A1 A1
Steve Behr / File photo 

Donald Sims, left, was selected to be in the Appalachian State Athletics Hall of Fame.


Boone Police


Photo submitted 

Richard Lee Crump

Richard Lee Crump Richard Lee Crump


Photo by Kayla Lasure 

Elizabeth Smart

Elizabeth Smart serves as the keynote speaker during the Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge luncheon on June 27.


Photo by Kayla Lasure 

Blowing Rock fire personnel respond to a structure fire at the Take Heart store on June 26.


News
Over-capacity crowd opines on short-term rentals, amortization

BOONE — So many citizens appeared before the Boone Town Council June 27 to air their opinions on amortization and short-term rentals that the mayor asked attendees to leave after speaking — the crowd was exceeding the room’s maximum occupancy, according to the fire marshal.

The council had invited input on short-term rentals (such as Airbnb, VRBO, etc.) and the proposed amortization, or phasing out, of non-conforming uses in low-density residential zones at a public hearing that lasted three hours and drew several dozen speakers, with dozens more there to listen.

Short-term rentals

Town Manager John Ward explained that the growth of short-term rentals and their impacts, including a decrease in owner-occupied dwellings, is a national issue, and one that town leaders wanted to seek community input on before exploring potential regulation. Town attorney Allison Meade noted that under the town’s current ordinance, short-term rentals are “technically illegal,” but that the town’s planning department has not been enforcing it.

Many speakers spoke about the benefits of short-term rentals and told the council they are valuable to the town. For one, they said, the extra income helps residents afford to live in an expensive housing market.

Jordan Sellers bought a duplex in downtown Boone; he lives in one unit and rents the other through Airbnb, which has allowed him to make his way as an entrepreneur.

“I couldn’t do it without Airbnb,” he said, adding that in Boone, there are “limited opportunities to make it. You work for the university or you work for the hospital or you’re a waiter.”

Liz Bowman, of Water Street, said she has never had a complaint from her owner-occupied Airbnb, and since her husband died, it is an essential asset.

“If you take this away from me, I will need to sell my house, and then who will own it?” Bowman said.

Others noted that Airbnb does collect the 6 percent local occupancy tax and remits that money to the town of Boone. Two-thirds of town occupancy tax revenues are allocated to the Boone Tourism Development Authority for tourism marketing efforts, and the town retains one-third for tourism-related expenses, such as capital projects.

Wright Tilley, executive director of the Boone and Watauga County Tourism Development Authority, noted that the Airbnb model of collecting the occupancy tax on the front end when rentals are booked is preferable, rather than those of other short-term rental services, which place the tax burden on the property owner.

Tilley said he did not have figures for Boone, but for the county, he was shocked to learn that online rental companies now account for 30 to 31 percent of occupancy tax revenue.

“While you say it’s 'technically illegal,' you accept the occupancy tax remittances, so therefore I think the acceptance of the occupancy tax overrides any idea that this is illegal,” said Cheryl Claassen of Boone.

Claassen also noted that short-term rental hosts serve as ambassadors for the Boone area, sharing visitor materials and information with guests about local businesses.

Several speakers spoke of the value of opening up their homes and welcoming visitors from around the world.

“We are severely lacking in trust in our communities, and this is a perfect opportunity to experience it, to share it,” said Catherine McClennon. Claassen added that serving as a host provides a socializing opportunity for older individuals who don’t get out very much.

But Kenneth Beam described a “disaster” scenario. Impacts from the short-term rental next door to him included people driving through his yard, loud parties, people on his property and a visitor knocking on his door late at night thinking his home was the rental property, he said.

“I bought in a zoned area to not have this next door to me,” Beam said. “It has lowered my property value, and as long as it continues, I may be forced to sell my home.”

Amortization

The council then turned to public comments on a proposal to phase out non-conforming uses in single-family neighborhoods. The council first directed town attorney Allison Meade to develop recommendations on amortization in January of this year, and Meade reported on the issue in February.

The proposal has evolved since February, when council directed Meade to develop an ordinance that would have a three-year phase-out program in low-density residential zones, with an option of 20 years for those who could prove their property was in use before town zoning was implemented, or legal, grandfathered non-conforming uses. Property owners also had the option to seek conditional rezoning with waived fees, under that proposal.

The proposal, presented again in April, then changed slightly to a three-year phase-out for buildings originally constructed as single-family dwellings or accessory dwellings, and 20 years for buildings originally constructed as multi-family dwellings (duplexes, triplexes, small apartment buildings) that aren’t in compliance with their zoning.

At the June 18 meeting, however, council members discussed limiting the amortization plan to illegal non-conforming uses only. The council also reached consensus not to include structures originally built as multi-family buildings in single-family neighborhoods, Meade said.

Ham Wilson, a Boone attorney who said he was representing an undisclosed client, said the proposed ordinance would take away vested rights from property owners without any compensation.

“Don’t micromanage with these ordinances. Don’t make this a regulation nation that chokes development,” Wilson said.

Others said the move would decrease the supply of affordable housing for young professionals, low-income families and the disabled in an already challenging housing market.

“I would just ask that you not put any burdens on these people,” said Ron Henries, a school board member and board member for Watauga Opportunities.

Carol Norris said her home has been rented to college students since the 1950s, and as a disabled widow, she relies on that income.

Ari Bargil of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice spoke on the issue, noting that his organization represents business owners and property owners against “government overreach.” He described amortization as “back door eminent domain.”

Amortization was not without its defenders.

“What about my property rights? I purchased that home believing that I was in an R-1 neighborhood and that R-1 status would be protected. It has not,” said Michael Krenn. “What I heard a lot tonight is the right to make some money off of renting. That’s great. But not in R-1 neighborhoods. You want to rent in an R-1 neighborhood? Rent to a single family.”

Edie and Stuart Tugman said they’ve made considerable investments in their downtown Boone home, but that other homes in their neighborhood that are rented to college students create negative impacts. They said they did not think it would be too difficult for the town to distinguish between legal and illegal non-conforming uses.

“It may take a year, it may take two years to get it done, but get it done,” Stuart Tugman said.

The hearing was held for input only and the council did not take action.


Three from Todd family killed in SC interstate wreck

ORANGEBURG, S.C. – A high-speed wreck involving a semi-trailer truck and a van along a South Carolina interstate on June 24 killed three Todd residents, including two children, and injured two others — all from the same family.

Thomas Rusgrove, 37, and his two daughters Esther Rusgrove, 14, and Jennie Ruth Rusgrove, 11, all of Longhope Road in Todd, died from blunt-force trauma as a result of the wreck, according to a June 26 news release by Orangeburg County Chief Deputy Coroner Sean Fogle.

According to Cpl. E.W. Collins – a public information officer with the South Carolina State Highway Patrol – at around 1:15 p.m. on June 24, a semi-trailer truck traveling eastbound on I-26 at milemarker 154 near Orangeburg crossed over the median and struck a Toyota van head on.

The van contained five people, according to Collins, who have since been confirmed to be the Rusgrove family. According to Lance Cpl. David G. Jones, a public information officer with the S.C. SHP, one of the two surviving occupants was airlifted from the scene.

The two survivors, mother Leslie and 16-year-old Ethan, are in stable condition in a South Carolina hospital, the Rusgrove family said in a June 27 statement.

“Ethan has already been moved into a step down unit, so he is no longer in ICU. He still has a long road to recovery,” according to the statement. “Leslie is stable but still in ICU. The entire family loves the Lord with their whole heart and he is our strength and comfort during this very difficult time.”

According to her Facebook page, Leslie is the owner and doula of Midnight Cry Birth Services and an independent distributor of Young Living Essential Oils.

The driver of the truck, Kevin Thomas of Mt. Airy, S.C., was transported to a local hospital with injuries, Collins said. Other details on the wreck will be determined after an investigation by the S.C. Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team, which could take weeks, according to Jones.

All westbound lanes of I-26 were closed for over eight hours, reopening around 9:40 p.m., according to Jones’ Twitter account.

A GoFundMe page was organized by family friends Michael Stevens and Hope Yost on Wednesday.

The GoFundMe page can be found at www.gofundme.com/fundraiser-for-the-rusgrove-family. As of 5:30 p.m. on June 27, less than a day after being founded, it had raised over $26,600 of a $50,000 goal.

According to the page, the family was on their way back from a vacation in Florida when their van was struck.

“We are appealing to all friends and family to send whatever you can to support this family in their time of crisis,” the page states. “There are many areas that the family needs support with, such as funeral expenses, significant hospital care, and physical therapy. It is our hope that we can come together as a community to prevent these financial burdens from adding another weight to their shoulders as they make their physical and emotional recovery.”

Arrangements for Thomas, Esther and Jennie Ruth are being handled by Conner-Bowman Funeral Home, 62 Virginia Market Place Drive, Rocky Mount, Va., 24151. A celebration of life will be announced at a later date.


Community
Appalachian Theatre plans to host events in October

The long-anticipated opening of the Appalachian Theatre is expected to happen in October, according to the theater’s Executive Director Laura Kratt.

“We’re announcing the opening, and I feel pretty good that we’re at the last stages of construction, with events starting in October,” Kratt said on June 27.

Kratt said that Vannoy Construction is planned to finish in September and once open, the theater will host several opening events.

“It’s not going to be one grand opening event, it’ll be a whole series that will be targeted to all different musical and artist tastes,” Kratt said.

Currently, the theater is being primed and painted, with scaffolding set to come down in the near future. All the demolition work has been completed, Kratt said.

“The operating systems, such as electrical, lighting, are currently going in,” Kratt said. “The theater seats, we’re expecting them to be installed in the month of August.”

“Everything is at various stages of completion,” Kratt added.

One difference from the old theater will be a second-floor meeting space, formerly where apartments and offices were. The space will include local murals on the walls above the windows that overlook West King Street, Kratt said.

“It’s an almost 1,700-square-foot open meeting space,” Kratt said. “There’s a need for large meeting space in downtown Boone.”

A proposed digital marquee for West King Street is currently unfunded and won’t be a priority until after opening, Kratt said.

The theater opened in 1938 and held live shows until 1950, when the theater was gutted after a fire in the building. The theater re-opened as a movie theater one year later, and remained open until 2007, when the theater closed again. The Appalachian Theatre of the High Country formed in 2012 to revitalize the theater.

Theatre searching for missing sconces

As the construction process goes through the summer months, Kratt is trying to solve an old mystery of the giant sconces that once illuminated the sides of the theater.

Currently, the theater has four of the six that were in place when the theater closed in 2009. The location of the other two is unknown.

“There were three on one side and three on the other,” Kratt said. “When you have a theater that closes, things find their way from one place to another.”

The four sconces in the theater’s possession were refurbished by volunteer Hank Thompson.

“It was not an easy job and he did it with extreme care,” Kratt said. “When we got them they were painted and a little rusted. They were in various stages of repair or disrepair.”

The plan is to install them with LED lighting integrated with the regular lighting so the auditorium can be illuminated in a variety of colors.

Kratt said that in her past experiences, when a theater reopens, older artifacts or fixtures have been brought back, and she hopes this is the case with the sconces.

If anyone knows about the location of the two remaining sconces, Kratt asks that they contact the ATHC, located at 559 West King St., Boone, N.C., 28607, by phone at (828) 865-3000 or by email at office@apptheatre.org.