By David Rogers. November 12, 2014. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Blowing Rock Town Commissioners may have made short work of Tuesday night’s Town Council agenda, but at least two unanimous decisions are likely to each have a far-reaching impact on Blowing Rock.
In the Public Hearing portion of the Council’s agenda, Commissioners approved what was labelled as an “Antenna Ordinance Amendment”. It does away with a 2010 amendment to the Land Use Code that required a 500 foot separation between commercial wireless antennas. The is to accommodate new “small cell” technology to be introduced in a collaboration of Blue Ridge Electric and Verizon Wireless to improve cell phone communications in Blowing Rock.
The second major decision of the evening involved the approval of a funding package and bid award for renovations to the American Legion Building.
Small Cell Technology
On the surface, this proposal seemed like a “no brainer” to most people with whom Blowing Rock News has spoken, but as with any kind of change and especially where a fairly recent Land Use Code amendment was being retracted or seriously modified, there were concerns. Because Blue Ridge Electric is one of the beneficiaries of any favorable decision, Mayor J.B. Lawrence recused himself since he sits on the Blue Ridge Electric board. In his stead, Mayor Pro Tem Albert Yount took the reins in leading the public discussion.
Most of the questions from Commissioners were to understand what kind of proverbial “can of worms” they might be opening. The earlier, 2010 amendments established a minimum 500 feet requirement between antennas, but Tuesday night’s decision was to eliminate that restriction because of advances in wireless technologies that utilize smaller, but more numerous antennas. In designing their plan for implementation, Verizon Wireless and Blue Ridge Electric realized that there were “conflicts” with at least four of the planned 26 small cell nodes identified in their solution.
From the audience, Blue Ridge Electric’s Chief Technology Officer, Mr. Brad Shields, fielded several technical questions, including whether any of the antennas planned by Verizon could be shared with other wireless vendors, such as Sprint, AT&T and Carolina Wireless. “There will be sharing only to the extent that another carrier has a ‘roaming’ agreement to use the Verizon technology in place,” Shields noted. He suggested that other major carriers such as Sprint and AT&T would require their own nodes and antennas.
These Land Use Code modifications were approved by the Planning Board after being advanced by a collaboration between Blue Ridge Electric and Verizon Wireless, whose aim is to provide better mobile telephone coverage, at least for Verizon customers and cellular companies using their technology for “roaming” purposes.
While it became clear from remarks by Mr. Brad Shields, Chief Technology Officer for Blue Ridge Electric, that the planned 26 “nodes” would not be shared with other cellular providers, eliminating the 500 foot requirement for the Verizon and Blue Ridge Electric joint venture opens the door for other providers to use different utility poles in town to facilitate their enhanced coverage. But, Mr. Shields, disclosed, the antenna technology is very expensive and he was uncertain that any of the other cellular providers would want to provide this kind of service to Blowing Rock at the required investment. “Certainly,” he said, “if Sprint were to put up their own small cell equipment their customers in Blowing Rock would be happy.”
American Legion Building
Town Manager Scott Fogleman outlined for the Board how the American Legion Building Renovation Project would be funded and both its funding sources and spending status to date.
Mr. Fogleman disclosed that $35,966.39 had been spent so far, out of an estimated $574,484.39 budgeted for the project. Breaking the spending down by type, he summarized:
|% of Budget||Amount||Type of Expenditure|
|5%||$30,856.39||Design, Plans, Bidding|
|3%||$20,000.00||Contingency (4% of construction costs|
The Town Manager reported that the funding for the project was a joint effort by the Town (53%, $306,184.39), the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund matching grant (25%, $142,500), and private donations (22%, $125,800).
Fogleman revisited the various improvements for the project and provided detail on the recommended bid to be accepted by the Town, from Green Construction.
In outlining the project, Fogleman recounted a bit of the project’s history. The original bidding was to have bids received by December 3, 2013, but in order to proceed the Town needs to receive three bids and only two bids had been received. It was put out for rebid, and eight bids were received by the December 19, 2013 deadline — but even the lowest bid would have required $211,000 more in funding than the Commissioners had approved for the project, so all bids were rejected at the February 2014 meeting of Town Council and the community was asked to support the project with fundraising. Fogleman stated that after private donations reached approximately $100,000, the project was bid again and bids from Green Construction, Wishon Carter Construction, and Wilkie Construction were received by the October 30, 2014 deadline, with Green’s coming in the lowest.
The Commissioners approved a decision to move forward with the project according to staff recommendations:
- Award the bid for construction to Green Construction in the amount of $508,000
- Transfer $50,000 of budget authority previously allocated to the tennis court slope project to this project (Note: the tennis court project’s funding fell well short of the associated bids for the work and the decision was made by Council to reconsider the project during the next budget cycle)
- Appropriate $31,674.39 from the general fund to be used to fund the remainder of the project
- Officially recognize as revenue to the Town the private donations amounting to $125,800
In other business, the Commissioners heard a report from Mr. Kipp Turner of Maymead Construction regarding the U.S. 321 widening project and its progress. Among other details relating to various walls, Mr. Turner was asked when he expected the traffic lanes to be shifted to the planned new pavement (east of current roadway), and he said the goal was to achieve that by the first of the year.
Consent Agenda items approved by the Commissioners:
- A tax release in benefit of Christian Science Society in the amount of $627.75
- Contract to formalize the Blowing Rock Police Department providing inspection services, including enforcement and reporting, to the ABC Board
- Reclassification of the Fire Marshal position in the Fire Department to Battalion Chief-Training/Prevention
- Appropriate $8,000 to proceed with repairs to storm water piping and culverts in the vicinity of the Sunset Drive and Cornish Rd. intersection
There were no speakers from the floor.