By David Rogers. July 11, 2020. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Whether or not Blowing Rock’s Board of Commissioners is opening a can of worms remains to be seen, but Tuesday night’s regular July meeting of Town Council should provide at least a preview.
To review the full board packet for the July 14, 2020, meeting of Blowing Rock Town Council, CLICK HERE.
Thrust onto the agenda under “Business Matters” is a scheduled discussion on permitting food trucks and, presumably, other mobile vendors (AKA “itinerant merchants”) to ply their respective trades within Blowing Rock’s town limits. Among the questions the Council members must consider:
- What has been Blowing Rock’s history with itinerant merchants?
- In 2002, a change was made to the Land Use Code that removed itinerant merchants as a permissible use within the town limits. Current commissioners should question what prompted such a decision by the Council at that time and whether the circumstances have changed in the interim so that reversing that restriction is plausible.
- Commissioners should also consider why a previous Board, in Chapter 8 of Town Code, removed itinerant merchants as permissible in the Central Business district (i.e., Main Street) except as part of a charity event (school, non-profit, or church-related). What circumstances prompted that restriction and have those circumstances changed with the passage of time?
- Precedent? If one or more food trucks or other types of mobile vendors are permitted downtown and prove profitable for the operators, other applicants are sure to follow, both in number and kind of wares promoted.
- Is there a limit to the number of mobile vendors that can be approved? By what measures does the Town approve one and not another?
- Other Types? Other than food trucks, what other types of itinerant merchants will such a change in the Town Code or Land Use Code attract? Ice cream? Lemonade? Arts, crafts, and trinkets? Sombreros? Fruit & vegetables? Bread? Toys? Apparel? Toiletries? Magazines and books? In New York City, for example, all of those kinds of itinerant vendors have been active.
- Does permitting mobile vendors downtown add to or diminish the “character” of the village?
- Fair Competition? Do itinerant merchants represent fair and reasonable competition for existing restaurants or retail stores that have been forced to make substantial capital outlays to comply with Town Code or Land Use Codes regarding the size of their physical plant, setbacks, appearance (materials and colors), parking, etc., as dictated by the current or a previous Board of Commissioners?
- Financial Impact on Town Revenue? Some traditional restaurants, whether casual or fine dining, own the land and/or buildings within which they operate and directly pay significant property taxes (property taxes are the Town’s largest source of revenue) into the Town coffers. Other restaurants are tenants, but they indirectly contribute to the Town revenue because their landlords (who pay the property taxes) depend on the rents received from a successful and profitable tenant eatery. What contributions to the Town is the potential itinerant merchant prepared to make, either financially or through some sort of balancing community service?
- Regulatory Authority(s)? If approved, are there mechanisms in place to satisfactorily police or regulate food truck or itinerant merchant operation in terms of sanitation, sales tax collection, and garbage collection? Does the business operating the itinerant merchant have a physical office, whether in-residence or commercial?
- Case Studies? How are other small towns and historic villages handling any demand for itinerant merchants’ doing business in their communities?
- Timing: Right or Wrong? Is the time of a global pandemic, when many small businesses across the nation are struggling to stay afloat, the right time to consider approving itinerant merchants? Do they solve or satisfy a community need or does their existence in a small community worsen the struggle of longtime village constituents?
These are just some of the considerations a thoughtful Board of Commissioners should contemplate in exploring this issue before making a decision. It is much more complex than just saying itinerant merchants represent fair or unfair competition because there are pros and cons (as with most issues). FINAL QUESTION: are there solutions that address both sides of the issue and that mitigate any otherwise unforeseen consequences?
Other Business Matters — Foggy Rock CUP Amendment
The amendment to Foggy Rock Restaurant’s conditional use permit seeking to allow the business to offer up to eight video games and up to two pool tables in the restaurant’s basement is scheduled to be brought back before the Board during Tuesday’s July meeting. Two questions seemed to be problematic during the application’s first submission, in June:  had comment been sought from neighboring residents across the draw from the restaurant, and  what was the opinion of the Sunny Rock property owner where Foggy Rock sought to use available parking spaces to satisfy any additional parking requirements for the basement arcade?
CORRECTION: In our original draft, we referred to “neighboring residents across the river from the restaurant.” That is misleading because the river actually comes underneath Valley Blvd. roughly 100 yards north of Foggy Rock.
In answer to the second question, a July 6, 2020, memorandum to members of Town Council from Planning Director Kevin Rothrock reports that all parking requirements for the restaurant (Foggy Rock) and the proposed arcade can be provided on the Foggy Rock property.
Other Agenda Items
The July meeting is also the occasion on which Town Clerk and Tax Collector, Hilari Hubner, submits to Town Council a report listing the persons owning real property in Blowing Rock whose taxes for 2019 remain unpaid, in accordance with North Carolina General Statutes (NCGS) 105-373(a)(1)(a&b).
According to Hubner’s official memorandum to the Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners, “Further, I hereby certify that I have made diligent efforts to collect the taxes due from the persons listed in such a manner that is reasonably necessary.”
According to the list provided, more than 50 properties represent a total due of $59,947, including the levy plus penalty.
the same memorandum includes a table titled, “Persons Not Owning Real Property Whose Taxes for FY 2019-20 Remain Unpaid.” The total due from this list of 12 taxpayers is $1,242.40.
A second memorandum to the Board of Commissioners lists all delinquent taxes for the as of the FY2019-20, dating back to 2010, including penalties and interest, totaling $230,022.34. If we understand the report correctly, $109,236.81 of that amount has been collected, leaving $84,824.83 of principal and $33,626.75 in interest and charges “…constituting liens against real and personal property.” $2,333.95 was either refunded, released or reduced by the Town.