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Deep Gap overpass dedicated to Sgt. Dillon C. Baldridge

American flags billowed in the wind and a break appeared in the afternoon rain as tears were shed on the U.S. 221/U.S. 421 overpass during a ceremony dedicating the bridge to a fallen soldier Thursday, June 20.

“We are here today to honor an American hero,” said Cullie Tarleton, Board of Transportation member for NCDOT Division 11. “We name this bridge on the U.S. 221/U.S. 421 overpass in the community of Deep Gap in Watauga County in honor of Sgt. Dillon C. Baldridge.”

Family members, fellow platoon soldiers, friends, veterans groups and local elected officials turned out to see the Sgt. Dillon C. Baldridge Bridge dedication.

Baldridge, of Youngsville, died at age 22 while serving with the U.S. Army during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, alongside Sgt. Eric M. Houck of Baltimore and Sgt. William M. Bays of Allensville, Kentucky, June 10, 2017, according to Cpt. Patrick J. Sweeney, who served with the men.

“No testimony, written or spoken, can ever fully capture Dillon’s nature — it was and remains something you had to experience firsthand,” Sweeney said. “If you understand the concepts of service and sacrifice; if you accept the values of freedom, duty and honor; if you’ve ever experienced the purest kind of love shared among close families and between the truest of friends, then you are well on your way to understanding what Dillon meant to all those who know him.”

Melissa Strickland, Baldridge’s aunt, led the group in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem, while his mother, Tina Palmer, of West Jefferson, and other family members watched.

“For us as a family, it’s incredible, because so many people did so many wonderful things, but this bridge is something that is permanent, that we can see all the time, and it puts a smile on our faces just to see that his name is continually out there for people to see,” Palmer said. “So many people worked so hard — we have so much gratitude for everyone who has been a part of this. It means the world to us that they cared enough to do this, for us and for him.”

The bridge dedication came about as the result of an initiative started two years ago by the Blue Star Mothers of the High Country, aided by local elected officials including state Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock), who led the N.C. Senate in passing a bill that named the overpass in Baldridge’s honor.

“This is just a small gesture, compared to the sacrifice that Sgt. Baldridge made,” Ballard said after the ceremony. “It feels so small in light of everything, but if it gives his family some peace of mind and comfort, I’m honored to be a part of that.”

Other speakers at the dedication event included Pastor Pat Fleming and Blue Star Mothers of the High Country President Sara Rice.

Among the veterans groups present at the event were the N.C. Patriot Guard Riders, Boone VFW, Sparta VFW, Ashe and Boone American Legion, Ashe Marine Corps League and Disabled American Veterans of Boone.

According to the Department of Defense, Baldridge, Houck and Bays were assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Company D, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based out of Fort Campbell, Ky.

Baldridge was laid to rest with military honors at Ashelawn Memorial Chapel in Crumpler June 23, 2017. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge and the Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Ashe Post & Times previously reported.

Boone man charged with kidnapping, assault, sexual battery

BOONE — A 37-year-old man is charged with felony second-degree kidnapping, misdemeanor assault on a female and misdemeanor sexual battery after an incident that reportedly happened on May 2.

Jonathan Brian Collins, of 119 McNabb Lane, Boone, was arrested on a warrant on May 7. He was given a July 8 court date in Watauga Superior Court and is currently held on a $50,000 bond.

According to Collins’ May 28 indictment by a Watauga County Grand Jury, he allegedly kidnapped a woman by unlawfully restraining and removing her from one place to another without her consent “for the purpose of terrorizing her.” The document also states he allegedly assaulted the woman by striking her as well as grabbed her arms, slammed her against a wall and cabinets and placed his hands on her throat, mouth and nose.

Collins also allegedly engaged in sexual contact by force and against the will of the woman “for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification and abuse,” according to the indictment.

Court documents state that Collins was ordered to not have direct or indirect contact with the alleged victim. Garland Baker is listed as Collins’ attorney.

Steve Behr / Photo by Steve Behr 

Appalachian State women’s basketball player Bayley Plummer umpires a game at the Will Dicus Memorial Baseball Tournament.

Council members open to amortization compromises

BOONE — The Boone Town Council will move forward with a June 27 public hearing on a proposed phase-out of non-conforming uses in low-density neighborhoods, but council members are already expressing a willingness to find middle ground on the controversial proposal.

Councilman Sam Furgiuele said he didn’t feel like there was much enthusiasm among council and staff for a proposal he drew up, eventually saying he was agreeable to a gradual phase-in of the plan or cutting out legal non-conforming uses, specifically multi-family houses originally built as such in R1 Single Family Residential zoned areas.

The discussion came when council discussed a proposed draft outline Furgiuele put together, based on previous discussions and a draft crafted by town attorney Allison Meade that the council reviewed in April. The aim would be to “amortize,” or phase out, non-conforming uses that currently would not be allowed in R-1, R-1A Single-Family Residential with Accessory Dwelling, RR Residential Rehabilitation, R-2 Two-Family Residential and R-A Residential/Agricultural districts, over an allotted time period.

“I initially floated the idea of an amortization of non-conforming uses, as opposed to ‘situations’ such as setbacks, heights, etc., in low-density residential neighborhoods after I learned that the (N.C.) General Assembly had changed the statute of limitations on zoning enforcement actions,” Furgiuele stated in his proposal.

The draft proposal, which Furgiuele classified as “quite mild,” would give a three-year phase-out period, starting Jan. 1, 2020, to illegal non-conforming uses, meaning buildings that were changed after construction from single family to multi-family use. The draft also provides a general rezoning process, a conditional-use zoning process (with fees waived) or a 20-year phase-out process for legal non-conforming uses. The burden would be on the property owner to apply for any one or all three processes.

“We are giving them solutions on how to proceed,” Furgiuele said.

Furgiuele spoke more than 30 minutes about what he felt were misconceptions about the proposal, saying some of them have been “disturbing.”

“We’re a long time away from implementation,” Furgiuele said.

Several public commenters spoke against the phase-out program. Frank “Ham” Wilson, representing an undisclosed client, brought up potential statute of limitations issues and said the proposal to put the burden of proof on the property owner was “onerous.” Robert Holton asked the town council to rezone as many non-conforming uses as possible before implementing a phase-out plan.

Furgiuele said that the phase-out program would help the town enforce its zoning and meet the expectations of conforming property owners in Boone. He added that the NCGA has made zoning enforcement problematic for towns and said that as a lawyer, he would rather be on the landowners’ side in these cases.

“There is no way for us to ever enforce our zoning on most things because of the triggers on statute of limitations are so broad and so vague,” Furgiuele said.

Furgiuele and Councilwoman Lynne Mason said the proposed phase-out program would help protect the town’s neighborhoods.

Councilwoman Connie Ulmer and Mason felt the draft document wasn’t clear enough.

Councilman Marshall Ashcraft said he is inclined to leave legal non-conforming uses alone and emphasize the nonlegal uses that have been converted. Mason asked if certain “nuisance” properties can be addressed by police.

Council passes 2019-20 budget

In other action, the town’s $28.749 million budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year was unanimously approved by the council. The budget is slightly lower than the 2018-19 fiscal year, Town Manager John Ward said. The budget includes no increases in property taxes, maintains current service levels and includes a minimum wage of $15 an hour for town employees and a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment.

The Outside Agency Funding Committee’s recommendations, made on May 23, were approved as part of the budget.

Those recommendations includes funding to Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, the Community Care Clinic of the High Country, The Children’s Playhouse, Friends of the Watauga County Public Library, Hospitality House, the Hunger and Health Coalition, Mountain Alliance, OASIS, Watauga County Emergency and Rescue Squad and the Western Youth Network.

Board recommends two NCDOT projects

The council decided to endorse widening N.C. 194/Jefferson Road to three lanes, including a center turn lane, and a multi-use side path along New River Hills from Casey Lane to U.S. 421 to connect the Boone Greenway as part of consideration for the 2022-2031 N.C. Department of Transportation’s State Transportation Improvement Program.

Ward suggested the three-lane idea for N.C. 194 in town limits, which would include sidewalks and bike paths, noting the previous four-lane proposal didn’t score well in the STIP program. The NCDOT reevaluates the STIP every two years and makes funding selections based on a scoring model that considers need, congestion, safety and other factors.

Furgiuele said that N.C. 194 has had a congestion issue since he arrived in Boone in the 1980s.

Ward said that the multi-use path connector from Casey Lane to U.S. 421, which would connect to Brookshire Park, would encourage parents to use the Boone Greenway in that area of town. Currently, pedestrians and cyclists have to go onto New River Hills Road to reach U.S. 421 and the greenway in Brookshire Park.

In the future, Ward said a pedestrian bridge over the South Fork New River could be constructed to expand the Brookshire Park greenway into the Bolick Farm property.

Other agenda items

Susie Winters and Anne Ward of High Country Wataugans Against Toxins Close to Home, or High Country WATCH, asked the council to partner with Watauga County in opposing plans for the two planned asphalt plants in Watauga County. Along with local residents, Ward asked what the council could do to help, saying the courts have failed them so far.

Furgiuele said he didn’t want it to appear that the council was disinterested, but they were limited due to the abolishment of the town’s extra-territorial jurisdiction by the N.C. General Assembly.

Boone Cultural Resources Director Pilar Fotta updated council about her meetings with the Daniel Boone Native Gardens board of directors. Council suggested that the board beef up the programs the gardens currently have and potentially introduce more in order to help raise funds.

The council thanked Fotta for her work, noting she is leaving her position in the near future. Fotta was hired as the town’s first cultural resources director in 2012.

The council authorized John Ward to enter into negotiations with Hodges Real Estate and Appalachian Commercial Real Estate to potentially hire one of them as a commercial real estate agent in order to list and seek bids for the town’s properties at 1600 Blowing Rock Road and 321 E. King St. The potential sale of the buildings would help finance the construction of a municipal center on its Bolick Farm property near the intersection of U.S. 421 and Bamboo Road, Ward said. Ward would come back with a recommendation for final approval at a future meeting.