BLOWING ROCK TOWN COUNCIL: A night of ovations

BLOWING ROCK TOWN COUNCIL: A night of ovations
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There were some lighter moments during Tuesday’s meeting, including here where Doug Matheson and Virginia Powell share a laugh.

By David Rogers. November 14, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Tuesday’s meeting of the Blowing Rock Town Council consumed almost two and a half hours, but the members of the Board of Commissioners only talked for about half of that time. Four well-deserved standing ovations during special recognition ceremonies and a very educational special presentation made up the rest.

COVER IMAGE: Town Manager Ed Evans shows his enthusiasm for Blowing Rock’s recognition in the America In Bloom competition, with Blowing Rock’s project chair applauding. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

The heartfelt appreciation of the audience and Council members was obvious when the services of Town Manager Ed Evans and Public Works Director Mike Wilcox were recognized separately during retirement ceremonies.

Retiring Town Manager Ed Evans (right) gets an enthusiastic handshake and plaque of recognition from Mayor Charlie Sellers

After Mayor Charlie Sellers spoke about Evans’s relatively short tenure as town manager but lasting impact in his service and supervision of town affairs, the audience members jumped to their feet to warmly applaud Evans with a sustained ovation. Evans’ tenure as town manager has at times been challenging, particularly in working with what many consider a dysfunctional and ill-equipped Board of Commissioners and the audience appreciation of those challenges was palpable in that moment, even if unspoken.

Evans listed a litany of staff and public commendations for the service of Wilcox in presenting the 35-year veteran town employee with a plaque recognizing his years of work on behalf of Blowing Rock, its residents, visitors, and the many businesses that rely on the town infrastructure. As he made his exit, Wilcox shook hands not only with Evans, but with each member of Town Council and staff members, as well as several residents in his path.

If a Town-selected contractor is used, then a lien will be placed on the property for the costs of demolition and removal.

Local resident Sue Sweet reported on Blowing Rock’s recognition by the America in Bloom non-profit organization. Two of the national organization’s committee members visited Blowing Rock in July. At their annual meeting in September, AIB presented various awards to towns and cities in multiple town beautification categories.

L-R: Parks & Recreation landscape professionals Chris Pate, Luke Taylor and Richard Steer represented the Town’s Parks & Recreation team in being recognized for contributions leading to the America In Bloom awards.

Three Blowing Rock businesses and institutions received special recognition: The Blowing Rock attraction, Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church, and the Inn at Ragged Gardens/Best Cellar Restaurant for their colorful contributions to the Town, while Blowing Rock itself was recognized by America In Bloom for its flowers.

Central to the latter award has been the work of the Town’s landscape employees, three of whom were on hand at Tuesday night’s meeting, including Chris Pate, Luke Taylor, and Richard Steer. Their colorful work is a blessing not only for residents and business owners, but for all of the visitors, particularly during the summer months when the flowers are in full bloom.

The America In Bloom committee headed by Sweet and the Parks & Recreation workers also received well-deserved ovations from an appreciative audience.

With no Speakers from the Floor, once the Council got down to regular business they quickly passed the Consent Agenda, consisting of a tax release, approval of the Mayview Madness 5k date (Saturday, September 21, 2019), and a budget amendment ordinance.

Let’s put some teeth in the resolution.

There was no Old Business.

Under New Business, the Commissioners quickly approved the condemnation of what has been dubbed the Miller/Henson Property at 712 Possum Hollow Rd.  Citizen complaints about the property date back to 2006. The house was initially condemned, closed, and secured by then building inspector Jesse Horner between 2010 and 2012 and the structures have remained deserted until now. The condemnation process was started again in February 2017 with presumed owner Jeff Miller. Through several procedural delays, including hardship claims by Miller and later recognition that the deed lists not only Miller but also the life estate of Frances Henson as owners of the property, the condemnation process was extended to the present time. Town Council unanimously passed an ordinance calling for the demolition of the structures on the property. During a 60-day required notice period, the owner(s) have the opportunity to demolish and remove. If not demolished and removed by the owner(s), then a Town-selected contractor could start the demolition project, perhaps as early as December 12th of 2018. If the Town-selected contractor remedy is used, then a lien will be placed against the property for the amount of the demolition and removal costs.

Kevin Troyer of 4 Forty Four Construction points to an image of solar panels installed on the company’s roof at Glenwood Office Condominiums

Significant discussion focused on the street enhancements being undertaken for Park Avenue. While the south side improvements have already been approved and are underway, Evans presented to the Commissioners a staff recommendation to similarly improve the north side of the street, with sidewalk, curb and gutter. Those enhancements would run from the west driveway of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce building to Main Street. As presented by Evans, many people use Park Ave. “…as a 30-foot wide sidewalk…” and cited safety concerns, as well as beautification advantages for the Park Avenue improvements. He explained that with savings achieved on the south side of the street enhancements they could implement the north side improvements without any additional monies vs. what was originally budgeted for the south side. Passed unanimously by the Board of Commissioners.

One of the most interesting segments of Tuesday’s Town Council meeting was a joint presentation by David Harwood, President of Sketchline Architecture and Kevin Troyer, President of 4 Forty Four Construction about the advances in clean energy.

There are safety concerns on Park Avenue

David Harwood

Harwood’s and Troyer’s presentation focused largely on the financial returns of investing in renewable energy sources, especially solar, as well as the sustainability benefits of lowering the carbon footprint of our living on Earth by moving away from a dependence on fossil fuels. During the Q&A portion of the agenda item, Yount smiled in pointing out that just two percent of the Sun’s one-day energy output is more than all of the energy that humans have ever produced. Troyer reported that his firm had installed 12 solar panels on the roof of 4 Forty Four’s offices at the Glenwood Office Condominiums and that it is now producing approximately 50% of the company’s energy usage. He added that the savings is expected to recapture his investment in seven years, and that with the manufacturer’s 20-year warranty 4 Forty Four was getting about 13 years of free energy.

Commissioner Albert Yount reveals himself as a big fan of any sustainable energy initiative based on the performance of a recent solar installation on his residence’s roof.

Harwood asked the Council members to “put some teeth” behind the a resolution advanced by Appalachian State professor Harvard Ayers and the North Carolina Climate Solutions Coalition. Ayers’ resolution passed by a 3-2 vote by the Board in March of this year. CLICK HERE to review that meeting and the related discussion. In the March vote, “Aye” votes were cast by commissioners Albert Yount, Sue Sweeting and Virginia Powell, while “Nay” votes opposing the resolution were cast by Jim Steele and Doug Matheson after the sometimes contentious discussion.

Also serving as the chairman of the Blowing Rock Planning Board, Harwood pointed out, “It is an admirable goal to pursue 100% renewable energy and it is more achievable now than ever before.”

The Council members spent considerable time discussing the pros and cons of allowing speakers from the floor during meetings to address any subject, including agenda items. After the January 2018 retreat, Town Council adopted a new policy to move “Speakers from the Floor” to the beginning of the meeting rather than at the end of the meeting as has been practiced in the past, but with the restriction that speakers could not talk about agenda items that would follow.

Pursuing 100% renewable energy is more achievable now than ever before.

Town Hall’s Council chambers were packed with interested residents, here listening intently to the Parks and Recreation Master Plan presentation.

While Yount brought the subject to the meeting agenda, Commissioner Sue Sweeting appeared to be the primary advocate for allowing speakers from the floor to talk about anything, including items that would later appear on a Town Council meeting’s agenda. For his part, Yount declared that he wasn’t necessarily advocating for the change.

Sellers argued that the people elected the mayor and commissioners to represent them so comments about agenda items should be communicated through those representatives. Steele observed that if you permitted that or instead allowed public comment during the time an agenda item was discussed during a meeting, “then every agenda item becomes a public hearing.”

Evans urged caution in adopting a new policy, suggesting that other towns and cities “do it this way for a reason,” further suggesting that the Council table the discussion until additional research on best practices can be undertaken. That research would include potential comment from the UNC School of Government and the North Carolina League of Municipalities. The Commissioners opted to table the discussion and any decision until that research had been conducted by Evans and one or more Council members.

Mayor Charlie Sellers

Parks & Recreation Director Jennifer Brown reminded the Commissioners that the Master Plan for Blowing Rock Parks & Recreation is now 13 years old, and that the Council had approved a review and updating of the document at its May 2018 meeting. That study has now been completed with the help of consulting firm McGill & Associates and Brown was requesting that the Commissioners approve of the newly updated Master Plan.

Having the Master Plan updated, Brown explained, helps Parks & Recreation in its efforts to secure grants for various projects, which leverages money already budgeted by the Town.

Jim Ford of McGill & Associates provided highlights of the 153-page document (CLICK HERE for the full agenda item entry, including the report). With minimal follow-on discussion, the Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the plan.

In Evans’ Town Manager Report:

  • Sale of several small surplus assets on GovDeals.com for $1,312
  • Report re: Sourwood Lane water line project, including completion of paving on Green Hill Woods section
  • Park Ave. enhancements started on the south side
  • Stop signs at Green Hill Rd. and Green Hill Circle intersection have been installed
  • Engineering for Sunset Drive improvements is on schedule
  • A “no dumping” sign has been erected at the end of Skyland View
  • The Memorial Park “Giving Tree” has been installed
  • The “Own a piece of history” campaign for selling road signs has generated $2,450.50
  • Right of way acquisition is progressing for the sidewalk to Bass Lake project. Revised plans have been updated and submitted to the NCDOT
  • Christmas in the Park is scheduled for November 23rd, the day after Thanksgiving
  • Christmas Parade is November 24th, 2:00 pm
  • Special Town Council meeting on November 19, 3:30 pm, to discuss process for recruiting and hiring new town manager
  • Town Hall will be closed November 22nd and 23rd in observance of Thanksgiving

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