By David Rogers. May 16, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC – John F. Kennedy once suggested that the time to fix a leaky roof is when the sun is shining. There is some applicability to that thought in Blowing Rock today.
In recent years, several development projects have come before Blowing Rock’s Town Council. Some have been Conditional Use Permit applications, while others have asked for conditional rezoning of specific parcels. You know their names: Mountainleaf, Morningside Dr. townhomes (twice, by two different developers), Chestnut Hill, Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge, the Winkler project, the Moody building, Blowing Rock Medical Clinic, Ransom Street townhomes, Storie’s Carpet building….and on and on.
Some of these projects have been approved, while several others have been denied. All, or almost all, have had one thing in common: requests for at least a few if not several “variances” or “waivers.”
If variance requests — and so many of them in single projects — have become so commonplace, then we need to re-examine the ordinances and their appropriateness for today.
Whether it be building height, density, the number of parking spaces required, a percentage of permeable surfaces, open space, green space, access to public streets, signage, allowing short-term rentals, setback distance, buffer length of time for a permit to be “good,” building color, type of roof, color of roof, slope of roof, water and sewer, sidewalks, drainage, or other requirements dictated by the Town’s Land Use Code, almost every project that comes before the Board of Commissioners for approval these days includes not one or two variance requests, but three, four, five or even six or more.
If variance requests – and so many in every single project — have become so commonplace, there is more than likely a more meaningful message. That is, perhaps something is wrong with one or more of the ordinances. Either they were wrongly conceived in the first place, or perhaps they have outgrown their usefulness. Maybe they are simply not reasonable given modern-day market demands.
This is not to say that the existing land use requirements are wrong, but when one good project after another good project comes before Town Council requesting variances on so many elements of a development, then it is time to review those ordinances. Are they really imposing reasonable requirements vs. the land acquisition costs because of disproportionate increases our region’s property values? Are they appropriate for the changing demographics of the region? Do they reflect current cultural and economic trends?
Economic vitality is often measured by change. Change is dictated by development — whether proactively anticipated or as a result of reactive forces because of past neglect and ignorance.
A few weeks ago we penned an editorial about how Blowing Rock has changed over the years. CLICK HERE to revisit it.
The process of change will, in fact, outlive all of us. We have to ask: are we so bullheaded in fighting change that one day we will see ourselves run over by the forces of change? Or can we proactively anticipate and adapt to change, manage it, and not become its victim?
If every project that comes before Town Council requests a variance from the Code-dictated building height (increased), it makes sense to review it vs. current market needs. If to make every project “work” the density has to be more than arbitrary five units per acre, perhaps that requirement should be reconsidered, especially when competing mountain destinations — and do not believe for a second that Blowing Rock doesn’t have competition, and many of those other just as charming destination towns and villages have more development-friendly building codes. In the long run, when no one wants to build or develop here, there is an adverse impact on the tax base and property values, necessitating ever higher tax rates to keep town services the same.
Whether you are a business owner, a “working stiff” of a full-time resident, retiree, or seasonal resident, you have a vested interest in Blowing Rock’s economic vitality. That vitality, just as it has through the years long gone by, is measured by change. Change is most often dictated by development, whether it happens in proactive, logical ways or is allowed to steamroll through town willy-nilly as johnny-come-lately reactions to market needs. Change can be proactively anticipated or result from reactive forces because of past neglect and ignorance.
We urge the Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners, the Mayor, the Planning Board, as well as the Town Manager and Planning Director to thoroughly review our current Land Use Code and its requirements. Figuratively speaking, there is water dripping from the ceiling after the recent storm passed through town. It is time to fix the roof while the sun is still shining.