UPDATE: Boone still wants mediation
by Anna Oakes
UPDATE: This story has been edited to include additional statements from the statement issued by the mayor and town council on Tuesday.
Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson and the Boone Town Council on Tuesday re-extended an offer to engage in mediation with the Watauga County Board of Commissioners following a two-hour closed session meeting about the county's actions against the town.
The council went into closed session immediately after the start of its 6:30 p.m. regular monthly meeting Tuesday to receive legal advice about Watauga County Commission Chairman Nathan Miller's threat of a lawsuit and county action to reduce the town's sales tax revenues by changing the sales tax distribution method.
The council learned during the closed session meeting that the Watauga County Commissioners --who also met Tuesday evening -- had indeed voted 3-2 to approve the change of sales tax distribution from a per capita method to an ad valorem method.
The change is expected to reduce Boone's sales tax revenue by an estimated $2 million next fiscal year, while the towns of Blowing Rock, Seven Devils and Beech Mountain would gain revenue.
"The recently enacted ordinance ... was designed to increase housing opportunities for moderate income people in Boone," said Clawson, reading a statement from the council. "We hope that the county will reconsider and that the county commissioners will also reconsider their threat of legal action and the change in the sales tax distribution."
Miller proposed taking the action after the Boone Town Council adopted new standards for all new multi-family housing projects. The standards set requirements for master bedrooms, certain bedroom-to-bathroom ratios, minimum storage space or garages and a 0.5 livability (outdoor living, landscaped areas) space ratio, as well as a mandate that no more than two unrelated persons can reside in each unit.
Miller, developer Phil Templeton and others have said the changes jeopardize an $18.9 million offer from Templeton Properties on the former Watauga High School property -- which is predicated on a student housing development -- and permanently decrease the land's value.
Following the Boone Town's Council's closed session to discuss the matter, town attorney Sam Furgiuele pointed to case law providing for private mediations to be held in accordance with state open meeting laws.
A 2006 North Carolina Court of Appeals ruling held that a mediation between Buncombe County and City of Asheville representatives (one from each board) was legal because it was not attended by a majority of either board and therefore did not constitute an official meeting under N.C. statutes.
In that case, the representatives in mediation returned to their respective bodies that were meeting in separate rooms in closed session to receive legal advice about the proposed terms of the negotiations, which the court held was legal.
Miller had previously said he believed a private mediation would violate open meeting laws.
"The town favored a mediation over an open meeting between the two bodies because so far, two of the county commissioners have made public statements that seemed more designed to attack the town, mischaracterize the motives and effects of the ordinance, and inflame public sentiment against the town, rather than to pursue a reasoned discourse aimed at meeting both the county's stated goal of selling the high school property and the town's legitimate goal of fostering development which meets the needs of the many people who work or live in Boone," Clawson read from the statement.
Clawson said the town had arranged with a Republican Superior Court Judge emeritus to conduct the mediation.
To read the full statement, click on the link at the right of this webpage to download it.