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Boone discusses short-term rental regulations

BOONE — Whether or not the Boone Town Council wants to place regulations on short-term and homestay rentals within residential zoning districts was a topic of discussion during the council’s July 18 meeting.

This very discussion is one the town has had many times over the last four years, said Boone Town Manager John Ward. Concerns about affordable housing, occupancy taxes and local housing stock were voiced by various members of the council when it comes to the rise of short-term rentals in residential houses.

“It’s been an ongoing issue; it’s a growing issue in communities,” Ward said.

This rise could be credited to online marketplaces such as Airbnb that allow people to rent out properties or spare rooms on a property to guests. According to information presented by Council Member Sam Furgiuele, there have been approximately 600 such operations using Boone addresses. However, since the exact location of these operations are hard to identify, only about 100 or so were recognized within town limits.

Numerous local governments in popular vacation destinations have voiced concerns about missing out on occupancy taxes from some types of these operations.

“This not only reduces tourism revenues for the town, it creates an unfair disadvantage to established hotel operations in town,” Furgiuele stated in his agenda item submission notes.

The positives of allowing these services in Boone were also analyzed, such as locals using the service to rent out rooms to be able to pay their mortgage and the useful impact these rentals have on the local economy and businesses.

Council Member Marshall Ashcraft asked the council if any of them were in favor of prohibiting these services all together, voicing that he himself was not in favor of that suggestion. Other council members suggested that they would not want to prohibit it in its entirety, but Council Member Connie Ulmer said she was unsure.

In the unofficial minutes of the April 10 Boone Town Council planning retreat, Furgiuele suggested discussing whether to allow vacation rentals in the downtown core of the town. A special meeting on June 27 allowed public comment on short-term and homestay rental properties within residential zoning districts. At this public hearing, several community members voiced concerns of the town “taking away a right that they had,” according to Furgiuele’s agenda item submission notes. He then commented on how these uses are currently illegal in residential zoning districts.

Furgiuele approached the council with suggestions for an ordinance addressing Airbnb-type short-term rentals. These suggestions included: these operations must register and maintain within the town and name immediate contact of a local manager; it must be an accessory use of the property and not the principal use except in zoning districts where it is allowed; owners using platforms that do not pay occupancy taxes must directly pay the taxes when due; must be a limit of units per property made available for short-term rental depending on the zoning district involved; the owner/manager must provide a copy of the town’s noise and community improvement codes to each renter; they should be addressed separately in noise and nuisance ordinances; parking places for R1, R1A and R2 should be limited; neighborhoods designated as neighborhood conservation districts could be prohibited from these uses by signed petition; and occupancy limits would be the same for the zoning districts.

Places like Blowing Rock and Asheville have already started to set in place regulations on these marketplaces. The town of Blowing Rock purchased software to track short-term rentals and moved forward with approving zoning and regulations for short-term rentals last year.

Town attorney Allison Meade said Asheville uses its ordinance to distinguish the difference between a homestay — when a person lives in the house and only allows renting rooms in the house — versus having whole house rental. She suggested that the council could potentially choose to allow homestays and not whole house rentals.

Ward suggested that the town council look at plans already made by other municipalities to get an idea for an ordinance framework. Council Member Lynne Mason recommended that the group may want to also look at ordinances that the town uses for bed and breakfasts and see if those could be applicable to short-term rentals.

Ward also warned council members that a bill has been presented to the North Carolina General Assembly that would ban any local ordinance from regulating any Airbnb-type service and could also remove local ordinances that have been passed.

The general consensus of the council moving forward was to gather information on what regulations other municipalities use as well as wait to see what the state decides related to local ordinances.

Local officials collaborate on juvenile discipline issues in School-Justice Partnership

Multiple local agencies and individuals are formally agreeing to strengthen the working relationship between officials and work together to determine the best solution for minors who may find themselves in the juvenile court system.

This agreement is called the School-Justice Partnership — a statewide initiative managed by the North Carolina Judicial Branch’s Administrative Office of the Courts. According to this office, SJPs are designed to be a group of stakeholders from schools, law enforcement and the court system who together develop and implement effective strategies to address student misconduct within the school system and the community rather than by a referral to the juvenile justice system.

This is due in part to the “raise the age” law, that is planned to become effective on Dec. 1 of this year. The law will increase the jurisdiction of juvenile court for delinquency cases to include 16- and 17-year-olds.

On July 8, the Watauga County Board of Education discussed and subsequently approved a memorandum of understanding for the SJP with the boards of education in Avery, Madison, Mitchell and Yancey counties as well as law enforcement agencies in the counties, the District Court of the 24th judicial district, the District Attorney’s Office of the 35th district and the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott said those involved in the partnership first met back in the spring to discuss the SJP. This meeting included District Attorney Seth Banks, the superintendents of all five counties represented in the judicial district and Chief District Court Judge Ted McEntire. Those in attendance discussed what should be in the agreement, and Elliott said all five school systems are adopting the resolution.

These communities will join seven others in N.C. with SJPs, with the state’s goal of reaching all 100 counties.

The SJP solidifies the agreement to work together to prevent disruptive behavior in school and reduce referrals to juvenile court if they are not necessary, Elliott said. Sometimes officials may determine that counseling, work with school social workers or a referral to another agency could be the appropriate course of action rather than juvenile court.

“We don’t take lightly referrals to juvenile court,” Elliott said. “We don’t send cases that we would consider frivolous to juvenile court. When we make a referral to juvenile court it’s after consultation with law enforcement, juvenile court counselors and other school personnel when we’ve determined that the support and requirements of juvenile court is what the student and family needs at that time in order to change the behaviors.”

The MOU doesn’t necessarily reflect any change of practice or a new way of thinking toward a collaboration with the juvenile court system, but rather formalizes the working relationship the aforementioned officials have, Elliott said.

Banks said what he has found in the last five years as the district attorney is that the courts, school systems and law enforcement agencies school systems work and communicate well together.

“We found here in Watauga and my other four counties that essentially the team here were doing many of those things — discussing these cases and who was best suited under those circumstances to handle these cases,” Banks said. “Through these partnerships, our goal is to identify the stakeholder that is best suited to take on the task of intervening and trying to mediate and figure out solutions in these individual cases.”

Elliott, Banks and Michelle Miller — a juvenile court counselor in Watauga — all explained how agencies work together to determine the best course of action when a minor is presenting behavioral issues. Elliott said a student may be involved in one disciplinary event or ongoing discipline issues. Administrators approach the system’s school resource officers to discuss whether or not the disciplinary act is in fact a violation of a law. Court counselors are then consulted to determine if the referral to juvenile court is the best tactic to address the issue.

Miller said she will look over the report of the alleged act and make sure it contains legal sufficiency to create a juvenile petition. The court counselor later contacts the juvenile’s parents and schedules an intake conference. The counselor will meet with the juvenile, find out what occurred from their perspective and conduct a risk and needs assessment. The assessment identifies the risk the juvenile might have to continue to get into legal trouble and areas of need in that child’s life that if addressed would hopefully reduce the risk of that child coming back into the court system, Miller said.

From here, a court counselor may consult with the district attorney’s office if unclear on what charge to pursue. Typically, Miller said a court counselor will determine what happens next with the case — such as approving a complaint to be heard in front of juvenile court judge or potentially entering into a diversion contract/plan with the juvenile and their family.

Counselors can give input as to what terms of supervision the child might need to have and will monitor the child’s adherence to the court order. Court orders could potentially be community service, mediation between the offender and victim (the young person then has direct accountability to the person that may have been harmed by their actions), abide by curfews, be directed to not associate with victims or codefendants or evaluated for mental health or substance abuse needs.

Miller said court counselors try to use the option of diversion if at all possible. They typically will set up a plan for the young person to correct the mistakes or receive treatment and intervention services in the community.

“If we break or stop the cycle of criminal activity from ever starting, that’s the outcome we’re looking for,” Banks said. “We’re allowing the people on the ground to have input in fostering that dialogue.”

Elliott said the partnership will meet together as a district to begin looking at referral data to begin to evaluate trends such as referrals for certain kinds of behaviors or how as a region officials can take actions or provide additional support to address those issues. Locally, officials — such as school administrators, counselors, social workers, law enforcement and court representatives — will look at the data on a local level. This data could be what outcomes are coming out of juvenile court referrals, what kind of cases are going to juvenile court, what kind of cases are being deferred away from juvenile court and what kind of additional support or interventions are needed locally.

Steve Behr / Photo by Steve Behr 

Watauga’s Jair Alvarez (10) works the ball against Freedom’s Alex Riegler (8) in the first half of an October 2018 match at Jack Groce Stadium in Boone.

Kayla Lasure / Photo submitted 

Makala O'Brien

Boone continues MLK discussion, presents several renaming options

BOONE – The Boone Town Council is going to look at five local streets that could be renamed after famed civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., and also ask the N.C. Department of Transportation about exceptions to a policy limiting renaming state-maintained roads, according to action taken at a Tuesday, July 16, meeting.

New Market Boulevard, Howard Street, State Farm Road, Meadowview Road and Old East King Street will be considered by the council in an August meeting to be renamed after King, with Boone Town Manager John Ward asked to inquire further about the potential of renamining N.C. 105 Extension.

The item was first discussed at a June 20 meeting with the focus on renaming New Market Boulevard by Labor Day in September. At that meeting, several business owners along the road expressed opposition due to the financial strain and confusion it would cause on such short notice.

Many of those business owners were back in attendance on July 16, along with others who were in support of the idea.

Addressing the possibility of renaming one of the town’s highways, Ward said a 2004 memo from the NCDOT stated that the agency won’t issue a name to a street they maintain, such as U.S. 421, U.S. 321, N.C. 105 or N.C. 194, if that name is already used in the state of North Carolina. Ward said he checked and the memo was still valid and no exceptions were included.

Later in the discussion, town attorney Allison Meade questioned the legal validity of that 2004 NCDOT memo.

The dictum means the town would be limited to roads it maintains for renaming.

Boone Public Works Director Rick Miller said that the longest roads the town maintains are State Farm Road, New Market Boulevard, Oak Street and Meadowview Drive. Out of those roads, Miller said State Farm is the busiest, but said New Market is up there due to Hardin Park School traffic.

Councilman Sam Furgiuele said that for all the pushback they’ve gotten about New Market Boulevard due to the businesses located on it, it would be “times a hundred” for State Farm Road.

Councilwoman Lynne Mason suggested the under-development municipal center and park at the Bolick Farm Property as an option.

Furgiuele, who originally proposed the idea, said renaming Water Street or a multi-modal path after King would be “insulting” and pushed for council to do something.

Furgiuele brought up Howard Street as a “fair alternative” and said it will eventually be “the jewel of the town” once the revitalization project is completed. Furgiuele added that there were legitimate counterpoints to New Market Boulevard, but still felt like it was the best possible option.

“It’s one of the most prominent streets in the town,” Furgiuele said.

Furgiuele addressed a claim that the potential renaming was done too quickly and without input, saying he submitted his agenda items the same way he always does and that even though the agenda said it was an action item, that didn’t mean a vote would be held, but rather it could mean direction would be given to town staff.

Councilman Marshall Ashcraft said the problem with the lack of notification was on the town council and that there is no policy in place for notification, to which Councilwoman Loretta Clawson agreed.

Furgiuele said that if NCDOT-maintained roads were an option, N.C. 105 Extension would be his No. 1 choice and asked Ward to bring it up again, with other council members noting the confusion that N.C. 105 Extension, N.C. 105 and N.C. 105 Bypass causes.

Councilwoman Connie Ulmer thanked Furgiuele for starting the conversation.

“We need to do something not because it’s good to do, but because we believe in it,” Ulmer said.

During public comment, former Boone councilman Fred Hay said renaming New Market Boulevard after King needed to be done “in this time of growing white nationalism.” Hay said he proposed something similar years ago, but said it was sent to a committee and died.

“Boone is the progressive place we want it to be,” Hay said. “To not do so would suggest the opposite.”

Later in the meeting, Clawson said the renaming of a street after King was something this council would do and it won’t be put on the shelf again.

Juanita Hay suggested a compromise of using both New Market Boulevard and King’s name for the street.

Julie Waldrep, a dentist along New Market Boulevard, spoke to town council again about the financial hardships a street name change would cause to the numerous small businesses on the road. Waldrep said that due to the money that would have to be spent by her business if the street name change happens, it would affect numerous donations her office makes to local nonprofits.

“While there would be a positive impact, there would also be a negative impact,” Waldrep said.

Ralph Leonard, a property owner along New Market Boulevard, said the street wouldn’t be a fitting tribute to King’s legacy, saying it’s not a heavily trafficked road and that there are other better options.

“If we do this, we need to do this in a way that honors (King),” Leonard said.

Charles Stanley, who said he’s a member of the Boone United Methodist Church along the road, agreed with Leonard, saying New Market Boulevard is a “small insignificant street,” and suggested a community vote.

“If you are coming to Boone and did not know the area … you would drive down King Street and not even recognize it,” Stanley said.

Graydon Eggers, who said he has no financial stake in the discussion, said he was one of the people who named the road New Market Boulevard around 30 years ago when the road was built. Eggers said naming a new park or facility would be a better tribute to King and said it would feel wrong to change the name of New Market Boulevard.

“I don’t think (King would) feel good about (people being) inconvenienced or having cost incurred,” Eggers said.

During the street renaming discussion, Ward updated council on the Howard Street revitalization project, saying they were waiting for the 100 percent design to bring to council. Ward said the project will be north of $10 million and said there will be an opportunity for “quite a few education and art exhibits” along Howard Street if council wants to make it a larger project.

A brief discussion was had regarding a potential ordinance to address nuisance properties, with Meade saying it’s a priority of hers and she’ll bring back a proposed ordinance when she completes it. Meade said she believes these should be a policy rather than an ordinance.

Boone Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Jackson spoke during public comment on nuisance ordinances, saying they would protect a zoning district that has affordable property. Jackson said the chamber’s leadership team would like to help energize the conversation on more stern enforcement on nuisance ordinances and on affordable housing challenges.

The council unanimously approved an application to apply for a Community Development Block Grant of $2 million to replace the Deck Hill water tank. Josh Eller of Boone Public Works said replacing the 500,000-gallon water tank would improve quality of life for the middle-to-low income people of Boone. The grant would require no match from the town, but the estimated cost of the project is $2,285,000, which Ward said might come from reserves in the water/sewer fund or system fees collected.

A complete reworking of the town’s fire code, amendments to the town’s unified development ordinance that would limit the availability of sidewalk construction fee-in-lieu options, as well as town code changes to streets and sidewalks will be brought back at a future meeting.

Photo submitted 



Photo submitted 

Ashley Winecoff goes through the last right of the track at the World Roller Games in Barcelona. 

Photo by Thomas Sherrill 

Thousands watch Symphony by the Lake at Chetola Resort on July 27, 2018.