By David Rogers. March 6, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Its working title is “Rainey Lodge,” but it may well bring a ray of sunshine to downtown development in Blowing Rock.
COVER IMAGE: The view from the Morningside Drive entrance. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News.
There was little, if any confusion Wednesday night at the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum’s “show and tell” community meeting for a proposed, 40-room hotel. Responsible commercial development in downtown Blowing Rock may have taken a step forward.
It was a first, early look, but most of the estimated attendees interviewed by Blowing Rock News seemed impressed with and were often enthusiastic about plans for the boutique hotel on the mostly vacant 0.9-acre parcel behind Main Street’s Speckled Trout Restaurant.
The parcel’s property owner and part-time Blowing Rock resident, Steve Barker, is a principal in the Charlotte-based development firm Catellus Group which would manage the project if a pending conditional use permit (CUP) application gains approval from the Blowing Rock Planning Board and the Town’s Board of Commissioners.
Because the CUP process is a quasi-judicial proceeding, Mayor Charlie Sellers explained to Blowing Rock News earlier in the week that none of the Town Council members (Mayor and Commissioners), Planning Board members, or Planning Director Kevin Rothrock were permitted to attend Wednesday’s meeting.
Most, if any anticipated push-back about the development of the long, mostly vacant land on the fringes of the Central Business District is bound to derive from what isn’t there now. A large building and surrounding parking lots, landscaping and other amenities would replace a big empty lot with just two small houses. Whatever the size, the personality of the neighborhood changes visually, as well as in the activity of the community.
This is the third attempt in recent years for development of the property, the first two being townhouse projects. The initial proposed project was captained by Rob Pressley of Charlotte-based Coldwell Banker Commercial-Meca, while the second townhome effort was led by Barker and Catellus, too. Both were rejected by Town Council because of requested variances primarily related to density, building height and parking.
Catellus Group and Barker also spearheaded the earlier Mountainleaf project proposed for the 7.35 acre parcel on North Main Street, bordering the entrance to Chetola Resort. That mixed use plan (hotel, residential, and commercial) met heavy resistance from various community interest groups and individuals and was eventually withdrawn.
According to statements made by Barker to Blowing Rock News at Wednesday night’s community meeting, the currently proposed project that borders U.S. 221, Morningside Drive, and Rainey St. (on the south, west, and north edges of the property) does not require any variances, although the terrain of the parcel and its 20-foot drop from front to back make any kind of development problematic.
As depicted in the artist renderings, scale model and architectural drawings on display during the community walk-through, the developers will move a substantial amount of dirt, digging down below Rainey St. and moving the dirt forward to flatten the building site.
As proposed, the entrance to the hotel site would be from Morningside Drive, where visitors would enter the front door from under a porte-cochere. The building would be a little more than 39 feet high from that entrance doorstep to the eave of the building above which, according to Barker, is within the height limitations imposed by the Town’s Land Use Code. Because of the dig-down below Rainey St., the building would only rise above the street level on the north side of the property (Rainey St.) about eleven feet.
Because of the severe slope to the property as a whole, there is a significant dropoff from the flattened building site down to U.S. 221, resulting in approximately a 68-feet height from the highway roadbed to the top of the building. However, the visual impact of the height is significantly diminished by a three-tier, terraced buffer or setback, with landscaping, from the road.
We understood Barker and the Catellus representatives to say that no parking variances would be required.
The parcel in question, which in 2000 was home to the now gone Cheeseburgers in Paradise eatery and a small collection of decaying retail shop buildings, including a real estate office, has been vacant for many years with all of the old buildings torn down. All that has remained on the property are the two small houses. For this project, both of them would be torn down.
Barker noted to Blowing Rock News that his group has been in discussions with the owners of Speckled Trout about ways they can work together to improve and beautify areas along their shared boundary line.
Blowing Rock News overheard several interesting comments about the project as people browsed in front of the displays, scanning the renderings, model and drawings.
- “This is very well done and very well thought out in reducing the impact.”
- “It’s large, but then anything would look large when nothing has been there for a long time.”
- “Blowing Rock needs more hotel accommodations downtown, within walking distance to Main Street. This fits the bill.”
- “I like the planned exterior of this development. The terraces, balconies, and landscaping soften the visual impact. It won’t look like an army barracks.”
- “I like the ample setbacks on the three sides that border streets. This won’t have the same impact of, say, The Standard development in Boone which comes up right next to the street.”
- “Although fairly big, this fits Blowing Rock and the village character, even while bringing potentially more activity to downtown.”
- “Growing the Town’s tax base without increasing property tax rates should be a priority and this project contributes to that goal.”
- “This isn’t really competition for other lodging businesses in town. A rising tide raises all boats.”
The next step for Catellus Group will be a presentation to the Planning Board. As of this writing, we had not determined the timing or date of that presentation.