Standard at Boone pursues rezoning
by Anna Oakes
Height and the town's student housing surplus were among the concerns expressed at a public hearing Monday on a requested rezoning for The Standard at Boone, a $45 million mixed-use project planned on Blowing Rock Road.
Developers Stonegate Developers of Cornelius and Landmark Properties of Athens, Ga., appeared before the Boone Town Council and Planning Commission to present their request and field questions from the town leaders. Standard at Boone LLC seeks a rezoning of properties at 784, 862 and 862-B Blowing Rock Road; 299, 311, 325 and 339 Faculty Street; and three vacant parcels to Conditional District B-3 General Business.
The project would demolish the Scottish Inn and Red Carpet Inn buildings as well as re-route and daylight Boone Creek, which currently flows through a culvert over a portion of the property. The pipe can become overwhelmed during significant rain events -- a situation that resulted in tragedy in 2010, when 7-year-old Bryson Cox drowned after being swept into the culvert behind the Red Carpet Inn.
Built in place of the old hotels and other structures would be a 560-bedroom student apartment complex, a 5,000-square-foot lounge, a gym, a 200-seat restaurant, 2,400 square feet of retail space and a parking garage. The developers said rent prices would range from $550 to $900 per bedroom.
"We are aimed at the students. The retail is aimed at all of the community members. Everyone has access to the creek area," said Jeff Wakeman of Stonegate Developers.
The Boone Board of Adjustment granted several Unified Development Ordinance variances to the project in April but denied a request to exceed building height requirements for a multi-story residential structure on Faculty Street.
The developers as a result modified their plans to lower the height for a portion of the Faculty Street structure, which reduced the planned number of apartments by more than 20.
But height concerns continue to dog the project. Wintergreen Lane resident Lynn White, who owns two homes overlooking Faculty Street, spoke at the public hearing and repeated concerns she expressed at the Boone Board of Adjustment meeting in April -- particularly with regard to the multi-story residential structure planned on Faculty Street.
"It would be imposing," said White. "I just ask you to carefully consider everything that's been said this evening and consider the lives of those people who live up on that hill."
But attorney Jim Deal noted that there are other tall buildings in the area of the project, including ASU's Panhellenic Hall (formerly a Quality Inn) across the street, which is taller. And Tom Jamison -- who said he was speaking during the public hearing as a citizen and not as a Boone Board of Adjustment member -- said he does not have a problem with "reasonable" taller buildings, adding that he would prefer a project like Standard at Boone over increased urban sprawl.
Council and commission members repeatedly asked the developers why some of the units could not be better designed for and marketed to members of the workforce, including young families and Appalachian State University faculty and staff.
The developers have not shied away from voicing their intentions to market to students, despite repeated concerns from council members in recent years about an overabundance of student housing units in Boone -- a conclusion supported by a housing analysis commissioned by the town last year.
"What I find most disappointing about this whole project is the complete lack of a range of housing options," said Planning Commissioner Greg Simmons. Simmons suggested that one of the residential buildings could be reconfigured with units more suitable for families.
But the developers said the student housing model was needed to make the project financially feasible with the high costs of redeveloping the property, including the creek relocation. They added that it is difficult to secure financing for projects with multiple housing types.
Wakeman suggested that students choosing to live at the Standard at Boone would free up single-family rental homes for the workforce, a point over which Planning Commissioner Connor Boyle expressed doubt.
"(Students) live where they do because they can afford that," Boyle said.
The rezoning request will proceed next to the Boone Planning Commission for consideration at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 9. The Planning Commission will make a recommendation on the request for consideration by the Boone Town Council later this month.
The council is also slated to consider a town water allocation for the project. Town staff have calculated a usage of 97,879 gallons per day, but Standard at Boone representatives said they believe the actual usage will be significantly less than that amount.
If the project receives the approvals it needs, developers said they
hoped to begin with demolition this fall and creek work next spring.