Valley Boulevard ‘vision’ presented to Blowing Rock Council

The Valley Boulevard Committee presented their community findings and recommendations to the Council at the January meeting. Benchmark Consulting assisted the Committee to engage the community and develop the recommendations. Town Council members Sue Sweeting and Albert Yount served on the Committee with other community volunteers appointed by the Council members.

The process was a success and consistent with our Advocacy Plan recommendations to use this format with professional guidance to engage the community to build consensus on changes to the Land Use Code to promote progress and protect our historical village. The same process should be used to develop changes to the Downtown Land Use Codes and develop a Tourism Management Plan to address traffic and parking congestion to balance the impact of tourism on our resort village for the benefit of the residents, business owners and Town.

Please read the article by Thomas Sherrill in the Watauga Democrat.

https://www.wataugademocrat.com/news/valley-boulevard-vision-presented-to-blowing-rock-council/article_e8b9ae05-174d-5950-91ca-e50b0f5c37a9.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=user-share

Winter Retreat – Town Council Priorities for 2020

THE MESSAGE IS LONG BUT IMPORTANT

Dear Friends of Blowing Rock,

OVERVIEW
I attended the 3 day Winter Retreat in early January to gain a first-hand understanding of the Town Council priorities and determine if the Town’s priorities line up with our Top 10 Priorities.

Our Town Manager, Shane Fox, facilitated a well-organized meeting. Preparation by Mr. Fox and the Department Heads was evident. The discussion was wide ranging giving us an insight into the views of the Council and educating the Council on many issues which should be helpful in the future. One of the most helpful discussions was a clear explanation of funding sources. The staff thanked the Council for the opportunity to hear their discussion first hand. Having the retreat in Blowing Rock allowed for this benefit and will pay big dividends.

The public was not allowed to speak, so it was good that we delivered out Top 10 communication to the Council and Town Manager in December. I was able to discuss topics with the Council and staff at breaks.

No votes were allowed, but the Council was able to give the Town Manager and staff direction.

You should read two Watauga Democrat articles by Thomas Sherrill who attended all three days. Links to the articles are provided below. Also, Mayor Sellers reported on the retreat in his recent email update.

TOP 10 PRIORITIES – TOWN & CIVIC ASSOCIATION
The Council identified the Top 10 priorities for 2020. Two priorities highlighted below represent four of our top priorities that we believe are critical to achieve in 2020. Council did discuss nine of our Top 10 priorities.

The Top 10 priorities set by the Council with budget and source of funding follows:

1. Water pressure reducing valves and vaults to protect water lines from excessive water pressure phased in over at least 3 years – $1.2M – W&S Debt, Fees and Rates
2. Playground equipment in Memorial Park – $600K – Fund balance, FY20 Budget and TDA
3. Landscape plan for gateway entrances at Sunset Drive, South and North Main Street – $195K – Reallocate TDA reserve
4. Sidewalks on North Main – $1M – Bond money available for $600K
5. Land Use Code amendments to comply with state mandate and address specific codes for green space, downtown building design standards, 28 day loophole for short term rentals, eliminate CUP and creditable parking – Internal staff time and legal services – FY20 and FY21 Budget s
6. Legion Hall/Broyhill lake project that includes ADA accessibility, landscaping, amphitheater, and other enhancement s – $750K to $1M – Private f funding by Village Foundation and grants
7. Pedestrian crosswalk signage and lighting at Sunset/Main and Main /221 – $25K to $250K depending on choice of equipment – FY20 Budget
8. AMI Automatic water meters for all water users phased by neighborhoods – $725,000 – W&S fees to fund new debt service and recurring operating fees
9. Parking Management Plan to include management and physical solutions like shuttle service, private public partnership, additional parking facilities, paid parking, way finding and enforcement of parking ordinances – $100K – FY21 Budget
10. Broyhill Lake Dam and bridge repairs and/or enhancement to control water flow and protect structure – To be determined

SOURCE OF BUDGET FUNDING
The General Fund Operations is funded principally be tax revenue and the W&S Fund Operations is funded by fees.

General Fund revenue is sourced 52% from property taxes, 11% from sales taxes and 5% from TDA occupancy taxes. Property taxes provide $4.5 million of revenue of which 92% is from residential property taxes and 8% is from commercial property taxes.

The Council set a Fund Balance Reserve Policy to maintain an Available Fund Balance of at least 50% to fund 6 months of operations. Over the years, the Available Fund Balance has grown annually to exceed the policy by $289K.

As a resort town, Blowing Rock has approximately 1,300 local residents, many of whom also have second homes, who vote in Blowing Rock and up to 6,700 more seasonal residents. A substantial portion of all property taxes are funded by seasonal residential taxpayers and absentee commercial property taxpayers who do not vote in Blowing Rock. The Civic Association is dedicated to giving a voice for all residential property owners who fund the largest portion of revenue for the Town General Fund and W&S Fund Budgets.

IMPACT OF TOURISM
The most important takeaway for me that was not reported by the Watauga Democrat was a clear discussion and recognition that we have reach a critical point where the benefits of tourism are impacting the quality of life for residents and negatively impacting the Town’s operating expenses. Albert Yount concluded the meeting with a comment that we are “Out of Balance”. Virginia Powell expressed a concern that we may have begun to push residents out of downtown and that we need residents to be a part of the village to achieve a balance of “Live/Work/Play”. This is the first time I have heard this concern so clearly expressed in a public meeting by the Council. The successful promotion of Blowing Rock by the TDA and Chamber and the improved US economy has resulting in our Town, being “Loved to Death” like many resort towns around the country.

The Director of Parks & Recreation shared data that was honestly shocking to learn. The Town has a system to track cell phone pings each 24 hour period at Memorial Park including those who drive by on Main Street. The cell phone is tracked only once in 24 hours, includes only those cell phones who have Wifi turned on in their settings and of course does not count the kids or adults who do not have a cell phone or have not turned on their Wifi setting. The visitor numbers are staggering! There were 38,000 pings on November 29, 2019 during the Santa Day and Tree Lighting and 19,800 pings on November 30, 2019 for the Christmas Parade. On average there are 10,000 pings each day per year totaling 3.6 million pings over the year. Obviously, the daily average is exaggerated by the peak days for Art in the Park, parades and special events. There was a surge in tourists in late October and early November that can’t be explained other that good weather and the New York Times article about 36 Hours in Boone and Blowing Rock.

We reported earlier last year that we may have reach a “Tipping Point”. Better communication and coordination between the community, Town and TDA was discussed and made an internal staff priority.

The impact on utilization of the park, the Town’s operating budget and just overwhelming congestion of people and cars has led to a recognition that the solution is not just more parking but a comprehensive Tourism Management Plan that addresses both the physical and management solutions. The solution is multifaceted and must include a lot of small management solutions in addition to any physical solutions like additional parking lots or garages. Perhaps the limits on parking are a tool to manage congestion by essentially causing visitors not to choose Blowing Rock as a destination. The Police Chief shared a parking inventory indicating that there are 607 public spaces (197 on-street) and 246 private spaces that could offer public-private partnerships for additional capacity.

We have tried to make the case to the Council, Chamber and TDA that seasonal residents are an important economic segment of our tourism economy because they are “High Value and Low Impact”. Hopefully the Chambers economic development strategy and the TDA’s promotional plan will take advantage of enhancing and retaining this important segment of our economy. We need both residents and visitors to support a vibrant economy for Blowing Rock.

Additionally, we need to plan and prepare for the opening and opportunities that Middle Fork Greenway will bring to Blowing Rock. Installation of new sidewalks along North Main from Valley Boulevard to Speckle Trout is included in the Top 10 Priorities to meet the new sidewalks that will be built next year to Bass Lake is an important improvement that can be mostly funded by bond funds and perhaps the TDA infrastructure funds. We need to get ready for the new demographic of tourist.

CHANGES TO LAND USE CODE & UPDATE OF 2014 COMPREHENSIVE PLAN
Updating the 2014 Comprehensive Plan beginning in 2020 was the Town Council’s #11 priority that we believe should be started this summer to insure public input on critical decisions about changes to the Land Use Code and Parking Solutions. Our Advocacy Plan includes a recommendation update the Comprehensive Plan and to focus on changing the Downtown Land Use Code to respect the existing setbacks and greenspace on West Main Street to preserve the historic village. Our recommendation is consistent with the recommendations of the 2014 Comprehensive Plan on Page 3.3. If we do not honor these goals, we will have redevelopment like 1150 Main Street mixed use building currently under construction with 15 foot setback and essentially no greenspace. We lost a substantial lawn and trees by approving a building under the current Land Use Code. We believe that the current codes are not consistent with protecting the historical village. West Main Street is the key to our charming downtown and needs to be protected.

The state has mandated an update of the Land Use Code by January 2020 that is essentially conforming terminology. Conditional Use permits will become Special Use permits for example.

Additionally there is consensus that the code need to be updated to clarify sections related to Downtown greenspace, parking rights. We made a case to the Planning Board at a recent meeting which was positively received by the board members and staff. Finally, the Council included a consideration of eliminating Conditional Use Permits (CUP) that are quasi-judicial hearings like Rainey Lodge in favor of Conditional Zoning Permits (CZP) which allow for public input. Our Advocacy Plan includes a recommendation to eliminate CUP to allow for public input, avoid the trial like setting that excludes public input and is in keeping with the trend in North Carolina in large and small municipalities. The staff will arrange for an educational session with representatives of the UNC School of Government who are experts and who have written a number of articles on the topic. We encourage the Council to make this a public venue so that the public can ask questions and become educated on the topic. The counter argument is that developers prefer to invest in planning if they know in advance that compliant projects will be approved. While we understand the logic, the experience with Rainey Lodge was very divisive and did not allow for the Council to discuss the project with the taxpayers.

FUTURE OF PARK COMPLEX
The Council discussed the need for a complete Master Plan based on the recently updated 2018 Parks & Rec Master Plan that addresses improvements and use each section of our downtown park – Memorial Park, American Legion, Broyhill Lake, Davant Field and Robbins Pool. There is $435,000 available for parks from the Bond Issue and $100,000 reserved for playground equipment in the current budget.

Replacement of the playground equipment in Memorial Park at a cost of $600,000 as soon as possible jump the #2 Top Priority without a clear source of funding matched to users. Local young families recently advocated for a major update of the playground equipment which is definitely needed, but the funding sources need to match the users between residents and tourists. Memorial Park is already very crowded with little greenspace emphasizing the need for a long-term master plan that considers the location of each use like tennis courts, pickleball courts, basketball courts, playgrounds and entertainment venues.

Badly needed additional bathrooms and improvements to existing bathrooms was discussed.

The Village Foundation is working on a proposal to improve the area behind the American Legion Building including ADA walkways and an amphitheater. The plan is a take-off of the Virginia Tech Plan. The Council discussed the need to control any scheduling of events and noise control. The staff and Council will be meeting with the Village Foundation over the winter to explore the proposal.

Pickleball is a growing sport especially for older adults. Local player have requested that the Town install additional courts and discussions are ongoing to determine possible location and funding.

With the large number of users in Memorial Park, we need to ask if the space will be too crowded to enjoy the park and ask if some of the uses can be moved to other locations in the park complex.

GATEWAY IMPROVEMENTS
Over the last few years, the Chamber and Village Foundation have proposed gateway improvements to Sunset Drive at a cost of approximately $400K. The TDA has set aside $261K for gateway improvements. The Town staff recommended an alternative landscape plan for all three gateways for North Main, Sunset Drive and South Main at a cost of about $195K. This alternative became the #3 priority for the Town Council instructing the staff to finalize design and costs, meet with the Chamber, Village Foundation and TDA to discuss the alternative and ask BRACC to review to proposal.

LANDSCAPING ON VALLEY BOULEVARD
You have seen the extensive landscaping improvements being installed by the DOT. We owe a big thank you to David Goodson who spearheaded inventorying and selecting trees as a volunteer consultant for the Town. Thanks to a substantial investment of time by David, Shane and the staff, the Town has improved the landscaping and has insured that the right trees have been planted and replaced if needed under the contract. There are 624 new trees and 7,000 perennials. The Council discussed the idea of becoming a designated “Tree City”.

NEEDED WATER & SEWER IMPROVEMENTS
Two W&S priorities were selected by the Council for the Top 10. Additionally, the staff explained the need for a substantial investment in water and sewer lines and plant improvements. Replacement of the valves and vaults was selected as the #1 priority given the impact on changing pressures have on the old lines. Automated meter capability was also included in the Top 10 which will free up manpower now used to read meters with funding most likely from an additional water fee to cover cost of equipment and ongoing software. Data was shared to compare our W&S fees to other towns.

The bond funding will not cover the cost of improvements, so substantial funding will be needed in the future to replace both W&S lines. The staff is putting together a long-term plan to prioritize needs, determine phasing and costs.

The W&S revenue model will be reviewed by an independent consultant and updated to provide additional revenue to cover debt service for these improvements. We can expect higher W&S fees in the future to cover these infrastructure costs.

STREET PAVING
Remaining bond funding of $2.1M will not cover all of the needs which range from $3.0M to $3.5M. A schedule of priorities has been prepared and bids are expected for the February Town Council meeting.

GREEN INITIATIVES
A number of green initiatives were discussed including our recycling contract, use of solar energy and electric vehicles for the Town, and local ordinances requiring elimination of plastics.

CLARIFICATION OF QUALIFICATIONS FOR ADVISORY BOARDS
Rules for serving on the various board are not consistent and range from living in Blowing Rock, to being a taxpayer to being a voter. The Town Manager will bring a recommendation to the Council at the February meeting to conform the rules for service. We have also encouraged the Council and staff to utilize video conferencing to expand the population of candidates with expertise to participate.

WATAUGA DEMOCRAT LINKS

https://www.wataugademocrat.com/news/memorial-park-plan-water-rate-change-mulled-at-blowing-rock/article_03cd1ee7-2fcb-5e68-ad18-5d607841e1d8.html

https://www.wataugademocrat.com/news/parking-parade-changes-proposed-for-blowing-rock/article_87c92038-a0e0-5e88-af73-7685fa176931.html

CONCLUSION
For the first time in my role, I believe the community, council and town staff are essentially on the same page in identifying the priorities for the future of Blowing Rock with an appreciation of the need to build community consensus.

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Blowing Rock Civic Association, we want to thank the Mayor, Council, Town Manager and staff for conducting a very productive retreat. We are dedicated and hopeful that the Council, staff, residents and business community can work together to protect and improve our quality of life and economy. We are fortunate to have the natural resources, climate, reputation and history to underpin our future.

Respectfully,

Tim Gupton
President
Blowing Rock Civic Association

Copyright © 2020 Blowing Rock Civic Association, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you opted in via our website.

Our mailing address is:
Blowing Rock Civic Association
PO Box 2471
Blowing Rock, NC 28605-2471

Add us to your address book

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Watauga County Sample Ballot for March 3rd Primary

Dear Friends of Blowing Rock,

The Sample Ballot for the Watauga County Primary is now available on the Board of Elections Website for your review.

The link is
http://www.wataugacounty.org/App_Pages/Dept/BOE/notices.aspx

About 1/3 of our Blowing Rock voters are registered as Independents. Unaffiliated voters must choose either a Democratic, Libertarian, or Republican ballot as there are no “Non-Partisan” ballots and the Constitutional and Green Parties did not open their Primary to Unaffiliated voters.

The Primary is on March 3, 2020.

Instructions for registered voters to obtain an absentee ballot is also include on this link. The absentee ballot must be mailed by USPS for receipt by 5 PM on the Tuesday before the election date or February 25, 2020.

If you are not registered to vote in Watauga County, you must register to vote no later than 25 days prior to the date of the election.

PLEASE VOTE

Tim Gupton, President

Letter to Town Council – Top 10 Priorities for 2020

December 10, 2019

Honorable Mayor Sellers, Council Members Harwood, Matheson, Powell, Sweeting, and Yount and Town Manager Fox:

2019 is ending on a much more positive note than the beginning of the year!

After two divisive public hearings in the beginning of the year, we have focused on building community consensus among stakeholders and encouraged public input into matters of long-term significance to promote “Progress and Preservation” of our Historic Village. I am personally encouraged by the open lines of communication representing all stakeholders.

We have a fresh start for 2020 after hiring a new Town Manager and experiencing a very positive campaign cycle by our candidates resulting in adding a new council member. We wish to welcome Mr. Harwood to the council and express our appreciation to Mr. Steele for his many years of dedicated service to our community.

Everyone seems to be focused on addressing the long-term needs of preserving and growing our community, so how we move forward in 2020 will be important to our future. Let’s keep in mind the Shared Vision documented in the 2014 Comprehensive Plan – “Embrace change while remaining vigilant to ensure that the Town’s unique character and quality of life is not compromised”.

To that end we would like to recommend 10 Top Priorities for the Council to consider and incorporate in your Winter Retreat and work plan for 2020.

1. Complete Valley Boulevard Vision Process, evaluate recommendations and update the Land Use Code as appropriate
2. Approve a similar process including a professional advisor to update the 2014 Comprehensive Plan during the 2020 summer to maximize community input
3. Update Land Use Codes for West Main Street as recommended in the 2014 Comprehensive Plan (Page 3-3) to preserve existing setbacks and greenspace
4. Adopt Conditional Zoning Permit and eliminate Conditional Use Permits to allow citizen input for Council consideration
5. Update the Land Use Code to clarify existing code and unwritten interpretations including definitions for hotel & residential STR, 75% green space in front setback and vested downtown parking rights.
6. Address the Downtown Congestion Problem by preparing and implementing a comprehensive Parking and Traffic Management Plan using a professional advisor
7. Acquire land to expand and complete the park
8. Set expectations for Sustainable Tourism and ask the TDA to prepare a Tourism Management Plan with community input
9. Prepare a Long-Term Capital Improvements and Funding Plan with a priority on the W&S Improvement Plan
10. Implement local EMS coverage to adequately manage our risks – Adopt 90+9 National Standard for our citizens

Thank you for listening to your community.

Sincerely,

Tim Gupton
President

Winkler Hotel Approved by Planning Board with Restricted Hotel Use

The Winkler Family’s proposed 12-unit hotel project was approved by the Planning Board on November 21st. The 12-unit townhouse type hotel will be be located at the former Blue Ridge Motor Court property, between El Rincon and the Blowing Rock Inn in the 800 block of North Main Street in downtown Blowing Rock.

The conditional rezoning application was approved with stipulation that the site only be used for a hotel so that subsequent owners cannot convert to short-term rental use since the parking is not adequate for residential use.

Winkler said that the rooms are designed for a longer stay and are more family oriented than just a normal hotel room. The two story units are approximately 750 square feet and will include a kitchenette, a living area, two bathrooms, one shower, a patio and balcony. Six of the spaces would face North Main Street and the other six would face the back of the property toward Sunflower Lane.

The highest point of the building would be 37 feet, 10 inches, according to the application, and it would meet the town’s setback requirements, the application states, as the closest point would be 54 feet from the back of the sidewalk adjacent to the street.

The Civic Association’s Real Estate Evaluation Committee led by Marshall Sealey and Tim Gupton evaluated the project and issued a report to the Planning Board recommending that the use be restricted to hotel use only due to parking and that the Planning Board and Town Council review and clarify a specific greenspace code requirement that staff interprets as not applicable. The report concluded that the projects meets the goals of Town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan and the recommendations in the Civic Association’s Advocacy Plan.

The plans require final approval by the Blowing Rock Town Council, which next meets on December 10th.

Tom Lucido joins Board of Blowing Rock Civic Association

Friends,

We are pleased to announce that Tom Lucido is joining our board. He brings tremendous experience with real estate development in the southeast.

His help will be essential to help us understand and recommend updates to the Land Use Code in 2020 based on an updated Comprehensive Plan and our Advocacy Plan. We believe it is essential for the Town Council to approve update the Comprehensive Plan in the summer of 2020 based on community, Planning Board and professional advice similar to the process being used for the Valley Boulevard Vision.

You can read our Advocacy Plan at the link on our website at http://www.brcivic.org/

Tom’s Bio follows:

Thomas Lucido is President, of Lucido & Associates located in Stuart, Florida. Tom resides in Stuart, FL and Blowing Rock, NC. Lucido & Associates provides clients with a full spectrum of services in land planning, landscape architecture, comprehensive planning, local governmental coordination, and environmental analysis.

Tom’s expertise is in large scale planning for mixed use communities. One well known project Tom has been involved with is the Stuart Downtown Redevelopment program. He has worked together with the City and the Community Redevelopment Association in realizing their master vision.

Lucido & Associates has been recognized through numerous local, state and national awards. Recently Lucido & Associates has been involved in various local projects, providing landscape architecture for private residences and for landscape improvements for the Blowing Rock Country Club and Diamond Creek Country Club.

Join me in welcoming Tom to our board.

Tim Gupton
President

Village on the Headwaters – Tree houses and Offices approved for former New River Inn site

The Town Council approved a new development on Valley Boulevard by the owners of 4 Forty Four. The proposed office building is just before the water treatment plant driving north to Boone on Valley Boulevard.

The property is approximately 5 acres and will include 10 short term rental residences and a second office building or 16 residences and no second office building.

The Middle Fork River runs through the property and the Troyers have committed to provide a conservation easement for the Middle Fork Greenway.

The project is planned to be environmentally sensitive by allowing restoration of the river for the Middle Fork Greenway, solar energy for the offices, preservation of trees and preservation of the forested upland portion of the property.

Read article by Thomas Sherrill in the Blowing Rocket
https://www.wataugademocrat.com/main_street/village-on-the-headwaters-tree-houses-new-offices-approved-for/article_78e8381c-e94a-55b9-88a6-544965dd034f.html#utm_source=wataugademocrat.com&utm_campaign=%2Fnewsletters%2Fheadlines%2F%3F-dc%3D1573813814&utm_medium=email&utm_content=headline