By David Rogers. July 14, 2020. BLOWING ROCK, NC — A two-and-a-half hour Blowing Rock Town Council meeting Tuesday night produced little in the way of controversy or fireworks. Perhaps the most “dramatic” utterance was by Commissioner Albert Yount when he complimented fellow Commissioner Sue Sweeting for having second thoughts about the food truck issue. She replied, “Thank-you!”
Once again the Board of Commissioners, Mayor Charlie Sellers, and key Town staff members met remotely, with the public able to tune in live via a YouTube broadcast. A few technical difficulties made for some listening challenges later on, both on Zoom and on the YouTube channel, but when the Council hit “pause” for a 15-minute break after roughly an hour and a half, Town Manager Shane Fox and his IT staff worked some magic and it was significantly better for the remainder of the various discussions.
Some 25 public comments were read, all focused on two issues under Business Matters. Five of them centered on Foggy Rock Restaurant’s CUP amendment application allowing them to repurpose the basement of the building as a mini-arcade, with some eight video games and two pool tables. Although there was much discussion and posturing by some of the Council members, in the end Commissioner Doug Matheson moved (seconded by Commissioner Virginia Powell) to approve the amended CUP, but the two primary conditions:  that owners Burt and Yvonne Myers erect a sound barrier between the restaurant and the neighboring residential subdivision just west of the restaurant and  that all of the 12 additional parking spaces (now gravel) be paved and lined. The motion passed, 3-2, with Commissioner David Harwood joining Matheson and Powell in the affirmative and Commissioners Albert Yount and Sue Sweeting in the minority.
The other major issue under Business Matters was planned discussion about allowing food trucks to operate within the Town limits, including in the Central Business district. Twenty letters were received by the town manager and each was read by Shane Fox or Charlie Sellers. By Blowing Rock News’ count, 18 of the public comments were critical of allowing food trucks or any other kind of itinerant merchant to operate in town, two spoke in favor. One of the pro-food truck letters was articulated by longtime resident and culinary entrepreneur, Jessica Clearwater, who was seeking to bring her mobile hot dog business into downtown. Her impassioned plea included a report that the COVID-19 economic shutdown and Draconian measures taken by local, state, and national officials had caused almost all of her catering events to be cancelled, forcing her to “think outside the box” and start her Wiener Wagon in order to survive.
The naysayers were often sympathetic and appreciative of the initiative shown by food truck operators wanting Blowing Rock to open their doors to them, but especially during this pandemic many local restaurants are barely able to survive. Some have even closed their doors, permanently. Among the letters against allowing food trucks included views from Green Park Inn, Woodlands BBQ, El Rincon, Mellow Mushroom, Six Pence Pub, and Town Tavern, as well as retailers such as Karyn Herterich, owner of Southmarke and Serves You Right, and individual residents such as Don Hubble and Loretta Hubble.
The reasons most often expressed were the transient nature of food trucks; increased trash; taking up parking spaces; not having to comply with Town Code and Land Use Code requirements for appearance, parking, setbacks and other requirements imposed on traditional restaurant proprietors; changing the village character; opening the potential for many other types of itinerant merchants; and food truck operators not having to pay property taxes or water and sewer fees as do traditional restaurants (or their landlords); among others.
After roughly 45 minutes of discussion, it became apparent that the majority of the commissioners had heard enough and were inclined to vote “no” should a vote be taken, so the issue died.
Since the current Land Use Code was amended in 2002 to make itinerant merchants impermissible within the Town limits and earlier than that in the Town Code for the Central Business district, to permit itinerant merchants or mobile vendors would have required a public hearing in which the commissioners would hear both the pros and the cons before any kind of vote.
At the end of the regular session, the Council went into closed session but no action was taken upon their re-convening before formal adjournment.