THAT BENEFITS HOMEOWNERS. BRCA WILL HOLD A COMMUNITY CANDIDATES’ ROUNDTABLE MEETING THURSDAY OCTOBER 3, 2019 AT THE AMERICAN LEGION BUILDING, RECEPTION AT 6:00 P.M. FOLLOWED AT 6:30 P.M. BY THE ROUNDTABLE ALL BEING EXPERTLY PLANNED BY OUR BRCA CANDIDATES COMMUNITY MEETINGS COMMITTEE.

F. IN OCTOBER OF 2018 THE BRCA CANDIDATES COMMUNITY MEETINGS COMMITTEE HELD A VERY WELL ATTENDED CANDIDATES ROUNDTABLE WITH CANDIDATES FOR WATAUGA COUNTY COMMISSION. THE COUNTY COMMISSION IS VITALLY IMPORTANT TO BLOWING ROCK. IN RECENT YEARS THE COUNTY TOOK AWAY MORE THAN $ 100,000 OF SALES TAX MONEY FROM BLOWING ROCK AND THEY STILL HAVE NOT MADE GOOD ON A COMMITMENT TO MAN A RESCUE AMBULANCE FOR BLOWING ROCK. ADDITIONALLY THE STATE LEGISLATURE IS CONSIDERING ABOLISHING THE BLOWING ROCK ABC BOARD AND HAVING A WATAUGA ABC BOARD IN CHARGE OF THE ENTIRE COUNTY. THE BLOWING ROCK ABC OPERATION YIELDED $ 155,000 TO THE TOWN LAST YEAR. THIS COULD BE LOST. WATAUGA CO. COMMISSIONERS HAVE COMMITTED TO NOT RAISE TAXES AGAIN TO FUND THE BOONE RECREATION CENTER NOW BEING BUILT AT AN ESTIMATED COST OF $ 40 MILLION.

G. BRCA BECAME EXTENSIVELY INVOLVED IN THE TOWN’S SEARCH FOR A NEW TOWN MANAGER. BRCA BOARD MEMBER TONY RAND GAVE THE MAYOR AND COUNCIL MEMBERS THE NAMES OF TWO EXECUTIVE SEARCH FIRMS RECOMMENDED BY UNC SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT DEAN MIKE SMITH TO ASSIST THE TOWN WITH THE PROCESS.

 

SINCERELY,

 

GEORGE T. WILCOX

PRESIDENT