By David Rogers. January 21, 2019. ASHEVILLE, NC — Day Two of the 2019 Blowing Rock Town Council “retreat” began promptly at 8:15 am in the Vanderbilt Room of the Doubletree Inn in Asheville.
Various Project Activities
- Shuttle Continuance and Route — It was noted that the shuttle service contracted with Applecart with first year costs paid by the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority (TDA) was not very well utilized visitors or resident:
- While the “internal” town route was well-intentioned to introduce the service to Town, by not having the route include “external” destinations such as Tanger Outlets, Green Park Inn and Holiday Inn Express reduced the shuttle’s attractiveness
- The service did not begin until July
- Early signage simply indicated that select locations were an “Applecart” stop, and a great many people didn’t know what an Applecart was. Added signage text explaining “free shuttle service” was not added until Labor Day weekend.
- The general consensus was that the service in 2018 was not a fair trial because of the route limitations, late start in the season and promotion challenges. The Board of Commissioners agreed that it should be continued for one more year, but to study modifications
- Sunset Drive Improvements — the discussion centered around bids coming in more than $1 million more than funds allocated and available — and where to find the additional funds. While a couple of the commissioners wanted to find ways to reduce the project costs by eliminating certain aspects or changing materials, other commissioners, particularly Yount, were adamant in not wanting to compromise the previously agreed upon project features. When finally asked about sources of securing the funding, Finance Director Norman showed the Council members where various funds from the bond issues were unallocated and could be earmarked for the improvements, if the Council so decided
- Gateway — The previously proposed “gateway” to Blowing Rock near the intersection of Sunset Dr. and Valley Blvd. was briefly discussed. Commissioner Powell was adamant in stating, “We voted down the gateway project twice. There will be no gateway…Blowing Rock has more than one entrance.”
- Bass Lake Sidewalk — Town Engineer Doug Chapman of McGill Associates outlined the problems and delays in the project, explaining that they principally arise from the need to coordinate the federal grant process with the process needs and timeline of North Carolina Department of Transportation.
- Middle Fork Greenway Update — Fundraising is ongoing. Alternative paths crossing over or under the Blue Ridge Parkway were discussed.
- Virginia Tech Plan — There was extensive discussion about the proposed improvements to the area behind (south) and west of the old fire station and the recreation department building, and areas alongside Memorial Park. One cost estimate is at $728,000 without the needed waterproofing of the area behind the building.
- Editor’s Note: We were disappointed that none of the discussion addressed any connection to or relevance of the 2014 Comprehensive Plan, to which a lot of people in town contributed many hours of work. The Virginia Tech study and proposals should not necessarily assume a higher priority position vs. the Comprehensive Plan simply because a couple of Town Staff or Town Council members were “seduced” by the later study. Whatever the Virginia Tech project’s merits, the first consideration should be how it fits into the earlier commissioned and updated Comprehensive Plan.
- Dog Park — The idea of a dog park was eventually dismissed and deemed problematic because of location, staffing, and maintenance considerations, as well as demand. Virginia Powell suggested, “We already have a dog park and it is called, ‘Bass Lake.'”
- 321 Landscaping — While discussion focused on alternatives for the Valley Blvd. improvements, both on the sides and in the center median, including consideration for trees and/or grass, it was pointed out that because the utility lines run down the center median a concrete “seal” over the cables. This places limitations on what can be done from a landscaping standpoint. It was also pointed out that any permanent work on Valley Blvd. landscaping is being held up by AT&T’s delays in dealing with their above ground lines.
- Recreation Director Jennifer Brown reported on her departmental plans and needs.
- Editor’s Note: At one point, the discussion evolved as a personnel matter that should more appropriately be conducted in closed session, but apparently one or more of the Commissioners have been approached about creating Landscaping as a separate department from Parks & Recreation. We feel that it would have been more appropriate for the subject Commissioners to push back and redirect their source to address the issue with some combination of Brown, the Parks & Recreation director under which Landscaping currently falls, and Interim Town Manager Jim Freeman. In our view, it is not appropriate for Commissioners to be dealing with any conflicts between Town staff members or any kind of reorganization without first being brought to the attention of the direct supervisor and town manager. The Town Manager is in charge of day-to-day operational management of staff activities. The Commissioners are charged with policy-making and long-term strategic direction considerations, not day-to-day operations.
- Interim Police Chief Aaron Miller represented Emergency Service. A good deal of Town Council discussion centered around ambulance service and potentially distorted numbers being used by the County to justify not having a full-time ambulance stationed in Blowing Rock, including the exclusion of calls from the Foley Center and Appalachian Ski Mountain, which are more expediently served from the Blowing Rock station vs. a Boone station. Other discussion focused on a renewal of the School Resource Officer (SRO) at Blowing Rock School, the first year of which was funded by the Town of Blowing Rock. Watauga County has reportedly followed suit with the assignment of four additional SROs, all funded by the County. Much of Town Council’s discussion centered on the County’s prospective funding of the Blowing Rock SRO, as it is providing in the other County schools.
- Energy Efficiency — the Town already tries to conserve energy where possible, but Town Council members all agreed with Staff that more attention needs to be given to more energy efficient vehicles and the prospective use of solar panels on town-owned buildings to generate electricity.
- Professional Services — the general sentiment seemed to be that using local vendors should be a priority