By David Rogers. August 12, 2014. BLOWING ROCK, NC — While the 2014 update to the Town Comprehensive Plan suggested that the 7.35 acre parcel between Hill St. and Chetola Mountain Resort on North Main Street in Blowing Rock should be developed, the devil is apparently in the details of who is doing the doin'.
After breezing through almost the entire agenda in less than 10 minutes, the August 12th regular meeting of the Blowing Rock Town Council got bogged down — again — with what has evolved as the proposed controversial "Mountainleaf" development on the North Main Street vacant lot. Charlotte-based Catellus Group is requesting a conditional use permit to approve, in concept, a 112-room hotel/restaurant/bar/spa complex with a 250-seat banquet/conference facility and other amenities. In addition, four multi-use (residential and commercial) buildings would be featured.
After more than three hours more of public and applicant testimony, the Commissioners voted to punt, deferring a decision until a special meeting called for August 27th, 5:30 pm, so that they might assess and review the public testimony and developer's revised plans and circumstances.
Almost all of the public testimony Tuesday night and at last month's marathon meeting centered on several residents' public outcry: they don't "like" the development, they want to keep the village small and quaint which, as one put it, "…has served us well for over 125 years."
Whether those speaking out against the development represent the majority or even a substantial portion of Blowing Rock residents is debatable, but certainly the few that spoke are the most vocal. Public sentiment for or against aside, the problem facing the Town Commissioners is that the CUP request, as presented, meets all of the Town's Land Use Code ordinances except for three issues, for which Catellus Group has requested what they represent as well-reasoned variances.
According to statements made by Town Attorney Allen Moseley during the meeting, the Town Commissioners would be ill-advised to vote against the project simply because "they didn't like it," because in that event the denial would most likely end up in court and the Town would probably lose on those grounds.
So if the Town Commissioners are going to reject the CUP request, they must realistically reject one or more of the variance petitions and hope that Catellus Group cannot work around them, fall back on a recommended condition of the Planning Board in advancing the project out of its June meeting, or reject the developer's CUP provision asking for a full 5-year vesting period.
The requested waivers:
- Building height — a section of the hotel that is set back some 200 feet from Main Street is planned for 55 feet in height, which exceeds the most generous land use code provision by 15 feet (Land Use Code Section 16-188.8.131.52). Catellus Group is asking for the waiver because their setback is 200 feet (the largest setback provided for in Town Code is 65 feet, allowing for a 40-foot building height), which significantly reduces any line of sight impairment when compared to buildings at maximum height permitted at all other stipulated setbacks).
- Parking — according to Planning Director Kevin Rothrock, normal town ordinances would require at least 267 parking spaces, but the Catellus Group waiver request was to provide only 254 spaces because of the mixed use character of the development.
- Impervious surfaces — The Land Use Code (16-184.108.40.206) appears to permit up to 70% of a development to be impervious surfaces. The Catellus plans call for right at 70%, so the applicant is requesting a waiver. Otherwise, the storm management system designed by the Catellus Group more than exceeds Town ordinances.
Approval or rejection of the CUP may also hinge on a condition of the Planning Board that focuses on a planned upper parking lot. Access to the parking lot is limited to an entrance off of Hill St. One of the Planning Board conditions for advancing the project to the full Town Council was for access to all elements of the property to be from within the property. Because of elevation changes from the back of the lot to Main Street, as well as emergency services access considerations, Catellus maintains that the only practical access to the upper parking lot is from Hill Street.
Another bone of contention for Commissioners appeared to be the Catellus Group's request for a five-year vesting period, rather than a two-year or three-year vesting period that at least one of the Commissioners stated was more standard and reportedly recommended by Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce representatives.
Catellus is concerned about unforeseen delays outside of their control, such as a sagging economy or weather-related delays, as well as a potential change in requirements that might be imposed by a newly-comprised Town Council after an election that occurs during their construction.
According to statements made by Catellus Group CEO Steve Barker and representatives Walter Fields and Ben Cassarino during their testimony, Catellus needs the Town Council's conceptual approval of the CUP to trigger a series of other project activities, including their purchase of the property from Bank of Granite/Community One Bank and securing financing for the project, as well as seeking a "flag" operator for the hotel property.
Since its first presentation at the Planning Board in June, Catellus has agreed to provide public restrooms on their property for pedestrians walking through or patronizing the planned retail shops, to place $25,000 in escrow for the construction of a sidewalk from the Hill St. and Main St. intersection to the parking lot of Southern Comforts restaurant, pledged to save as many trees on the property as possible, and provided significant detail in their stormwater management provisions, including reaching an agreement with Chetola for its controlled discharge into Chetola Lake.
Does Not Achieve Desired Connectivity
Chetola owner Kent Tarbutton, who also serves as Chairman of the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority, repeated his observation from the July meeting that another high-end hotel is probably needed in Blowing Rock, but he questioned the efficacy of the project in completing the connection from the Tanger Outlets and Chetola to the downtown Central Business District. While the Mountainleaf design welcomes pedestrians through the property and accomodates them with sidewalks and even restrooms, Tarbutton suggested that constructing a sidewalk along Main Street on the perimeter of the Mountainleaf property would provide better and more preferred connectivity, in his opinion.
Commissioner Ray Pickett, who owns Blowing Rock Inn on adjacent property just across Hill Street, recused himself from the public hearing and voting on any decision. In the event of a 2-2- tie, Mayor J.B. Lawrence would cast the deciding vote.
In other Council business, the Commissioners approved a new noise ordinance establishing decibel levels for music amplification and other loud activities at 65 decibels when measured 65 feet from the property line.
Blowing Rock native Tom Robbins was honored by naming September 10th, "Tom Robbins Day." The author of "Another Roadside Attraction" (published in 1971) and "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" (1976) will be visiting Blowing Rock in September. The octagenarian was born July 22, 1932, in Blowing Rock, although his family moved to Richmond, Virginia while he was still a young boy, according to a 2013 CNN report. Other titles authored by Robbins include "Still Life with Woodpecker" (1980), "Jitterbug Perfume" (1984), "Skinny Legs and All" (1990), "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas" (1994), "Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates" (2000), and "Villa Incognito" (2003). In 2005, he published a collection of essays, reviews and short stories entitled, "Wild Ducks Flying Backward" and in 2009, he penned a novella, "B is for Beer."
Town Manager Scott Fogleman reviewed the proposed General Obligation Bond referendum that seeks $9 million for capital outlays focused on infrastructure improvements, including streets, sewer and water.
Consent Agenda items passed, including:
- ABC Store Travel Policy
- Recognize donation of $40,000 by the ABC Store toward American Legion building renovation
- $60,000 for a water line connecton at Tanger Outlets
- Water plant filter basin repair
- Approval for the Town's 2012 local water supply plan was received from North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
- Additional funding is required by the Wonderland Trail road repair project, allocated to revenue from FEMA and North Carolina Department of Public Safety
- An easement agreement for emergency raw water supply from RSK Mountain Resort LLC (Chetola)
- Reappropriating surplus funds from replacing the swimming pool heater to a protective roof structure