40-foot height limit OK'd downtown
by Anna Oakes
The amendment reduces the UDO primary building height restriction in the B-1 Central Business zoning district (downtown) from 44 feet to 40 feet and eliminates the secondary height restriction of 67 feet.
Prior to the amendment, B-1 buildings were permitted to exceed the primary height (up to the maximum secondary height of 67 feet) by one foot for every foot the building’s setback was increased.
Council members Lynne Mason, Jamie Leigh and Rennie Brantz said they supported the amendment as a “stopgap” measure while the town works to further develop height standards downtown, which staff estimated could take up to nine months.
“This is … a much bigger issue than a simple text amendment,” said Mason. “Four stories could easily change the character of downtown Boone.”
Leigh said she believed a four-story project on King Street approved by the Board of Adjustment in March is “going to look pretty bad.”
Later that month, council members asked the Planning & Inspections Department to explore methods to limit building height to three stories, which Planning Director Bill Bailey presented in September.
“I think doing something for the community is to make sure that nothing horrible happens downtown in the meantime,” Leigh said.
A public hearing on the proposed amendment was held at 5 p.m. Tuesday, followed by a special Planning Commission meeting to make recommendations on the amendment prior to the 6:30 p.m. council meeting.
Business owner Fulton Lovin was the lone person to speak at the public hearing, urging the council not to adopt a “one-size-fits-all” restriction for downtown, especially on Howard Street, which sits at a lower elevation than King Street.
A six-story building on Howard Street, he said, would be similar in height to the Appalachian Theatre on King Street and Raley Hall at Appalachian State University.
During the meetings, some council and commission members argued that the UDO change conflicts with the stated goals of the 2030 Land Use Plan, adopted in 2009.
“I would disagree that it doesn’t contradict the 2030 Plan because clearly it does,” said Councilman Andy Ball, who voted against the amendment along with Councilman Allan Scherlen.
The plan, a “blueprint” for growth during the next 20 years, incorporated “smart growth” principles, which include the concept of building up instead of out to curb urban sprawl.
In the downtown area, the 2030 Plan recommends replacing some single-story buildings on King Street with three-story mixed-use buildings. Public meeting participants agreed King Street buildings “should be no taller than four stories.” The plan also recommends taller building heights on Howard Street.
Planning Commissioner Jeff Templeton pointed to a diagram in the 2030 plan depicting a hypothetical infill project for the southeast corner of Depot and Howard streets, a three-story building with commercial on the bottom floor.
With a 15-foot-tall commercial floor, 12-foot-tall upper floors and a three-foot parapet, the illustrated project would exceed the proposed 40-foot building restriction, he said.
Town staff, on the other hand, said floor heights for a three-story building could be 14 feet on the bottom floor and 10 feet on the upper floors.
“It’s very troubling to me; I do think it’s very contrary to the 2030 Plan,” said Commissioner Tom Purpur.
But Mason pointed to language in the 2030 plan that stated new buildings in downtown Boone should be “consistent with existing buildings in design and massing.”
“We have, I think, a responsibility to our community to preserve the character of our town,” she said.
Scherlen, adding to an earlier comment by Templeton, said a 40-foot restriction would inhibit a three-story building’s ability to feature taller, more open ground floors consistent with businesses such as Macado’s and Boone Drug.
“I don’t want to lose our high ceilings,” Scherlen said. “That’s what I’m fighting for. Forty-four (feet) is essential to having good old-fashioned high ceilings downtown.”
Ball also took issue with the process of adopting the amendment, arguing the council should adopt new standards only after the public and Planning Commission have had more time to study the issue.
“I think the stopgap is not necessarily a good thing for us at this time,” Ball said. “It’s not the right way to make policy.”