A1 A1
Board OKs $7.5M self-storage facility in Boone

BOONE — After a quasi-judicial hearing that lasted nearly five hours, the Boone Board of Adjustment voted 4-1 to grant a special use permit for a four-story storage facility on the former Modern Toyota of Boone property at the intersection of East King Street and New Market Boulevard.

The applicant, Robert High of Robert High Development in Wilmington, proposed a Save Green Self Storage facility that would cost approximately $7.5 million to build. The 990 storage units are planned to cover 134,852 square feet over the four stories and provide 14 parking spaces plus two loading areas. The footprint of the building would be approximately 31,000 square feet, Boone Planning Director Jane Shook noted.

The facility would be the first internally-accessed, climate-controlled self-storage facility in the region, High said. Due to the lack of similar options in the region, High said, the facility could serve a 20-mile radius. The average customer uses the facility around three years, but their time on the property is less than 20 minutes, he said.

“You’re in and you’re out,” High said.

High is seeking to purchase the land, which is currently owned by Sky Country LLC out of West Jefferson. High owns and operates several Save Green locations across North Carolina and is planning on building more in Asheville and South Carolina, he said during the hearing.

One of the carrots offered by High is the potential construction of a new street to connect Chestnut Drive and New Market Boulevard, which has the support of the neighbors. The road would give the Hillcrest and Councill Oaks neighborhoods a way to get to the East King and New Market traffic stop. The street is planned to be named after former parcel owner Norman Cheek. Donna Bare, managing member of Sky Country, previously told the Watauga Democrat that Cheek was her father and she said she is in support of the road and would donate half of the land for its construction.

Board members Andy Brooks, David Welsh, Rich Crepeau and Charles Lentz voted in favor while Pam Williamson voted against, claiming the project didn’t meet the standards to protect the surrounding neighborhood from noise and visual pollution, as well as thinking there would be added traffic to the area.

The final approval came with the conditions that the project incorporate recommendations by town staff, a traffic impact analysis and a culvert analysis presented as part of the hearing.

Welsh said he hopes High will work with the town on making the building look more “mountainous” to make it look consistent with other local commercial buildings.

Williamson said many of the documents presented came with no testimony to their credibility and described them as hearsay with “lots of contradicting evidence.”

“What we’ve got here is a piece of property that we’re trying to get the most number of units onto a property we can squeeze on,” Williamson said. “I do not feel like we have received competent and credible evidence that that neighborhood has been protected.”

As explained by Boone town attorney Allison Meade, the burden of proof was on the applicant to show that the property complied with the town’s UDO, did not materially endanger the public health or safety, will not substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property, will be in harmony with the area in which it is to be located, will be in general conformity with the Boone Comprehensive Plan and all other relevant plans officially adopted by the town and meets transitional zone standards.

Mike Trew, an engineer from Municipal Engineering, along with several neighbors, said that people cut through the paved lot all the time from Chestnut Drive to New Market Boulevard in order to avoid having to turn on East King Street. Due to the median installed when East King Street (U.S. 421) was widened, multiple neighbors said that legally, they have to U-turn at the N.C. 105 Extension intersection and then turn left back onto New Market Boulevard in order to get to New Market Centre or go down to Hardin Park School.

Neighbor Kelsie Summers said that at the N.C. 105 Extension U-turn, there’s no right of way despite the green turn arrow and said that she’s narrowly avoided collisions with vehicles turning right from N.C. 105 Extension onto the eastbound East King Street lanes.

High said he will also build a sidewalk on the north side of the proposed street and that the plan has the support of the adjoining property owners. The road is slated to be built on the boundary of the land he’s in the process of purchasing and the adjoining land. Trew said once the adjoining property is developed, the owners of that land would be required to build a sidewalk.

Attorney Chelsea Garrett of Boone-based firm Di Santi, Watson, Capua, Wilson and Garrett presented the case on behalf of High, calling several witnesses to testify. Garrett said there was a neighborhood meeting held in late October that she said went very well, with all who attended generally in favor.

When asked by Williamson about the size of the project, High said that a 990-unit facility will help it become profitable and noted the self-storage industry is trending toward bigger, climate-controlled units.

Office hours would be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays and facility access for customers would be available from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, High said. Regarding abandoned storage lockers, High said that Save Green auctions are now conducted online.

Trew said that the project would add no more traffic issues to the area, saying many cars that pass through already cut through the parking lot.

Local appraiser James Milner testified that he doesn’t believe there are any adverse affects to the neighboring residential properties. Boone’s Urban Design Specialist Brian Johnson said that the town will negotiate with High on the appearance of the building to meet the town’s minimum standards, which was a point of contention brought up by neighbor Mark Nuessmeier.

During public comment, residents Summers, Nuessmeier, Carolyn Ward and Donna Lillian all said that a self-storage facility is about as good a use of the property for their wellbeing as it could be. There were no public comments offered opposing the project, and the speakers noted that they hadn’t heard any opposing views from neighbors.

“You’re talking about a minor impact of people unloading a truck before leaving,” Ward said.

Martin Luther King Jr. Street to be dedicated in Boone
Several local events planned to honor King's legacy

On Monday, Jan. 20, the community is invited to join the Boone Town Council for a ceremony to dedicate Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

At its regularly scheduled meeting held on Aug. 15, 2019, the Boone Town Council voted unanimously to rename a portion of Hunting Hills Lane after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in an attempt to honor King’s legacy in the town of Boone. The location was chosen in an effort to reach visitors of the nearby children’s park, ballfields and the new county recreation center to remind them of King’s impact around the world.

The ceremony will be held at Boone Fire Station No. 2, located at 1075 State Farm Road, beginning at 4 p.m. with light refreshments and music provided by the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church Choir. Parking for the event will be located behind the fire station in the parking lot next to the ball fields.

For questions, contact Town Hall at (828)268-6200.

Other local events planned to honor King’s legacy include the following:

‘Selma’ film screening at App Theatre

Appalachian State University Humanities Council is excited to announce a film series in conjunction with the Appalachian Theatre as part of the 2019-20 theme of “Building a Just World.” The film “Selma” will be presented on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 3 p.m., and will feature a panel discussion following the film.

Panelists include Cameron Lippard, professor and chair of the Sociology Department; Willie Fleming, chief diversity officer; and Toussaint Romain, deputy legal counsel, adjunct professor, public defender and community activist.

This event is free, but requires tickets for seating purposes. Tickets can be obtained at www.apptheatre.org.

MLK Challenge

On Monday, Jan. 20, Appalachian State University and ACT (Appalachian & the Community Together) will celebrate the 21st anniversary of the MLK Challenge. Hundreds of participants will gather to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King through a day of service, reflection and education.

The day challenges volunteers to give their time, energy and talents to make the world just a little bit brighter for others here in the High Country as they complete projects alongside 20-plus community partners. True to its name, there are many layers of challenge woven into this day.

Unity Service

On Monday, Jan. 20, the Martin Luther King holiday, Mabel United Methodist Church will host the 23rd annual Unity Service at 7 p.m. All are invited.

Representatives of different faiths will offer prayers for peace, and the Junaluska Gospel Choir will sing. Following the service, the good cooks at Mabel Methodist will serve desserts and coffee.

For more information, please call Mary Sue or Pat Morgan at 828-297-3568.

Martin Luther King celebration

The Ashe County Arts Council will be sponsoring a community celebration in honor of Martin Luther King Day at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 20, at the Ashe Arts Center in West Jefferson at 303 School Ave. in West Jefferson.

The celebration will highlight the message of Dr. King and his teachings of peace, unity and equality in our society.

The featured performer will be Mike Wiley. This event is free and open to the public. For more information, call (336) 846-2787.

AppHealthCare continues fight against opioid abuse with new grant

WATAUGA — AppHealthCare was one of 23 North Carolina health departments to be selected as a recipient of a three-year grant award of up to $275,000 that it plans to use for all three of its serviced counties — Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany.

These funds are part of a $7 million award from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Community Linkages to Care” program to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health. North Carolina health departments will receive a share of a $2.1 million award annually for up to three years to implement high-impact, community-level strategies to address the opioid crisis, according to DHHS.

According to DHHS, this new set of funding continues the momentum from last year’s Emergency Overdose funding that was awarded to 22 local health departments/districts — which collectively served approximately 3,000 people through the same community-based strategies.

“This Community Linkages to Care funding serves as a catalyst for local communities across the state to directly address the opioid crisis by working collaboratively to build sustainable, impactful programs for the most vulnerable populations in their communities,” said Susan Kansagra — section chief for the Division of Public Health’s Chronic Disease and Injury Section — in a statement.

In 2017, Gov. Roy Cooper launched the NC Opioid Action Plan, which was updated and re-released as the NC Opioid Action Plan 2.0 in June 2019. AppHealthCare Health Director Jennifer Greene said there are three core strategies that the grant funds will be used for, which align with the North Carolina Opioid Action Plan priority areas to reduce harm and connect people to care. The core strategies include the development or expansion of syringe exchange programs, connection of justice-involved persons to care and the establishment of post-overdose response teams.

These strategies are community based and aim to prevent fatal and non-fatal opioid overdoses, increase access and linkages to care services for vulnerable populations and build local capacity to respond to overdoses, according to Greene. AppHealthCare is already involved in several initiatives around opioids that the DHHS grant funding will expand and build upon.

“We will continue to connect with the community to build greater capacity and partnerships so resources can continue to be available to those who need them,” Greene said. “It is going to take a whole community approach, with each person and agency doing their part, to tackle the issue of drug use and misuse in our community.”

Greene said that the work it has been conducting is carried out by N.C. Peer Support Specialists. These initiatives include working with justice-involved individuals in Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany county jails; connecting people who use drugs to resources such as treatment; assisting those who use drugs to navigate government systems that include Child Protective Services, Department of Social Services and the criminal justice system; providing Narcan training to local community agencies and law enforcement; as well as providing “InsideOut Dad Guide to Family Ties” training to male inmates in Alleghany.

The InsideOut training helps incarcerated fathers learn the importance of getting in touch and staying in touch with their family as well as how to create stronger ties between themselves and their children and the mother of their children, Hill said. She added that research shows that by connecting incarcerated fathers to their children, they are motivated to maintain good behavior to keep visiting rights as well as have a higher likelihood of staying out of jail/prison.

AppHealthCare also helps to coordinate and respond to the post-overdose response team in Watauga County. AppHealthCare Community Health Services Director Donna Hill said that Ashe and Alleghany counties do not currently have PORTs, but that the agency hopes to help change that. She added that some things may be in the works through the Ashe Substance Misuse Coalition led by Ashe Memorial Hospital.

Additionally, Greene said AppHealthCare is building trust and support in the community to help those who use drugs register with syringe exchange programs. While none of the three counties currently have syringe exchange programs, volunteers with Olive Branch Ministries provide services to residents in Watauga County, according to Hill. She added that the agency continues to educate the community on the importance and benefits of syringe exchange programs, but there is not a specific plan or timeframe of when one may open.

“We know that people who participate in (syringe exchange programs) are five times as likely to get treatment for (substance use disorder) than people who do not participate in these programs, and people who inject drugs and who have used an SEP regularly are nearly three times as likely to report reducing or stopping illicit drug injection as those who have never used an SEP,” according to AppHealthCare.

Not long after the 2017 state opioid plan was put in place, North Carolina for the first time in five years saw the number of unintentional opioid-related deaths among its residents fall by 5 percent in 2018, and emergency department visits for opioid-related overdose declined nearly 10 percent, according to DHHS.

For more information about the NC Opioid Action Plan and efforts to date, visit www.ncdhhs.gov/opioid-epidemic.

App State growing online opportunities, tracking enrollment numbers

BOONE — Appalachian State University is making progress in expanding its online courses in addition to being on track to achieving its target for student enrollment growth, according to administrators.

In their goal to reach 20,000 students by this fall, university administrators have stated that they see online education as an area for growth. During the Jan. 13 university Faculty Senate meeting, Provost Darrell Kruger said the university plans to develop about 30 new online courses with support from the Center for Academic Excellence through the spring and summer.

In September, the university stated that more than 300 courses are offered online each year, with more than 700 available course sections. Kruger said that the goal is to develop 25 online courses each year during the next several years.

While developing online courses for this year, Kruger said administrators focused on creating online versions of existing courses. They considered the potential for enrollment growth in particular programs and increased general education courses offered online.

“Next year we’ll do a call for proposals like we have done in previous years,” Kruger said. “The call will be to either create online courses or programs or create new online academic programs. Online courses or new programs that have potential enrollment growth will be given priority.”

Ben Powell — a former Faculty Senate member who was appointed to the position of interim vice provost for online learning — has been assisting administrators in expanding online courses. Powell said organizers have been tracking distance education admissions, which are mostly online students but also include some satellite locations.

Fall applications for undergraduate distance education is down by about 9.4 percent, but is up by roughly 17.3 percent for graduates. Powell said these numbers should start improving soon for several reasons, such as its recent University of North Carolina system approval to offer Appalachian’s Master of Business Administration program online.

Faculty Senator Scott Marshall, a professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, asked if the university would try to supplant enrollment numbers with on-campus students if the university doesn’t gain the amount of online students it had planned. Kruger answered no, and said administrators would continue to monitor online enrollment numbers.

Kruger added that the timing of online enrollment is different than students on the main campus, as those taking online courses register up through late into the summer or early fall.

The Faculty Senators approved a motion from the Committee on Committees to create an Ad Hoc Committee on Quality Online Teaching and Learning. The committee was created by a resolution that was passed at the group’s meeting, and its final composition was approved on Jan. 13. The group is charged with studying the quality of distance learning and assisting administrators with ensuring that quality. The ad hoc committee is composed of 14 individuals in various departments, including Powell.

In terms of students on the main campus, App State Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Cindy Barr said that the university is ahead in overall enrollment numbers compared with this time last year because it has been admitting students sooner. For the spring semester, she said the university’s target was 350 students, and it is seeing between 460 to 480 students.

“It’s the same caliber of students that we admitted last year for spring admission,” Barr said.

For the fall, Barr said the university admitted its “early action” students prior to winter break. She added that App State’s acceptance rate was around 76 percent — near its 77 percent acceptance rate from last year. In terms of academic quality, GPA and SAT scores, Barr said data should be comparable to the last year.

Barr added that the university will continue to monitor enrollment numbers as the fall approaches.