By David Rogers. October 23, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — First and foremost, candidates for public office are people — each with a background not just in Blowing Rock, but past experiences that most voters don’t have a chance to become familiar with.
All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Blowing Rock News is pleased to present these transcripts of hour-plus interviews with each of the four candidates for the two open seats on the Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners. They are intended as a service to the community, going well beyond the scope of either of the earlier candidate forums. Our purpose with these interviews is to get to know the person, his background, and his qualifications for the job of commissioner, all wrapped up in a discussion of key issues that we think are of interest to Blowing Rock voters — and we give each candidate an opportunity to articulate his views.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Neither the order in which these interviews is presented nor the interviews themselves is intended as an endorsement of any candidate.
The Other Candidate Interview Links
DH: Albemarle, NC. It is about 27 miles southeast of Charlotte
BRN: How did you get up to the High Country?
DH: In late 1999 I was in business with my father, Graham. We had an executive search firm called Harwood & Harwood and we recruited for the Mortgage Banking Industry. Gina and I lived in Raleigh and had a one-year old and a three-year old, Haley Banks and Wesley, my daughters. My wife, Gina and I both grew up in small towns. I’m from Albemarle and she is from Shelby. We just wanted to raise our girls the same way. We had purchased a piece of land in Yonahlossee, where we planned to one day build a weekend house. We loved Blowing Rock, and the more we visited we decided this would be a great place to raise our family. So, my parents and I sold our homes in Raleigh and moved our business, and our employees to Blowing Rock.
We moved here only knowing our realtor, Richard Puckett. It was the best decision we ever made.
BRN: At what point did you decide you wanted to get involved in Town affairs?
DH: About 12 years ago I was asked to be on the Board of Adjustment. I had served on the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum board before that and I really enjoyed serving in that capacity. As a recruiter…all of our work was from outside of Blowing Rock. Our business was not promoting the economy of Blowing Rock with the exception of employing six individuals. I wanted to give back to my community. I enjoyed being on both the BRAHM board and serving on the Board of Adjustment. I was really excited when I was asked to join the Planning Board, especially to have the opportunity to work with Jim West, who had served on the Planning Board for 18 years as Chairman. I learned a lot from Jim. When he moved off as the Chairman, I was fortunate enough to move into that position. I love it. I love having the opportunity to serve in that capacity.
DH: I think a couple of things. In architecture, you are thinking about so many moving parts and how they affect the design as a whole. If you are designing a floor plan, you are also thinking about how the roof is going to work and how the framing is going to work. All these basic functions come together to make up the whole. You have to think about how that structure is going to be placed in the landscape. It is a very detail-oriented profession. There is a lot of forethought and planning that goes into an architectural design.
I find that my personality really supports architecture because the decision-making is very purposeful and methodical. I try to gather the information and pertinent data before I make a decision. I rarely make a decision until I’ve given it a lot of thought.
I think that approach has applied very well to my work on the Planning Board. I do a lot of research in preparation for those meetings. I will research not only the Town Code, but other examples of a prospective project that might be in other municipalities. That is just my nature, my personality, and my training. I think it will serve me well in a leadership role on Town Council.
BRN: Several people have mentioned to me the age differences between the candidates in this election, you and Ray Pickett being on the younger side and Albert Yount and Jim Steele being quite a bit older. What is your perception, as one of those younger guys, of what you bring to the table – and vice-versa?
DH (mutual laughter): First of all, I am glad to know that 55 is still young! Tell my knees that!
I just had this conversation yesterday with someone. To say that someone is too old or too young for Town Council…I don’t buy into that. I think it’s in your mind and work ethic and your passion. If all of that is there, it really doesn’t matter how old you are. That may sound like a trite answer, but I really believe that. Age, by itself, should not play into anybody’s decision about who to vote for. The two incumbents running have a vision and they have a track record that people can look at. I have a track record and Ray has one. At the end of the day, we all share the same passion for Blowing Rock. And at the end of the day, I think all four candidates are good candidates. Regardless of how this election turns out, Blowing Rock is going to be OK. There are four good candidates and we have different opinions on how things need to be done and what needs to be done. I don’t give the age thing a second thought.
BRN: What are your thoughts on what a board of commissioners should be doing?
DH: For me, it is really black and white. If you look at the organizational chart, the citizens are at the top. Then there’s the Town Council. The Town Manager reports to the Town Council. The Town staff reports to the Town Manager. So, Council really needs to be working through the Town Manager to get things done. That is the way it is designed in Town Code.
All too often, a Board of Commissioners has a tendency to micro-manage and want to deal with department heads and town employees. They may have good intentions trying to help a citizen with something, but there is a chain of command and a reason for that chain of command. It is a disservice to our Town Manager and his staff for any Town Council member not to follow that.
Now in terms of what the Board of Commissioners’ role is, I think it is to institute policy, safeguard the financial health of the community and to be proactive in planning for the future.
BRN: Is that what you see in the current Town Council?
DH: Of late, I think our Town Council has tended to be more reactive than proactive. Many of the deferred maintenance items and the bond referendum items, came about because we have not been proactive in the past. We are now having to pay, and often pay more, for items that were overlooked or neglected.
Financially, Blowing Rock is in a healthy position, but to sum up the answer to your question, it is the Board of Commissioners’ role to set policy. They need the tools to set those policies, through comprehensive planning, Council meetings, strategy meetings, whatever it is, the Board’s role is to set policy with forward thinking. Then it is the Town Manager and his staff’s job to execute that policy.
BRN: You touched on deferred maintenance, acknowledging that previous boards have kicked the proverbial can down the road. A lot of the infrastructure improvements that we are seeing now, being financed by the Community Improvement Bonds, is simply catching up on deferred maintenance, whether water, streets, sidewalks or sewers. What kind of long-term vision should the Board have for infrastructure? Let’s take, for example, providing sewer for every resident within the town limits. Especially given a lot of the rock formations, should we be providing sewer service to all?
DH: I think one of the roles of a municipality is to provide those services to every citizen. It really comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. First, can we provide these services to everybody? If we can, what are the costs? Then it comes back to analyzing whether those costs can be absorbed into our financial picture? Are our citizens willing to pay for that? Are they willing to trade off something else to pay for this? Are they willing to raise (property) taxes to pay for this? It is more than should we or shouldn’t we. There is a bigger picture and that is probably why it has not been done.
I also know that when it is offered to some people, they don’t want to pay for it. They would rather stay on their septic system and not incur those costs. So, it sounds good to provide it to everyone, but when you get right down to it, it is on a case-by-case basis.
We have city roads that aren’t paved. We have dirt or gravel roads in town, still. So, do we have an obligation to provide paved roads to every citizen in town? It is just a matter of planning. What are our priorities. Let’s decide those and then act on them. Let’s set up those action items, what those deliverables are, and do it. But you have to have all the facts before deciding whether you should or should not do these kinds of things.
BRN: It seems to me that the Town has wasted an awful lot of money on things like hiring Destination by Design to develop ideas for Sunset Drive. It isn’t that they did bad work. They actually did good work, exactly what they were tasked to do, in fact. But then the Board does nothing with it. In the process of it all it got delayed and delayed and delayed, by about four years I think. Meanwhile the costs escalated. At what point do they say hey, we have got to get this done?
DH (laughing): I think they did that. They got to that point. It was decided at a board retreat in June of last year, not a Town Council meeting, and it came down to, “We have to do something, so let’s do this.” To me, it is very unfortunate that it was done that way because Sunset Avenue is an example of getting the cart before the horse. We were sold a bill of goods that we paid a consultant a lot of money for. There was this grand vision given to us: streetscapes, trees, gateways, bridges… beautiful things. A lot of citizen input was asked for and given.
And we paid a lot of money for this, but at the end of the day most of what we are getting is simply deferred maintenance items that were kicked down the road for years. I really don’t view what is being done on Sunset as “streetscape”. We are simply replacing crumbling curb and gutters. We are replacing heaving, outdated sidewalks. And we are replacing asphalt that has needed a lot of attention. In my opinion, all of that is just fixing deferred maintenance items.
BRN: So, the obvious question: what should have been done differently?
DH: Planning. I will use designing a house as an example, and the method I use to reach shared goals. When a new client comes in, we don’t talk anything about design first. We talk about their budget. Then we work backwards from that. We spend a lot of time upfront talking about three goals. What is their financial goal? What is the aesthetic goal for the project? Then what is their functionality goal…how will this house perform? The sweet spot is where all three of those come together, so we define that upfront.
That is what should have happened with Sunset and really should happen with any project. Let’s get all of our goals together and define what we can achieve. One affects the other. If you add a lot of details to the house, it is going to cost more and take longer.
With regard to Sunset, the Town started talking about design and pretty things way before we knew how much money we had to spend.
BRN: You mean like get involved in deciding whether to have a two-foot wide strip of grass along the sidewalk and street rather than pavers?
DH: Not at the end of the project, that’s a decision that was made almost on a whim. That should have been a budget consideration early on.
If we say, for example, that we have $1.2 million available in the budget for this project, then we go to the designers and ask, “What can we get for $1.2 million?” If we have to upgrade our water and sewer lines, widen some sidewalks, provide ADA curb and gutters — all these things –
BRN: Then you see what is left over in your budget for enhancements.
DH: Yes. What pretty things can we afford? Where can we put brick pavers? Where can we put grass strips?
And at that point we also can ask, do we want to go back to the proverbial well and find more money to afford making it look like what we really want it to look like.
In this case, the Town Council did the process in reverse.
BRN: Is that something that the town engineering firm, McGill & Associates would do?
DH: It depends on the project. In this particular case, McGill was perfectly capable. But bringing in Destination by Design without giving them some direction on what we had in terms of money and budget…well, that was a mistake. It is OK to dream, but you don’t want to sell something to the citizens that they cannot afford, and that is what was done.
Personally, I fell in love with what I was shown. I thought that was what we were getting. And then at the board retreat it was basic maintenance was passed. It came in at $1 Million over budget. I’m not comfortable with how that was handled and how it was conveyed to the citizens of Blowing Rock.
That said, let’s be clear. What is being done will be an improvement to Sunset Drive, but in my mind, it is deferred maintenance wrapped up in something called “streetscape”.
BRN: Let’s talk a little bit about any board, this board, whatever…about their use of a citizen volunteer boards or an agency like the Planning Board. I know the Planning Board for example has put in a lot of work that has basically been ignored, even where you recommend things unanimously. What is the obligation of a sitting board to look more closely at an advisory board’s recommendation? Is it OK to just ignore their recommendations?
DH: Certainly it is Town Council’s prerogative to do that. The Planning Board is an advisory board. We [Planning Board] only make recommendations, but there are some really good minds on that board, as well as on the other volunteer committees and boards. You also have to remember that those volunteers were chosen, selected by the Council. Board volunteers are the Commissioners’ designated appointments, so they must want us there. Right?
If you are on Town Council, you have a lot of things to do. When you have individuals or boards that are qualified and willing to help with something, then why not use that?
I think this Town Council does not collaborate with the Planning Board or the Board of Adjustment enough, if any. They don’t utilize that resource. The boards get something from Town staff to consider and they make a recommendation upstream. It never, or only rarely, comes back the other way.
BRN: Is that the current board or all boards.
DH: I think that is the tendency of all boards here. I am not just picking on the current Town Council members.
But that is an aspect of business that the Board of Commissioners and Town Council need to adopt. Use the resources that you have. It means that you are able to get more done while these volunteer resources are working on something else.
It doesn’t bother me that Town Council doesn’t always take our recommendation. It is a recommendation, you see, not a directive. Our recommendation is just one source of information for them. Now I would love to see a Town Council use those resources more, whether it is Planning Board, BRAAC, Board of Adjustments, TDA, or an ad hoc committee. It just seems like it would be more helpful and an intelligent practice.
The roles and relationships of the Town Council, the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment are clearly spelled out in the Town Code and we need to be cognizant of that and honor that. At the same time, Council has resources that they are not utilizing very well.
BRN: You mention ad hoc committees, such as the one that was recently formed at the behest of Sue Sweeting for Valley Blvd. Is their mission really something that should have gone to the Planning Board, at least first?
DH: Well, in a sense it is a product of the Planning Board. This is what I think is beautiful about that situation. First, Town Council asked Planning Board to look at design standards, and we did that. The recommendations were presented to Town Council and they didn’t get a warm reception.
BRN (mutual laughter): David, you are a master of understatement!
DH: But, what that did – and this is what I am really proud of – it started a conversation. Even though our recommendations weren’t well-received, the ad hoc committee really came out of those conversations. That committee is now addressing some of the issues. It is a roundabout way to get to the same end result. It appears that we are going to get some outside consultation, but it doesn’t bother me that they didn’t take our recommendations. What is important is that they did something with it as a result of our recommendations.
BRN: Are we just wasting money, $20,000, by hiring this outside consultant?
DH: I don’t think so, but of course there is still a risk. For me, it is like anything else. We have to clearly state our objective: This is what we expect to get out of this project. We need to be really clear about when it is due and what we want from them.
BRN: What is your understanding about what is expected and, to use your words, what we want from them?
DH: I am not really sure. I don’t think it has been clearly defined. “We are going to look at the design or development standards for Valley Blvd.” That is a very big, all-encompassing statement. What does that mean? It means something different to different people.
What the outside consultant brings is a perspective from other municipalities. They have done this before and can bring that experience. There is a wealth of experience upon which we can draw upon. I expect the same from an outside consultant regarding Valley Blvd., but there needs to be better definition of the mission. What kinds of businesses should we be looking to attract there? What kinds of design standards can we have and stay within (Town Code)? How do we implement those? These are just some of the things that I would want to know.
I don’t think it is smart to send out a consulting firm blindly and say, “You tell us what we can do.” We need to give them some directives. We need to say these are the priorities for Valley Blvd.
The bigger question to me is, “Why are we doing this at the end of a 10-15 year project?” We have known the widened road is going to be there for some time. Why is it just now occurring to everybody that we might want to think about this?
This is what I mean by proactive planning. Why wasn’t this done six, maybe even ten years ago. I don’t understand why it is just being thought about now.
BRN: Have you looked at the services provided by the Town of Blowing Rock, the budget for those, and compared them to other towns and villages that are similar in size and demographics?
DH: Not yet. This is on my to-do list. I’m embarrassed to tell you that, but it is something that I will be prepared for. I am working on it, but I am not at a point where I feel comfortable talking about any (conclusions).
BRN: I guess the central question is, “Are we spending too much?”
DH: The research I have done on the budget…and please remember that I am in the middle of that…I think there are some things that can be tweaked and we need to prioritize various things, especially where we have so many infrastructure needs.
The more important thing, I think, when it comes to looking at the budget is that we can compare it to similar size municipalities, but it would be even better if we compared it to other similar sized resort communities, like Beech Mountain, Beaufort, NC, and Wrightsville Beach. What are they providing their citizens? What kind of budgets do they have beyond attracting tourists? What are they budgeting for homeowners?
We might also solicit guidance from the North Carolina School of Government. I think that is where the analysis needs to be.
BRN: We are sort of in an awkward spot. We only have the 6,000 to 8,000 residents six months out of the year, but we have to have the Town employees year ‘round. You can’t just lay good employees off.
DH: Right. But there is plenty to do in the low season. The biggest line item in our budget is payroll, but that is pretty common. Really, if anything, I think we may be understaffed in some areas. So, how do we solve that? Again, it comes back to a cost-benefit analysis.
This has really come full circle in our conversation. What are the needs of the people and are we providing those services within the time frame that they need them?
Of late, there seems to be more division in this community than I have witnessed in 20 years of living here.
BRN: What do you think are the dividing factors?
DH: Well of course you have the needs of merchants and business owners and then you have the needs of homeowners. Then you have the needs of economic development, which is not a term you hear a lot about. We hear it from the Chamber of Commerce, but we don’t hear it from the Town.
BRN: Are you reading my script here? That is actually a good segue into my next question: What should be the role of town government in economic development?
DH: I think we should have a heavy hand in economic development. It is our town. If we don’t run it, who is? Economic development is a big part of that.
DH: The reason is fairly simple. The Town is going to change. For 20 years I have heard people say, “I like Blowing Rock the way it is, the charm and the ambience.” Well, I like those things too, but change is inevitable. What we can do is manage that change. We can still keep the charm and the ambience of our small village, but we can also increase economic development at the same time.
How we do that? It should be one of government’s roles. What are we going to do to insure economic development? How are we going to do it? What is it going to look like? Why are we depending on the Chamber of Commerce to do it for us?
I think WE (the Town) need to do it, or we need to do it in conjunction with someone. Are we big enough to have a town-employed economic development director? I don’t know, but we might be big enough to share that role with (another entity). I applaud the Chamber for taking on that role, but there seems to be a division. I don’t see the Town collaborating with the Chamber. I don’t see the Town collaborating with Blowing Rock Civic Association. I don’t see the Town collaborating with the Community Foundation or the Village Foundation. There seems to be a lot of separation. It has been more collaborative in the past.
We are just too small to have that division, that separation.
BRN: Should the Town be trying to diversify the economic base beyond tourism because right now we are still pretty much tourism-dependent and the resulting seasonality of our economy. Do you agree with that assessment?
DH: If you look at the 2014 Comprehensive Plan, it addresses that. It addresses attracting a technology base that doesn’t need a manufacturing floor and incorporating that into the fabric (of our economy). What have we done about that?
BRN: How do you do that?
DH: It might be tax incentives. It might be providing space. It might be creating an entrepreneurial foundation, an upstart type of effort. There are a number of things the Town could do. What have we done with Silicon Hollar or Startup High Country? Have we talked with them about how we can partner on economic development?
The conversation needs to be started. I don’t know that I have an immediate answer, but we threw it out there six years ago with the Comprehensive Plan and we put it on the shelf and never looked at it again.
Now your original question was: SHOULD we diversify? Truthfully, I don’t know the answer to that. We have always been a tourism driven economy and much of the charm and ambience of our town comes from tourism.
There are different ways to look at it. First, let’s look at it from the tax base viewpoint. If homeowners represent the major revenue source, they are doing so because the property valuations are so high. The valuations are so high because it is a charming, wonderful village.
BRN: With great weather.
DH: Yes, with great weather most of the time. It is a charming, wonderful village because it has nice restaurants. It has nice hotels. It has nice streets. And that is all because of tourism. One would not be here without the other.
It is not an either-or equation. If downtown wasn’t here, I doubt that the property values in town would be as high and the current socio-economic group wouldn’t be here. If those homes weren’t here, I don’t think we would have downtown. We need to realize that they have fed off each other for 100 years.
BRN: Back in the days when I was playing SimCity, which is a computer game focused on urban planning and how things work in a municipality…you have probably played it.
DH: I have not, but I am familiar with it.
BRN: The basic dynamic is present in every municipality. How strong is the downtown? Well let’s talk about strengthening downtown by perhaps responding to current macroeconomic and demographic trends. Despite what Donald Trump seems to believe, climate change appears to be a reality. If you believe the vast majority of scientists around the world, a lot of that change is because mankind is still dependent upon burning fossil fuels for energy. Seizing the moment, should the Town of Blowing Rock raise its Sustainability profile and pursue some of its basic tenets?
DH: I think we would be foolish not to. Look on my website and that is one of my main initiatives: the transition to clean energy. The technology has come so far. I made a presentation to Town Council (earlier this year) using this building (4 Forty Four offices at the Glenwood Office Condominiums) as an example. Everything in this room right now is powered by the sun. The energy is coming directly from the solar panels up above, on the rooftop. That is amazing to me. Everything electric that is on in this room is being powered by the solar panels. The energy that we use is not being generated by natural gas, nor nuclear power plants, nor any kind of oil. It is all solar.
And Kevin Troyer (owner of 4 Forty Four) has three Tesla automobiles being powered by the sun today because they are charged right outside at a station powered by the solar panels.
But here is the thing that is neat in and of itself. It is amazing technology. What is even more amazing to me are the economics. Those solar panels have a cost, of course. They are warranted for 20 years. If anything happens to them, they get replaced by the manufacturer. The payback, even allowing that the price of electricity fluctuates, from the labor and material for having those solar panels up there will be about seven years. So, after the initial seven years, for the next 13 years we have free electricity. Any overcapacity that we generate goes back into the electrical grid and Blue Ridge Energy credits us for it.
As a citizen, why aren’t we employing this solar technology on our town buildings? I don’t know what the electric utility bills are for the Town of Blowing Rock, but if I make a 20-year investment in solar panels where the Town wouldn’t have an electric bill for 13 of those 20 years – and maybe they last longer than 13 years – why aren’t we doing that?
The Town adopted a clean energy resolution as a suggestion…
BRN: You are talking about the vote they took in response to the App State professor’s presentation a year or so ago.
DH: Yes. They adopted it. They endorsed the idea of a total change to clean energy by 2050, but there was no meat in it. They really didn’t commit themselves to anything.
Let’s put some action behind the so-called commitment. I would love to see the Town of Blowing Rock use electric cars where it is feasible to do so. It is very competitive when you factor in the price of fossil fuel.
It is not just a dollars and cents thing. There is a marketing advantage, too. Make no mistake, Blowing Rock is competing with other towns and cities. There are other municipalities using this to attract sustainable tourism.
As an architect, I am in the process of designing net zero homes. I am proposing a new office building in Town that will have 100% of it’s daytime energy needs supplied by solar power.
But you know what the funny thing is? The current Town Code limits the percentage of space on the roof of a commercial building where you can place solar panels.
BRN: Yes, it is 10% to 20%, depending on the type or angle of roof that you have. That is the subject of a future Tomorrow’s Blowing Rock editorial. Why don’t they allow 100%?
DH: I think, historically, solar panels were considered unsightly. And because of the high cost, you would never achieve pay back on your investment if you put them on your house. So, it hasn’t been a big issue.
But now, Tesla has roof shingles that are solar panels. It looks like a traditional shingle roof, but the whole thing is really a bunch of solar panels. The technology is coming.
BRN: Is there anything more special about using solar panels on commercial buildings as opposed to residential homes?
DH: Yes, and that is a great question. In commercial applications, you are usually only using energy during the daylight hours, when there is sunshine. To use solar at night you need to have some sort of battery system. That is some added costs. So, on a commercial building, where you don’t use much energy at night, solar panels make a lot of sense.
BRN: I understand that there is now storage technology now that is making a lot of sense, too.
DH: There is. Also we are getting away from the internal combustion engine. Walmart is testing Tesla’s electric tractor-trailer trucks. It is moving not only to cars, but also to big equipment.
But to answer your question, there are lots of reasons for us as a town to embrace sustainability. It doesn’t have to happen overnight, but again proactive planning will win the day. We can take baby steps in that direction. We have electric vehicle charging stations, but they were basically given to us. What have WE done as a town? I think we have neglected it, but it makes economic sense. It also makes sustainable-tourism sense. If we are really looking out for citizens, we have to really be looking at the sustainability opportunities.
BRN: OK, next question: what is wrong with short-term vacation rentals?
DH: Are they a bad thing? No. After all, a motel room is a short-term rental. I guess you are asking me about houses and how homeowners are using their homes for short-term rentals.
It is just like electric cars. AirBnB and VRBO are industry agitators. Disruptors might be a better word. They have turned transient lodging on its head. It is a different way to get that product. The internet has made those types of products and properties more accessible and enhanced the popularity of it. It is not going away. We need to address it. I think the Town Council and the Planning Board have already done a lot of that. However, we have a loophole in the 28-day rental ordinance. Short term rentals are defined as rentals that are less than 28 days. We have a loophole in our ordinance where some homeowners interpret this as one rental every 28 days. That is not the intent of the code.
BRN: Why 28 days? Isn’t that rather arbitrary? Why not seven days?
DH: That is another good question. The answer lies in the fact that you have residential zones that are not intended to have short-term rentals Twenty-eight days is the standard because that is the shortest month. Those residential districts were set up to have rentals that are more than a month – more like 6-12 months. But short term rentals can be managed, and are managed, with zoning. Presently I really don’t think it is as big of an issue as it is made out to be. It is pretty well-controlled now, but we are going to continue to get pressure from organizations like AirBnB at both the state and federal levels to do away with these (local) restrictions in residential zoning districts. Our town code clearly states where short term rentals can exist and where they can’t. Our town staff works hard to monitor that activity and the town has software that scans the internet to find offenders. This is one area that the town has been proactively working.
BRN: It seems like a generational thing. Newer, younger generations are wanting to buy houses, but they don’t want to use it all the time. They want to be able to rent that property out when they aren’t using it, either for investment income or to help pay the mortgage.
DH: I don’t think that is Blowing Rock. If you take a community like Wrightsville Beach, short term rental is what everyone wants to do, but then that is the way it has always been too. That is not Blowing Rock. If the majority of people say, “This is what we want,” then I think we have to honor that. But in my opinion, Blowing Rock will never be that kind of community.
BRN: We have the Middle Fork Greenway being built. How can we as a town leverage it?
DH: As an economic driver. It is another activity or asset we can add to our list. All of a sudden we will have a biking attraction that connects us to Tweetsie, that connects us to Boone. It can connect us from Valley Blvd. and the Tanger Outlets to downtown. It introduces something that is more of a four-season activity. Walking and biking can happen at any time.
BRN: Well, somedays in January and February it might be more like ice skating!
DH (laughing): Yeah, exactly.
BRN: Although with global warming a four-season walkway becomes more viable!
DH (chuckling): Sure. But seriously, I am working on a project right now beside the Town’s water plant and the Middle Fork Greenway is proposed to go right beside what will be short-term rentals and an office complex. To have the Greenway be a part of the development is very attractive. That someone could come and rent a vacation home and be able to walk or bike to Tweetsie or even downtown or to the outlet center, that is great. They can park their car and never have to drive it if they chose to stay in the immediate area.
I think the Greenway can be a huge economic driver, but it also addresses a different socio-economic group than what we have traditionally seen in Blowing Rock. I will give you another example. Look at Park City, Utah. About 20 years ago, the city leadership acknowledged the climate change and realized that there may not always be snow-related activities for tourism. So, they started a program working on mountain biking, rafting, zip lining, hiking…all of these four seasons activities. They took a very proactive approach to market Park City as a four seasons destination. Twenty years later they are seeing it pay off. They are seeing less snow and having to make more, but now they are doing all those other things, including the Sundance Film Festival. Other things are bringing people to town. I see the same potential for Middle Fork Greenway. It is another arrow in our quill, another feather in our hat.
The more we can do to help promote Blowing Rock as a four-seasons destination helps everybody.
BRN: Final thoughts?
DH: Yes. None of the things I have talked about can happen if the Board of Commissioners, with the Mayor, does not work as a team. That is so important. I have seen some Councils do that more effectively than others. I know that some of the things I say or think may be unpopular, but at the end of the day if I can’t work with the other Commissioners and Mayor, then we aren’t going to get anything done. It is really important to me to foster that teamwork.
BRN: Is it more important for you to vote with the majority or with your conscience?
DH: It is more important for me to vote with the facts AND my conscience. If that vote goes against the grain, well that’s fine, but once that vote is final, I am going to get onboard with whatever was decided. That is what the citizens expect from a Commissioner, I think. To work for them, not against them.
BRN: So even if you don’t agree with a decision made by the majority, your role is help execute that decision going forward?
DH: I think so. Unless it is something I am vehemently opposed to, I am going to do my best to help implement that decision. It is hard for me to talk about myself, but if anything has been said about me that I agree with, it is that I am a collaborative person. In the profession I am in, I have to be. I have to work with engineers, builders, town officials, home owners and business owners. This is not a solo act and I don’t look at being a member of the Board of Commissioners as a solo act. It is a team sport and I hope to be a member of the team.