By David Rogers. September 10, 2014. BLOWING ROCK, NC — After the Mountainleaf development proposal consumed nearly 12 hours of Planning Board and Town Council meeting time over the summer, Blowing Rock’s Board of Commissioners would not be blamed if found hoping for a short, non-controversial meeting Tuesday night. No such luck.
After proclaiming September in Blowing Rock to be “Hunger Action Month”, with Susan Stutts of Casting Bread Ministries (Faithbridge United Methodist Church) on hand to receive the proclamation, the Council members certainly didn’t go hungry for debate and discussion with three public hearings.
Conditional Zoning Process
First up was a proposed ordinance amendment to the Land Use Code involving Conditional Zoning Districts. While the Council eventually voted 4-1 to approve (Commissioner Dan Phillips voting “no”), it was not without considerable discussion. A conditional zoning process allows applicants to request a property re-zoning while attaching conditions specific to a proposed development AND requires a neighborhood informational meeting prior to Planning Board review.
For all but one of the Commissioners, the conditional zoning process seemed like a good idea because it eliminates the need for a quasi-judicial hearing required by the current conditional use permit (CUP) process and it allows for a single legislative decision to rezone a property with conditions. The most important benefit is that it seems to facilitate greater transparency, allowing for discussion and negotiation outside of a formal hearing, although all decision-making must be public.
Unlike with the CUP process, the Commissioners can individually or collectively talk among themselves, with neighboring property owners and other constituent interests without fear of violating any “sunshine laws”. The conditional zoning process also permits the Council to establish site-specific conditions.
Commissioner Phillips encouraged his colleagues not to rush this decision. He was principally concerned that the conditional zoning process might allow developers greater access to Commissioners, Planning Board members and other community interests in order to “sell” the development.
After considerable discussion, the Commissioners voted to send the draft ordinance again back to the Planning Board. Numerous concerns were voiced as to the size, number, placement, and visual characteristics of boards that might appear on public sidewalks.
By ordinance, sandwich board type signage is not allowed by the Land Use Code, but many downtown merchants have been using them either not knowing about their prohibition or in defiance of the ordinance because they are felt to be important to their business purposes and bringing attention to their product and service offerings.
Planning Director Kevin Rothrock acknowledged that while the ordinance amendment was being considered to permit sandwich boards, there has been a moratorium on enforcement. He further stated that the usage has gotten “…a little bit out of control.”
The nature and character of outdoor displays on Main Street seems to surface every five to 10 years, Mayor J.B. Lawrence commented. Ironically, this time the issue arose because of the sandwich board issue and how the signage and outdoor displays might conflict or overwhelm public sidewalks — but while the sandwich boards ordinance was unanimously rejected by the Council and sent back to the Planning Board for re-consideration, the outdoor displays ordinance was approved.
Under the new amendment regulating the use of outdoor displays on public sidewalks downtown, merchants will be permitted to display merchandise up to three feet from the face of the building where their business is housed, as long as five feet of sidewalk remains unimpeded for pedestrian traffic. In addition, the display may be no taller than five feet high and no display will be permitted on the street side of the sidewalk in front of the building.
- CONSENT AGENDA — Approved
- Resolution declaring various items as surplus, authorizing disposal. The items included police lockers no longer being used, a damaged leaf loader, old weather monitoring equipment, and an old Bowflex workout station, as well as 118 wooden chairs being replaced at the American Legion Building. At the request of Ginny Stevens of the Blowing Rock Historical Society, five of the wooden chairs in the best condition will be given to the Historical Society.
- Resolution approving and adopting the Town of Blowing Rock Section 125 “Cafeteria Plan” — relating to a Section 125 Benefit plan in which Town employees have the option to participate.
- Supplemental Agreement with the NCDOT regarding U.S. 321 project fencing betterments. The agreement provides $199,780.92 expended by the Town to upgrade fencing along the top of the retaining walls in the U.S. 321 corridor, from black vinyl-coated chain link fence to black aluminum picket fence.
- Approved an amendment to the CUP for Foggy Rock Restaurant, allowing the owners to replace the existing shingle roof with a metal roof and to replace existing siding with weathered oak barn siding.
- Approved a bid for road repairs to Quail Hollow
- Approved a bid for tennis court stabilization
- Approved the preliminary plans for the new Public Works shop, a capital improvement project
- Went into executive session to conduct an annual performance review of the Town Manager