By David Rogers. July 11, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC — In the end — and it took a long time to get there — Blowing Rock’s Board of Commissioners voted to approve the planned redevelopment of the 1150 Main Street parcel, with “suggestions.”
COVER STORY: Mayor Charlie Sellers opened the meeting by moving an agenda item to the back of the meeting, under New Business. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
The nearly four-hour regular July meeting at Town Hall frequently bogged down in unnecessary minutiae in each of the three major agenda items, beginning with a Public Hearing on the conditional rezoning request by Cardinal West Building Company, LLC for 1150 Main Street.
The Board’s approval will allow Cardinal to go forward with plans to demolish the iconic (but now dilapidated) white-columned building that once housed Blowing Rock Realty, and replace it with a multi-use structure that includes retail and residential. Although the project received the Planning Board’s recommendation to go forward as submitted — after the applicant had presented an unprecedented eight design proposals to the Planning Board, Blowing Rock Historical Society, and Blowing Rock Appearance Advisory Commission — the Commissioners still required well over two hours to hear and debate the merits of the project. As with almost all projects brought before the Commissioners in recent years, there were multiple requests for variances or waivers, including for density, building height, setbacks, green space, and parking (if, for example, a restaurant becomes one of the retail tenants).
For full information packet filed with the Town regarding the 1150 Main St. Conditional Rezoning request, CLICK HERE
Under Old Business, Jim Pitts represented the Firehouse Cultural Center Task Force in presenting a comprehensive slideshow report on the potential repurposing of the old Firehouse building from a storage facility used primarily by Parks & Recreation to a multi-purpose cultural arts center. The task force was aiming to get a sense of the Commissioners’ collective views, favorable or unfavorable, toward the Task Force’s vision.
While each Town Council member at least gave lip service to being appreciative of, if not favoring the arts, the reactions to the Task Force were mixed. Albert Yount, for example, was adamant in the importance of maintaining the facility’s current uses, while Jim Steele offered an alternative for potentially adding onto the American Legion building to achieve the Task Force purposes. Virginia Powell seemed concerned about losing control of a town-owned property, as well as raised questions about this becoming another public-private partnership that requires more Town support than originally advertised.
By the end of the discussion, Pitts and the Task Force left with a “lukewarm” go-ahead to continue the research and will potentially meet with the commissioners in a workshop at a future date.
For the full presentation of the Firehouse Cultural Center Task Force, CLICK HERE
The only New Business item on the agenda was actually very old business: proposed improvements to Sunset Dr. To their credit, the current board seems anxious to quit talking and get on with the sorely needed improvements. However, they again got prematurely bogged down in discussing minutiae, such as where to put a handicapped space, how many crosswalks and their location, and providing for retaining walls across the river in the lower section to accommodate sidewalks. It was not clear that the streamlined proposal vs. the earlier, more elaborate plans would sufficiently address the traffic flow and safety concerns, particularly in the upper section. It also seems unlikely that utilities will be moved underground. They did agree for McGill Associates, the town’s engineering firm, to go forward with gaining the necessary permits so that construction can begin late this year or early next year.
For the full information filing about the Sunset Dr. improvement project, CLICK HERE.
The final item of business was in regard to a draft proposal by Commissioner Sue Sweeting to develop an “objective” way of evaluating the performance of the Town Manager. The board members agreed to take up consideration of the proposal at a special workshop. At Blowing Rock News’ insistence, since the workshop would not be focused on a specific town employee’s evaluation, which would be a personnel matter to be conducted in closed session, then adequate public notice will be given and copies of the draft document to be discussed made publicly available.
Earlier in the meeting, several speakers from the floor took advantage of the opportunity provided them by a procedural change that was adopted in February, moving “Speakers from the Floor” to the top of the agenda, allowing them to speak on non-agenda issues. Two citizens spoke who were sharply critical of the Town’s management of the property on Cone Rd., which both contended has become an eyesore, while another spoke about the use of arborists in recommending the removal and replacement of trees should not include people with a clear conflict of interest.
A particularly poignant moment came early in the agenda when the family of the late Betty Pitts accepted from Mayor Charlie Sellers a plaque and resolution recognizing the former First Lady of Blowing Rock’s contributions to the town and community. The family of the late Jeff Eason, former editor of the Blowing Rocket, was similarly recognized. Both Pitts and Eason passed away in early June.
The meeting was adjourned at approximately 9:45 pm.