Downtown — how tall is too tall?
by Anna Oakes
The topic was discussed at Tuesday’s council meeting, but moved to the Thursday agenda for action. Councilwoman Jamie Leigh voted against the motion, arguing heights should be limited to 38 feet.
The matter stems from the Boone Board of Adjustment’s March 1 approval of a special use permit for a four-story, mixed-use building project at 492 W. King St., next to Hob Knob Café. The building will include 2,700 square feet of commercial space on the first floor and three upper floors with apartments.
Although a letter signed by at least 19 residents claimed the project “would be the tallest building in downtown and would tower over surrounding businesses,” the BOA ultimately ruled that the development complied with all requirements of the Boone Unified Development Ordinance. The building was granted variances allowing fewer parking spaces than required and encroachment into the rear setback, however.
Under current UDO requirements, the B-1 Central Business zoning district that includes downtown has a primary height limitation of 44 feet and a secondary height limitation of 67 feet.
However, for every one foot that the structure height exceeds the primary height limitation, the boundary lot setback increases by one foot. That’s how the four-story project at 492 W. King St. — which is proposed to be between 47.25 and 52 feet — was approved.
The Boone 2030 Plan — the town’s land use master plan adopted in 2009 after more than two years in the making — incorporated “smart growth” principles, which include the concept of building up instead of out to curb urban sprawl.
In the downtown area, specifically, the 2030 Plan recommends taller building heights — up to six stories in one diagram — on Howard Street, where the elevation is lower than on King Street. The plan recommends the replacement of some single-story buildings on King Street with three-story mixed-use buildings, but notes that public meeting participants agreed King Street buildings “should be no taller than four stories.”
Council members requested during a March 28 planning retreat that the Planning & Inspections Department explore methods to limit building height to three stories and address appearance standards in the Central Business district.
At the council’s meeting on Tuesday, Planning & Inspections Director Bill Bailey presented three options for limiting building height downtown: limiting primary height to 40 feet and eliminating secondary height limitations; limiting maximum building height to 30 feet from the average primary street elevation; or a maximum height of 35 feet with a minimum height requirement of 12 feet for the first floor.
Councilwoman Jamie Leigh on Tuesday proposed what she called a stopgap measure of limiting building heights to 35 feet while the town worked to further develop height standards.
“I think we need to do something fairly quickly,” she said. “Something is going to happen downtown that’s not going to be reversible.”
Councilmen Rennie Brantz and Andy Ball said they felt more comfortable with 40 feet. Bailey said an adverse consequence of a stopgap measure could be a delay in development, as developers might wait to move forward with projects until the town developed new standards.
The public hearing will take place at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16, at the Council Chambers at 1500 Blowing Rock Road. The Planning Commission will then consider the proposed change and make a recommendation to the council.
The Boone Town Council voted 3-1 to approve changes to its towing ordinance to require towing companies to return a towed vehicle to its driver within two hours of being contacted by the driver.
Under the changes to the ordinance, when a car is towed nonconsensually, a towing company must have someone on duty for the next six hours and respond to vehicle owner’s phone calls within a half-hour. If the person calls and states their intention to pay to retrieve their vehicle, the company must arrange for full payment within a half-hour and return the vehicle within an hour after that.
Town Attorney Sam Furgiuele presented the new amendments at Tuesday’s council meeting following a Sept. 8 disagreement between Mountaineer Towing & Recovery in Vilas and an out-of-town resident. The resident had called the towing company around 10 p.m. that Saturday and was told he could not retrieve the vehicle until business hours on Monday.
Councilman Rennie Brantz voted against the changes.
“I still wonder whether we’ve heard sufficient public discussion,” Brantz said. “There hasn’t been much opportunity for the public to comment on this.”
Towing company officials argued on Tuesday that the requirements would tie them up and prevent them from serving other clients and expressed concerns about employee safety when dealing with intoxicated vehicle owners at late night hours.