By David Rogers. November 22, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — One of the last, mostly vacant parcels along Blowing Rock’s Main Street took one step closer to development (or redevelopment) Thursday night. By an 8-0 vote, the Blowing Rock Planning Board will recommend to Town Council that they approve plans for a 12-room hotel on the 0.44 acre lot between El Rincon Restaurant and the Blowing Rock Inn.
COVER IMAGE: An artist’s rendering of the proposed Blue Ridge Hotel, to be developed by The Winkler Organization. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
The vacant lot is the site of the former Blue Ridge Motor Court. At least the working title for the new hotel is the Blue Ridge Hotel, as referred to on the plan documents.
There were only a few questions raised by the board members since the plans appear to conform to the Land Use Code without any need for special conditions, variances, or waivers. From the board, clarification was sought from the developer as to the potential conversion of the property to condominiums. While Amber Winkler, in representing the developer, asserted that there were no plans for a condo conversion, that it is a hotel, Planning Director Kevin Rothrock confirmed that any change in use from hotel to condos would require The Winkler Organization to come back to the Planning Board and Town Council for approval.
Resident Tim Gupton, appearing on behalf of Blowing Rock Civic Association (BRCA), first stated that the organization would be expanding its mission from simply reporting facts after reviewing proposed projects, to actually stating its position regarding approval or disapproval of a development. BRCA purports to give greater representation of resident concerns to Blowing Rock government, vs. business interests, including tourism.
Gupton stated that there are certain ordinances in the Land Use Code that are confusing or have been interpreted differently than they appear to provide for, which creates confusion. He gave an example of an ordinance that appears to require that 75% of the area in front of a development be greenspace. Later, Rothrock acknowledged that there are several areas that are ambiguous in their wording, including several that were addressed over several months by the Planning Board with suggested changes advanced to Town Council last February. Ironically, the BRCA campaigned actively against those changes and they were summarily rejected by the Board of Commissioners.
The approval of the Blue Ridge Hotel project took only about half of the 45-minute meeting. Outgoing chairman David Harwood addressed the Board at the meeting’s opening to thank all of the members for the opportunity he has had to work with them. Having been elected on November 5th to the Board of Commissioners, Harwood stated that one of his priorities is to facilitate a better sense of collaboration between the Planning Board and Town Council.
After the Winkler project discussion and vote, Planning Board member Don Hubble advanced discussion about whether the board should ask the Board of Commissioners for new instructions regarding the Land Use Code ordinances, or if the Planning Board should initiate revisiting the project on its own. Planning Board members Pete Gherini, Mike Page, and chairman Wes Carter all voiced opinions that if the Planning Board undertakes such a project again, there needs to be a clearer understanding from Town Council as to what is expected.
The meeting started at 5:30 pm and was adjourned at 6:15 pm. The Winkler project was the only formal business item on the agenda.