By David Rogers. June 9, 2020. BLOWING ROCK, NC — For a fifth time, Blowing Rock’s Board of Commissioners will meet under social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic. This time, it will be with a very full June agenda.
Perhaps the biggest agenda item Tuesday evening will be adoption of the 2020-21 town budget, although the document prepared by Town Manager Shane Fox, Finance Director Nicole Norman, and the various department heads is expected to be adopted as presented, with few changes. Because of dramatic reductions in sales tax and occupancy tax revenue to the town because of the nationwide economic lockdown related to the pandemic, Fox and Norman asked department heads for steep reductions in their spending plans for the next year and those are clearly evident in the recommended budget in terms of plans for both operating expenses and capital expenditures.
The Council members and meeting listeners will get at least a hint of how serious the impact has been on sales and occupancy tax revenues when Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority executive director Tracy Brown offers a powerpoint presentation of his agency’s activities before and during the lockdown. In the board packet prepared for the mayor and commissioners to review before Tuesday night’s meeting, Brown’s states that the current fiscal year (2019-20) “…was on track to be the best year on record for Occupancy Tax Revenue after nearly a decade of continued growth.”
After a review of the TDA’s pre-pandemic activities, grants, and tourism marketing investments, Brown will tell the Council members that Blowing Rock lodging businesses lost an estimated $1.23 million in revenue during March and April of this year vs. prior years and that Direct Visitor Spending of overnight visitors was down more than $3.68 million.
Brown will also report that the TDA “…is working to secure a consulting firm to develop a Sustainable Tourism Management Plan as voted on by the TDA Board of Directors.” The concept of “sustainable tourism” was advanced in early December by resident Tim Gupton, who subsequently was appointed to the TDA board by the Board of Commissioners. While the concept of “sustainable tourism” has its origins in the environmental movement, in Blowing Rock it is being used more broadly to include tourism’s impact on such things as the quality of life for permanent residents, parking, and downtown traffic. (READ our December 11, 2019 story. “Too much of a good thing is bad…but?” by clicking HERE.)
The Council will also hear a report from Planning Director Kevin Rothrock on the activities of the so-called “321 Visioning Committee.” The board packet contains comments and observations of each member of the Planning Board after reviewing the consulting firm’s report.
What has the potential to be controversial, even though it received the blessing of the Blowing Rock Planning Board, is a CUP amendment request by Bert Myers for his Foggy Rock restaurant to add a video game and billiards room in the basement of the restaurant. The proposal includes applying the parking available to Foggy Rock on its sister restaurant property, Sunny Rock, to satisfy any additional parking requirements in adding the arcade. While on the service it makes sense since the arcade and Sunny Rock will operate at different times of the day and both restaurant businesses are owned by the Myers family, the real estate on which the Sunny Rock business sits is owned by a third party. That only becomes problematic if the third party decides to sell the land in the future, at which point a new owner might have alternative plans that remove the parking facilities from the auspices of Foggy Rock.
In other business, Blowing Rock’s representative on the High Country RPO Rural Transportation Advisory Committee (RTAC), Albert Yount, is no longer interested in serving on RTAC and the Board of Commissioners has been asked to replace him.
The Board of Commissioners will also consider and discuss various amendments to the Town Code. There is no information in the Board packet as to what amendments are being considered, but Blowing Rock News has unconfirmed information that they relate to the Mayor’s powers to declare a state of emergency and when a state of emergency has ended.
The April and May regular monthly meetings were relatively light, as was a special meeting on May 21st. A 2020-2021 budget workshop was also held remotely on June 4, with all five commissioners, the mayor, and Town Manager Shane Fox physically present in Town Hall while department heads and media representatives participated or listened through virtual connections.
The regular June meeting will be staged similar to the budget workshop, although media outlets that regularly attend Blowing Rock’s Town Council meetings have been invited to attend physically because of audio challenges seen in the budget workshop.