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Originally published: 2013-02-19 23:33:18
Last modified: 2013-02-19 23:33:18

County opposes Boone ordinance changes

Watauga County commissioners didn't mince words Tuesday in opposing proposed Boone ordinance changes they say will prevent the pending sale of the former high school property.

The changes, if enacted by the Boone Town Council, would create new standards for multi-family housing designed to move away from student housing and toward affordable housing for the working class.

Opponents of the project say it would create diverse housing stock in the town but could actually have the opposite effect of driving up rent prices.

"This is one more thing that's going to kill anything to do with development," Vice Chairman David Blust said. "I think they're doing this to spite (developer) Phil Templeton. They've been doing this for years."

The board split 3-2 Tuesday on a resolution opposing the town's new standards as the Town Council met at the same time just a few miles away. The council had not taken any action on the ordinance as of press time Tuesday. (The board voted 4-1 later Tuesday night to approve the ordinance. Visit http://bit.ly/154hH2S to read the full story)

Board members Nathan Miller, Perry Yates and Blust voted for, while Billy Kennedy and John Welch voted against.

Miller said the ordinance changes would kill the pending sale of the 74-acre former high school property, which Templeton Properties has offered to buy for $18.9 million. The development plan for the property includes commercial space and student apartments. With the inspection period still open, Templeton could still walk away from the deal without sacrificing any money.

Kennedy said he wanted to see the former high school property sold but advocated for a different approach in working with the town.

"I'm worried that this is confrontational, and some of the 'whereas-es,' when I read over the resolution, I don't find to be accurate," he said.

Welch also advocated for sitting down with the town and wondered aloud what a resolution would accomplish.

"We need to stake out where we stand," Miller fired back. "We are a large property owner in the town of Boone. ... If we stand by and let them detrimentally hurt us and hurt our county citizens, we're derelict in our duty."



Water intake project

County and town issues also collided Tuesday during a public hearing related to Boone's proposed water intake on the New River near Brownwood Road.

The hearing was required before the county could approve state-mandated changes to its watershed protection ordinance and map. Those changes are a required part of the reclassification process for a portion of the river.

The reclassification does not affect current properties but would affect lot sizes, setbacks, landscaping and impermeable surfaces of future multi-family or commercial projects in the affected area, said Joe Furman, planning and inspections director.

Furman explained that the county had to approve the changes or face fines of up to $10,000 per month.

Four residents -- Karen Carter, Margaret Buck, Deborah Greene and Frank Packard -- spoke as part of the public hearing, all understanding of the county's position but concerned about the intake project itself.

"My contention is that the intake is just not necessary in its current proposed form," Packard said. "... I am thoroughly convinced that there are less intrusive, more viable alternatives to providing the future water needs that Boone has than this current proposal."

Carter described the intake as an attempt to "steal rural water sources" for the benefit of the town, a point Greene echoed.

"It's about control," she said. "The town of Boone wants to control all development, so they control the water source."

The board voted 4-1, with Blust opposing, to approve the changes to the watershed ordinance effective March 30, 2013.

But several board members said they wanted to revisit the matter and the commissioners' 2011 motion that approved the river reclassification and allowed the project to move forward.

"I feel like Boone has misled a lot of people with their water situation," Blust said.

The project is at an impasse now, as the town's failure to supply Ashe County with certain documents has caused the town's project application to expire.



Other business

The board also:

-- Received its annual audit report from Kathy Brown of Bryce Holder CPA. Brown said the county's assets exceeding its liabilities in 2012 by about $114 million, an increase of $3.3 million from the previous year. The audit found no material weaknesses in accounting or internal controls.

-- Received an update on functions and five-year plans for the Appalachian Regional Library and Watauga County Public Library.

-- Approved grant applications from the Watauga County Sheriff's Office and the Department of Social Services.

-- Approved a regional hazard mitigation plan designed to help identify and address potential natural or manmade hazards.

-- Received a request from Hillary Wilson of Maverick Farms asking for the board's help in addressing a DOT bridge replacement project that will affect her farmland. The board asked County Manager Deron Geouque to draft a resolution to consider at the next meeting.

-- Heard concerns from Jean Di Cola about what she considered financial mismanagement related to the construction of the new high school.

-- Met in closed session to discuss personnel, attorney-client matters and economic development. No action was taken after closed session.

The board meets next from noon to 6 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday for its annual budget retreat.