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Originally published: 2013-04-19 14:28:37
Last modified: 2013-04-19 14:28:36

Watauga Arts Council lease approved

The Watauga County Arts Council is one step closer to securing a new headquarters for the next two years.

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to lease a county-owned property to the Arts Council for $1 per year.

The building, located at the corner of Shadowline Drive and State Farm Road, has been unused since New River Behavioral HealthCare closed last year.

The board also agreed to take the building off the market and to remove a part of the draft lease that would have allowed Watauga County to terminate the lease with a 90-day notice.

Arts Council Executive Director Cherry Johnson said she needed the certainty to line up artists and musicians months in advance.

"If I don't know how long I'll be there, it's very hard to get them to work with us," Johnson said.

The Arts Council has bounced from place to place since it moved from the Jones House in downtown Boone in May 2012. It has temporarily used donated office and gallery space at other locations, but Johnson learned in April that its primary gallery space would no longer be available.

Vice Chairman David Blust said he supported the removal of the 90-day termination.

"If I were in your shoes, I would feel the same way, that I've kind of been thrown around a little bit, we want something that we can call somewhat permanent to permanent," he said. "I can understand how you could want that."

The Arts Council intends to call the building the Blue Ridge ArtSpace and host four galleries, art and music classes, offices and a gift shop. It also hopes to team up with the ASU Community Music School, the Michael Patricelli Craft Enrichment Program and possibly other nonprofits.

Chairman Nathan Miller said he would only agree to a lease in which the county commissioners had veto power over any subleases.

"In my opinion, if it's a county building, we are going to be able to choose who is going to be in that building," he said.

Several commissioners said they support the work of the Arts Council and praised Johnson for her leadership.

Johnson said she intends to start a fundraising campaign seeking 100 donors, as well as a program in which local businesses can sponsor rooms within the building.

She said she's also excited to begin a Saturday Studio Hop, a companion to the First Friday Art Crawl in downtown Boone, which would start a new tradition while celebrating local art.

"You've been thrown for the last 24 months from pillar to post," said Commissioner Perry Yates. "You're probably one of the few 501(c)3 (nonprofit)s that really do a good job with all the citizens of this county, from town to rural.

The lease cannot be finalized until 10 days after the preliminary approval to allow for comments. After that time, another vote will be needed before the contract is binding.


Public hearings draw one

Deborah Greene was the sole speaker at the hearing on the Watauga County Farmland Preservation Plan, raising concerns about one portion of the plan that encourages workshops to share information about a variety of issues, including equitable farm leases and community farm trusts.

"That's a socialist program, and I would like you all to scratch that out of there," she said.

Commissioners noted that the plan is merely ideas for what the county could do to support farming.

"It being just a plan, I don't see anything real objectionable," Miller said.

The board unanimously approved both the Farmland Preservation Plan and changes to the Voluntary Farmland Preservation Program ordinance.


Other business

In other business, the Board of Commissioners:

-- Accepted a $3,000 grant from the Claybough Foundation to be used for the Department of Social Services. The department will use the money in its emergency fund for crisis situations such as medical costs, housing and transportation.

-- Approved a $3,302 reduction in the county's Home and Community Care Block Grant due to federal sequestration. Project on Aging Director Angie Boitnotte said the money would be removed from services for home-delivered meals and in-home aid.

-- Unanimously approved the Watauga County Comprehensive Transportation Plan, a document that outlines key transportation projects desired by local leaders.

-- Received public comment from Boone resident Andrew Mason, who said he was "saddened and disappointed" by the county's decision to change the sales tax distribution in a way that harms Boone. "I think that picking winners and losers out of segments of our county is not good governance," he said. "It doesn't make common sense, and it's unnecessarily divisive."

Greene also spoke on that topic, saying she didn't agree with Boone's regulations but also didn't agree with "penalizing every citizen in the town of Boone." She said she supported the move if it helped pay county debts.