Is old WHS deal dead?
by Kellen Moore
When the Boone Town Council began considering changes to its multi-family housing regulations, Watauga County objected for one primary reason: the pending sale of the 74-acre former high school property.
On Tuesday, the Town Council voted 4-1 to approve the new housing standards, with some amendments.
Now, the county is left holding its breath to see whether the $18.9 million deal with Templeton Properties will go forward.
Phil Templeton, who spends his winters in Arizona and didn't attend Tuesday's meeting, said Wednesday he was still reviewing the information from the meeting and wasn't yet prepared to address the matter.
"He's not at all encouraged by the language in the text amendment, but he has not made a decision as to whether he's going to go forward with the purchase," said Allen Moseley, Templeton's attorney.
Nathan Miller, chairman of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners, wasn't optimistic.
"I don't know if it kills our deal or not; I suspect it does," he said Wednesday. "I'm really disappointed in the town."
Under the town's new standards, future multi-family dwellings will have to include:
-- Either a garage/carport or 50 square feet of storage space
-- A master bedroom at least 25 percent larger than other bedrooms
-- A mix of unit sizes in each new project
-- Restricted bathroom-to-bedroom ratios
-- No more than three stories per building
-- No more than two parking spaces per unit
-- No more than two unrelated residents.
The changes are intended to create housing desirable and affordable for working-class residents such as teachers and police officers. They represent a major change for Boone's current housing lineup, which is heavy on student apartments that often charge by the bedroom.
There is an exception to the standards for any units that are part of a mixed-used project.
Units don't have to meet the standards if they are approved through a conditional B-3 district (general business) rezoning process and don't include phases of construction.
If the project does require phased construction, a developer must agree to either: build the commercial portions in the first phase; build fewer than one-third of the residential units before the commercial phase; or provide financial commitments to complete the commercial portions within a set timeframe. For example, a developer might get an irrevocable letter of credit from a bank to cover 125 percent of the projected costs.
"I don't see how it's workable, but I'm not a developer either," Miller said.
When the county has received such credit guarantees from projects in the past, they might be for $10,000 or $100,000 -- not millions of dollars, he said.
In a mixed-use project, developers sometimes prefer to construct the housing portion first, to begin generating income for the rest of the project.
While there's no decision yet on the Templeton Properties deal, it's clear that relations between the town and county have become strained once more -- a point Commissioners John Welch and Billy Kennedy tried to avoid Tuesday in voting against a county resolution opposing the town's actions.
But Miller said the blame rested with the town, which did not respond to a letter asking that the changes be tabled until Thursday night.
"They ignored us," Miller said. "I haven't heard a response from anybody officially with the town, and I think that's rude, quite frankly. ... I think it is destructive to the citizens of the county, whether they live in town or not, when two municipal bodies cannot listen to each other."