I normally wouldn’t comment on a development issue before it has even come before the Blowing Rock planning board for review and consideration, but Aug. 17 I received a disturbing email blast signed by Tim Gupton, president of the Blowing Rock Civic Association and BRCA board member Marshall Sealey. In it, they appear to be rallying Blowing Rock homeowners to oppose a new proposed subdivision of 10 lots (and assumed future homes) in Blowing Rock’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, along the upper reaches of Green Hill Road, almost to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
On the one hand, I applaud Gupton and Sealey for their efforts to keep town folks informed about these kinds of developments in advance of their going through the permitting process. Residents and business owners, whether or not a voter or taxpayer, need to be aware of what is going on around them. Arguably, neither the board of commissioners nor the town may be doing an adequate job in that regard. We are living in the Information Age. Maybe having an agenda for upcoming meetings sent to constituents’ email inboxes is being more proactive.
Although Gupton and Sealey don’t come right out and say everyone should oppose this development, in raising watershed, traffic and a variance request for a street that will be 103 feet longer than is provided for in the Land Use Code, there are enough hints that such is their intent in rallying the troops “to make your voices heard at the Planning Board because there won’t be a chance in the SUP’s quasi-judicial public hearing before the Blowing Rock board of commissioners — unless a person has legal standing.” (Paraphrased quote)
Frankly, this is much ado about nothing. We appreciate the visibility BRCA is giving to issues and especially the organization’s efforts to protect the concerns of seasonal residents who may not be voters. They are a significant constituent interest as taxpayers.
And yet, why is BRCA trying to be a shadow government for the Town of Blowing Rock? What makes BRCA think they are the only smart people in the area and that any development should be solely according to their values and preferences?
The land in this proposed development is currently zoned residential-agricultural so a housing subdivision is certainly within the scope of the zoning. Moreover, it is in the ETJ, not within the Blowing Rock town limits. It is 6.54 acres in total and each lot is more than the one-half acre minimum required by Blowing Rock’s Land Use Code.
There is a single new street that will be built and maintained by the development’s future property owners association, at little or no cost to the Town of Blowing Rock. As a private road providing the only access to the planned lots, and one that will not cost Blowing Rock taxpayers a penny for construction or maintenance, do you really care that it about 30 yards longer than stipulated by an arbitrary number in the code, for in-town developments? Remember, this is in the ETJ, not within the town limits.
Provisions have been made for storm water retention, to avoid excessive runoff because of an increase in impervious surfaces where houses and sidewalks are built. The development will not be tied to the town’s municipal water and sewer services, relying instead on private water wells and septic systems. The watershed is currently onto mostly agricultural land and that will be the case when the property is developed, too.
It is important to note that whether the owner of the parcel wants to use his land to build a single mansion for a private country estate or a modest, 10-lot subdivision, or if he wants to continue to sit on the property, doing nothing for the next 50 years, that is his right as a property owner. Property owners have rights that are at least equal to those people who found Blowing Rock first and now want to close the gates behind them.
Private property ownership is a cornerstone of what we have known as Americans for the last, almost two and half centuries. It is the same principle that permitted current homeowners the right to buy and build residences on the top of Green Hill Circle, in Laurel Park, or in the midst of Mayview Park. Some were developed as small subdivisions, others as individual lots.
So if Gupton, Sealey & Co. are worried about the impact of development on the watershed, that horse is already out of the barn. Every single home or commercial building inside the town limits of Blowing Rock has an impact, to some degree.
In their email blast, Gupton and Sealey are critical of developers who use the SUP process rather than the SZP (Special Zoning Permit) process. Well, duh, in this case Herbert Townsend, the developer, is not asking for any kind of special zoning, so that would be the wrong permit to pursue. A developer using the correct form of permit application is not a municipal sin.
We have no knowledge whether or not Townsend met with his very few neighbors and told them of his plans. Even if not required, it might be the neighborly thing to do. There are only a couple of houses to the south of his property, a couple across Green Hill Road, and one house to the west, along Tipton Lane. Right now, the area is pretty rural.
But, in the minds of Gupton and Sealey, how wide a radius should Townsend draw on his road atlas for approval, or at least input? All the way to Green Hill Circle, roughly a mile away? Mayview Park? Maybe Huntersville and Charlotte since the watershed generally flows in that direction?
The irony here is that adding more residential development along the Green Hill Road rural straightaway could have a calming effect when it comes to speeding traffic. Being rural now, drivers treat it like it was almost a wide open highway and don’t get slowed down until well within the town limits, a quarter- to a half-mile down the road. When in a residential area, most people tend to slow down if the signage and personality of the neighborhood reflect it.
Blowing Rock is not a gated community and I doubt that it ever will be. Dallying in others’ property rights about developments that will have little or no negative impact on immediately surrounding properties is, in a word, a silly waste of time. Just because you or an ancestor found Blowing Rock first does not mean that you are entitled to lock the gate behind you.
Especially after COVID -19 made people realize that they may be able to live a healthier lifestyle in the mountains of North Carolina and that the proliferation of high quality broadband Internet connectivity allows people to work remotely, people are coming. Development is going to occur. Given the circumstances all around, statutory as well as common sense, fighting the Green Hill Estates development is much ado about nothing.