By David Rogers. March 15, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC – There was a time six decades ago when I was embarrassed by our family’s poverty, made worse by the treatment my siblings and I suffered while attending school. Although in retrospect most of them were only barely removed from economically disadvantaged, our classmates looked in the mirror and called themselves our “betters.”
Symbolic of our poverty were the old Levi’s that we would wear until our sometimes bloodied knees from playing sports during recess were bared to the elements. Mom’s sewing patches on those denims to prolong their useful life only brought more attention to the fact that we couldn’t afford new clothes. When Christmas came around and we opened presents to find a new pair of Levis, Lees or Wranglers — or the J C Penney, Montgomery Ward, or Sears Roebuck store brands — we dreaded the cruel ribbing to which we would be subjected upon arriving at school after the holiday vacation. Dad gave us an earful when we asked Mom to wash them several times before wearing them to school, to take some of the “newness” out of them.
While covering Watauga High School basketball, I have had an opportunity to befriend several of the young hoopsters, male and female alike. We frequently see one of them — a young lady from what we know to be a fairly affluent family — around town and she usually is wearing a pair of black or blue jeans, with rips and tears here and there, her shiny knees poking through, framed by the stretched white threads barely holding the fabric together.
How times change. Once a symbol of unwanted poverty, torn and ripped Levis and other denim trousers now occupy a prominent place in the closets of alluring fashionistas.
This very human-kindled metamorphosis came to mind recently upon realizing that an ordinance in Blowing Rock’s Land Use Code is outdated.
There was a time in the not too distant past when people thought that homeowners with “stuff” on their rooftops was unsightly. Chimneys and air conditioning units were OK, but beyond maybe a skylight frame, not much else.
New technology emerged a couple of decades ago, allowing property owners to power an increasingly electrified society with energy derived from the sun. Municipalities caved in, albeit sometimes reluctantly. Solar panels on rooftops were still considered unsightly.
At least in Blowing Rock, the town ordinances were amended a few years ago to permit this new source of energy on as much as 20% of commercial buildings’ rooftops. And in North Carolina, thanks to new statutes on a state level about a decade ago, towns and cities could no longer impose restrictions on residential property owners regarding their improvements, whether paint color, type of rooftop, or even what they put on their rooftops.
Today they can fill the roofs of their homes with solar panels, or replace backyard gardens with solar farms — as long as they abide by regulations governing setbacks.
So that brings us to the main talking point today: Blowing Rock’s restrictions on how much of a commercial building’s rooftop can be covered with solar panels is outdated. The 10% to 20% limitation (depending on roof angles) needs to be expanded, and perhaps even eliminated altogether.
When we see solar panels on rooftops these days, there are few (if any) complaints about them being unsightly or hazardous in any way. Some of us who don’t yet have the technology are even jealous. Those solar-powered folks are not only saving money in their energy consumption, but lowering their respective carbon footprints at the same time. Oh how those dark panels shimmering with light in the noonday sun are increasingly beautiful to behold.
It is a lot like those blue jeans with holes in the knees. Times change. While they used to be a source of embarrassment when I was a kid because they represented poverty that was scorned by a large segment of society, today that shiny knee-baring apparel is the height of fashion.
It is time for Blowing Rock to change with the times. When you drive down Valley Blvd., do you even notice that 4 Forty Four Construction has 20% of their roof in the Glenwood Office Condominiums covered with solar panels? Would you really notice if they had 40%, 80% or even 100%? And if you do notice, aren’t you just a little bit envious that they are generating a substantial portion of the energy the business uses, including the charging of three Tesla automobiles, and frequently even selling electricity back to Blue Ridge Energy?
Blue jeans with holes in their knees are not the only thing once scorned that is in vogue these days. So is Sustainability. We have a whole nearby university committed to being one of the foremost advocates and practitioners, with a growing number of research initiatives focused on sustainable technology and its development.
It’s time for Blowing Rock’s Board of Commissioners, Planning Board, and even the Blowing Rock Appearance Advisory Commission to look hard at the current restrictions on the installation of solar panels on commercial buildings and remove them. For those that have installed solar panels on their rooftops (as well as those who want them), it’s time to demand the ability to install more.
And that is how we see it.