By David Rogers. November 13, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — They may not be as rustic as those lived in by Robinson Crusoe on a remote island or in the heart of Africa by Tarzan and Jane, but Blowing Rock will soon have tree houses.
COVER IMAGE: Kevin Troyer, of 4 Forty Four Contruction opens his presentation of the planned development, The Village on the Headwaters. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
After a comprehensive, well-designed presentation of his proposed development, The Village on the Headwaters, Kevin Troyer and his contractor/sub-contractor design-and-build team received the go-ahead Tuesday night, by a 4-1 vote of Blowing Rock’s Board of Commissioners.
The development project targeting the almost five acres where the old New River Inn building is, just south of the water treatment plant, will be a mixture of commercial and residential structures. The request was for a conditional rezoning from General Business (GB) to Conditional Zoning-General Business (CZ-GB).
On the same basic footprint of the old building, The Headwaters of the New River, LLC plans call for the renovation to emerge as the new home sales office for 4 Forty Four Construction, Troyer’s main development company. The residential portion of the project will feature up to 16 cottages and “treehouses” as vacation rentals that could be available for overnight, weekend, monthly or long-term use.
…You are not getting an unknown…I don’t know what change would cause concern.
Sketchline Architecture’s David Harwood, who recently was elected to the Board of Commissioners and will begin service at the Town Council’s December meeting, is the architect for the Headwaters project. He described in painstaking detail some of the design’s features, including how it synchs with the Town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan, how it works with the natural topography vs. imposing on it, how it considers fire and safety requirements throughout, and how it incorporates the soon-to-be-developed Middle Fork Greenway as a development attribute. Other characteristics include the implementation of solar panels on the commercial building to provide 100% of the electricity for the daytime office uses.
Among the sticking points for Commissioner Sue Sweeting and, initially, Commissioner Virginia Powell, was the developer’s request for a 5-year vested rights period, which is the maximum allowed by North Carolina state law. The state-approved range is two years to five years. Troyer, Harwood, and the project attorney, Chelsea Garrett of diSanti Watson et al, explained to the Board that the maximum allowed vesting period was requested so that they could potentially complete the development in phases after seeing which types of residential structures better-satisfied market demand: cottages or treehouses.
Sweeting also objected to the developer only having to get Administrative approval, i.e. from the Planning Director and/or Town Manager for Troyer and his team to make even minor changes to the mix of residential structures as they got a better feel for market demand.
Yount brusquely rejected Sweeting’s request to amend Steele’s motion that he had seconded.
Powell initially expressed concerns about the 5-year vesting period, as well as the ability of a developer to not come back before the Board for approval of any future changes, but she eventually came around to accept acceptable the reasonableness of the 5-year request, and that the potential changes would only be “tweaking” the mix of already approved structure types.
What appeared to be persuasive for Powell was an explanation offered by attorney Garrett.
“This is simply (what composition) there will be of the three different types of units,” Garrett explained. “So if you like those three types of units, you are just approving THOSE units. (Under this proposal) They can only change the number and mix of those, but cannot change to another type of unit (that has not been approved).”
This whole plan, to me, not only fits our overall (Comprehensive) plan, but is a very good example of how you can (effect) change, gracefully
Garrett went on to explain that the developer’s options under this proposal, if approved, are limited. “If you like the office building and you like (the cottages or treehouses), that is the scope they have to work with…(Whatever the mix) you are not getting an unknown…I don’t know what change would cause concern…If they commit to this and this, then you have seen this and this. The scope of risk for (the Town) is virtually nothing.”
With Powell pressing the question, Garrett also effectively explained the developer’s request for five years vs. two years for the vesting period, noting the desire to better understand the market demand for the types of structures, i.e. 1-bedroom cottages, 2-bedroom cottages, or the treehouses.
“They don’t want to wait to start building the residential units,” Garrett noted. “They just want to phase those sections (in response to greater clarity of need from market demand)…They just want some discretion (and flexibility).”
If I don’t trust a man, I don’t trust him. I trust this gentleman completely. Five years does not bother me.
Powell also questioned aloud whether approving 4 Forty Four’s request for a five-year vesting period and only Staff-level approval was precedent-setting. Commissioner Jim Steele reminded Powell that decisions under a conditional zoning request is not precedent-setting.
While Sweeting and Powell were quibbling over what emerged as very minor details, Yount and Steele praised the project, enthusiastically embracing the proposed development.
“This whole plan, to me,” said Steele, “not only fits our overall (Comprehensive) plan, but is a very good example of how you can make change, gracefully…I think this project will enhance our village and our whole area. We should approve this and what they want. I really don’t see any downside, at all.”
Once the public hearing was closed, Steele moved quickly to advance a motion to approve the project, with a second by Yount. Before the vote, Powell was gracious in thanking the development team for their explanations about the 5-year vesting request, saying, “I understand now. And you want to maximize your return on the project, on your investment…I appreciate that you want the time to figure out what will work best on the property.”
Sweeting was stubbornly unrelenting, even to the point of asking Steele to amend his motion.
“I would feel better if any changes came back to us (the Board),” Sweeting stated before asking, “Would you amend the motion?”
Yount brusquely rejected Sweeting’s request, indicating that he would not retract or modify his second of the original motion by Steele. Steele also declined Sweeting’s request.
The vote was 4-1 in approval of the project, as presented, with Sweeting the lone naysayer.
In other business:
- The board unanimously approved the voluntary satellite annexation of Natalie Bovino’s property, an 0.825-acre parcel located in the ETJ (extra-territorial jurisdiction) along U.S 321 South. The move was expected, since at its October 8th meeting the Board approved a resolution to initiate the satellite annexation process.
- The board unanimously approved a proposal from the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce to close part of Park Ave. during Winterfest for a dog keg pull event, with the previously discussed beer garden moved to private property (on the Chamber grounds).
The board heard a presentation by George Santucci from the New River Conservancy about a restoration project of the New River near the water treatment plant
- The board unanimously approved a bond resolution presented by Finance Officer Nicole Norman for Issue III of the previously approved General Obligation bonds. This issue is for $4.37 million, leaving remaining authorization of $1.695 million
- The board heard a newly formatted financial report from Finance Officer Nicole Norman, breaking out fiscal first-quarter financial performance of the Town, with both revenue and expenditures in line with previous years and expectations and only relatively small variances because of the timing when payment or expenditure items are recognized.