BLOWING ROCK – With a 3-1 vote, the Blowing Rock Town Council approved a conditional use permit for the 40-room Rainey Lodge development during its meeting on Tuesday, June 11.

Councilman Doug Matheson, Councilman Jim Steele and Councilwoman Virginia Powell voted in favor of the motion. Mayor Pro Tem Albert Yount voted against it, saying the proposed development was too tall for him to approve. Councilwoman Sue Sweeting was recused from the hearing by a vote of fellow council members on May 14 due to an email she sent March 26 to N.C. Department of Transportation Engineer Mike Pettyjohn asking about traffic impact studies of the area, a point of legal contention in the hearing.

The final vote ends a saga that included a 10 hours quasi-judicial public hearing that spanned the April 9 and May 14 council meetings.

The project, developed by Grand Dakota Development — a limited liability corporation owned and operated by Stephen Barker, who also owns the tract of land — is a 40-room hotel on a 0.905-acre plot of commercially zoned land between Morningside Drive, Rainey Street and U.S. 221 in downtown Blowing Rock.

Rainey Lodge faced opposition from a group of neighbors, who hired Stacy “Four” Eggers IV of Eggers Law Firm of Boone to contest the project as an intervening party. The group contended the project would diminish the value of their properties, cause additional traffic on residential roads and result in noise pollution due to a planned bar, outside seating and guest-room balconies.

Chelsea Garrett of di Santi, Watson, Capua, Wilson & Garrett law firm in Boone represented Grand Dakota Development in the hearing.

The approval motion made by Matheson said the use met all the required findings of fact that Blowing Rock town code requires to obtain a conditional use permit. Those findings included that the property is operated to maintain or promote public health, safety and general welfare, complies with all required regulations and standards of the land use ordinance, is compatible with the neighborhood, won’t substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting properties and conforms with the general plans for the physical development of Blowing Rock.

Matheson also stipulated that no delivery trucks with more than two axles can drive on Morningside Drive, the applicant submit a performance bond of 125 percent of the applicant’s cost as approved by the engineer prior to any land disturbance and no certificate of occupancy be issued until 100 percent of the plans have been completed.

Steele made sure the applicant provided working drawings of all landscaping on the property, which town attorney Allen Moseley confirmed was included in the conditional use permit process.

Mayor Charlie Sellers said the quasi-judicial hearing has been a difficult situation for everyone involved due to the mandatory gag order on council members, meaning they couldn’t talk to citizens outside of the public hearing for the last two-plus months.

“This (process) has brought out the worst in some of us,” Sellers said. “I’m going to be a good neighbor to Rainey Lodge.”

“We all lost a lot of sleep over this,” Sellers added.

Powell said she’s had to avoid citizens on the street, not read emails and not take phone conversations per the gag order during this process.

Steele addressed the crowd, saying that under the conditional use permit process, council members are bound by the ordinance.

“We don’t get to pick and choose what you like and don’t like,” Steele said. “This applicant met all the ordinances offered.”

“It seems to me based upon fact … to let (Grand Dakota) build it,” Steele added. “We have to look out for all of our stakeholders, not just a neighborhood, everyone, see that their rights are met,”

Many council members implored Grand Dakota to make sure all the conditions are met and keep contractors, sub-contractors and building materials out of the adjoining streets.

Yount said the project reminded him of the Sugar Top development in Sugar Mountain and would vote against it, but was willing to work with Grand Dakota to make it the best possible project for the town.

Powell touted the potential positives, such as being a part of the connecting sidewalk project that is slate to go to Bass Lake. Powell asked that the citizens welcome this development as they welcome back part-time residents after the winter.

A proposed amendment to allow upright headstones in Woodlawn Cemetery — which the town of Blowing Rock owns and operates — passed unanimously. Previously, outside of one section, only flat markers were allowed in Woodlawn. An amendment was added to the proposal that would allow people to go back and put in new upright markers should they choose.

Sellers informed the council that the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Cullie Tarleton, a Blowing Rock resident, informed him that the department will replace 50 dead trees previously planted along Valley Boulevard/U.S. 321 in the town limits. The trees will be planted from Sept. 15 through Dec. 15, Sellers said.

The new trees will have an 18-month warranty, starting Dec. 15, in which NCDOT will replant any trees that die in that time period. The warrant also includes planted bushes, including rhododendrons, Sellers said.

Many residents and council members have complained about the dead trees and bushes previously planted by NCDOT along the stretch. Powell said the current trees seemed dead before they were planted.

Sweeting informed council that the land use ad hoc committee, created recently to look into a singular vision for Blowing Rock, specifically along Valley Boulevard, has had two productive meetings. Sweeting said the committee plans on using the town’s comprehensive plan for Main Street, Sunset Drive and Valley Boulevard, as well as decide what ordinances need to be changed in order to better protect what the community wants.

Elizabeth Young and Chris Hatton made a presentation about the Hunger and Health Coalition, asking residents to sign up for the “A Simple Gesture” food donor program, which many did at intermission.

Young and Hatton said the need to donate and volunteer is greater than ever with Young explaining that the coalition has seen 30 new families a month in 2019.

Mark Crumpler asked the council to continue to enforce three-hour parking on Main Street, saying word has gotten out that Blowing Rock Police aren’t enforcing it anymore. Town Manager Shane Fox said he would talk to Blowing Rock Police about it.

Resident Gigi Poole implored the council to fix the steps in front of the former Storie’s Carpet, that were used by 75 households in the area. Poole said it’s been six months since they were closed at the advice of the town’s insurance adjuster.

The final budget workshop will be Tuesday, June 18, at 6 p.m. at Town Hall. Approval of the 2019-20 fiscal year budget is slated for Monday, June 24.

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