County accepts old WHS offer
by Kellen Moore
Commissioners unanimously accepted an offer on the former high school property Tuesday, giving Templeton Properties the opportunity to carry out its vision for a commercial and student housing project.
The $18,948,000 offer placed Oct. 26 was not exceeded through the upset bid process that ended last week, and that bid will provide the county with a net gain of $18,000,600 after paying a 5 percent commission.
Phil Templeton provided his first clues about his goals for the 74-acre property in a letter to commissioners dated Nov. 12.
In the letter, Templeton calls for attractive student apartments and commercial uses that could include:
— hotel or convention center
— major grocery chain
— movie theater
— national retailer such as Kohl’s, Stein Mart, possibly Target and smaller retail shops
— Olive Garden, Carrabba’s, Red Lobster, K&W Cafeteria, South of the Border or other restaurant
“The amount of land to be used for commercial tenants and the property devoted to student housing units would be determined by the market studies and project designers,” the letter states.
Templeton noted that plans are uncertain and that much time, effort and money must be spent on due diligence before the plans are finalized. In addition to securing zoning changes and water allocations from the Town of Boone, the project will need market studies, topographic maps, surveys, environmental studies and more, he said.
“A comprehensive review of the (Boone) Unified Development Ordinance and the numerous state and federal developmental regulations must be made,” Templeton wrote. “All this and more before any serious site plan, engineering drawings or architectural design work can begin.”
The letter did not state when Templeton hopes to begin construction on the project.
If all goes as planned, the project could provide housing for ASU students and a “large number of good-paying jobs” for local residents, Templeton said. High Country residents as well as tourists would have a wider selection of products and services and would benefit from significant tax revenues.
Finally, a convention center also could provide a tremendous boost for the local economy, Templeton surmises in his letter.
Templeton could not be present at Tuesday’s meeting to share his vision, but the board nevertheless moved quickly to accept the offer.
Working with the town on such a large project may be an interesting process for Templeton, who is engaged in a lengthy lawsuit against the Boone Board of Adjustment. That ongoing action from 2007 stemmed from the board’s denial of permits for a proposed medical clinic on State Farm Road.
The contract for the former Watauga High School property located off N.C. 105 includes a 180-day inspection period during which Templeton Properties could walk away from the deal without forfeiting any money.
“I hope this goes through,” Chairman Nathan Miller said. “I hope we’re able to work with Templeton Properties and the town of Boone to get this done for the citizens of Watauga County and the town.”
The board also:
— Hired architect Bill Dixon to continue with plans for a law enforcement memorial at the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office to honor all law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
— Greeted Stuart Scott, the new N.C. Forest Service Ranger for Watauga County.
— Received an update on a Watauga County Public Library project that lends Kindle e-readers to the elderly.
— Accepted a county tax report, annual report from the Project on Aging, quarterly report from the Smoky Mountain Center and a regional grant for an emergency management training exercise.
Three say farewell
Those actions were among the last for commissioners Jim Deal, Tim Futrelle and Vince Gable, whose terms will end with the swearing-in of new members Dec. 3.
The three shared words of thanks to fellow commissioners, county staff and their families for their support.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve the county and serve all its people,” said Futrelle, who has served since 2008. “I’ve always tried to do my best to serve anyone in any way I could and any way I was asked, regardless of what their situation was or who they were.”
Deal, an eight-year member of the board, said he was proud of the things the board accomplished, including the construction of a new high school, soccer complex and bike park — all while keeping tax rates among the lowest in the state.
“We live in a special part of the world, we truly do,” Deal said. “The people that live in Watauga County are exceptional.”
Gable, with two years under his belt, also thanked the county staff for their expertise and assistance.
“I want to thank the people of Watauga County for giving me this opportunity to serve, and most of all I want to thank my wonderful wife, my handler, for all the support she’s given me,” he said.