By David Rogers. October 14, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — If there was a clear winner Monday night at the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce-hosted 2019 Candidates Forum, it was the performance of the recently renovated Blowing Rock School Auditorium. From a new sound system and stage lighting to newly painted walls, the restored finish of the original stage floor, and new black stage curtains all around, the Auditorium facilitated a professional production.
As for the candidates themselves, there was relatively little to separate them. Each espoused preservation of the quaint village while nurturing managed growth.
The format of the event was pretty fluid: each candidate fielded a randomly selected question composed by members of the Chamber of Commerce board and tweaked by the Chamber’s Leadership Challenge alumni.
Each acknowledged that parking is a problem, but all expressing uncertainty as to how to address it. Challengers David Harwood and Ray Pickett, along with incumbent and unopposed mayoral candidate Charlie Sellers wondered aloud whether the existing parking capacity of the Town couldn’t be better managed. Harwood suggested that before looking at any kind of a town investment in new property or a new parking deck, better managing the existing parking resources through metering or improved signage should been a first step.
Meanwhile, incumbent Albert Yount stated that he had multiple times requested a parking study, only to be told by an unnamed fellow commissioner that there had already been one done — but Yount was unable to get his hands on it, he claimed.
As expected, short-term rentals was a hot topic, with Yount objecting to any kind of proliferation into the neighborhoods. “We have 140 or so now,” he said (which would include Chetola and Royal Oaks condominium rentals), “and I think that is enough without going into the neighborhoods.”
Jim Steele agreed, reflecting back on when the 28-day minimum rental was first passed. “That is what the vast majority of people in Blowing Rock wanted,” Steele reported, adding as he pointed out to the audience, “If you want that changed, you need to tell us.”
Steele also pointed out that potential legislation in the General Assembly, if passed, would take short-term rentals out of local control. Also speaking to the audience, Pickett suggested that if Blowing Rock residents wanted to keep local control of short-term rentals, they needed to let their elected state officials know of their opinions and priorities.
In one of the only revelatory moments of the evening, Harwood argued that the current loophole allowing residents to rent once every 28 days regardless of the length of stay needed to be closed. “That 28-day requirement was intended as the minimum length of stay,” he reported, “not to allow people to rent their homes once a month.”
Overall, the evening presentation of the candidates was fairly collegial. While Yount and Sellers, unprovoked within the event itself, openly took issue with descriptions of the Town Council and especially the Board of Commissioners as “dysfunctional,” defending themselves by claiming that such descriptions are not accurate, most of the banter among the candidates and of each other was complimentary.
One of the audience questions asked about the wisdom of spending $20,000 on a consultant for what to do with Valley Blvd. given the Commissioners’ arguably failed track record of hiring a consulting firm for the work on Sunset Drive. Yount seemed to place the blame on the design firm, “They took three swings at it and struck out each time.”
Harwood was the most articulate in answering the questions. “There is nothing wrong with hiring a consulting firm,” he said. “But if you are going to hire a consultant, you have to tell them what kind of deliverables you are expecting, what your general aesthetic expecations are, the timeline, and what your financial resources are to spend on the project. The sweet spot is when all of those things come together.”
In the coming weeks, Blowing Rock News will be publishing “Blowing Rock ONE on ONE” interviews with each of the four candidates for the two open commissioner seats. They are comprehensive, in-depth, and candid, often going right to the heart of key issues, as well as helping readers understand what qualifications and values each candidate brings.