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After its 2020 cancellation, modified Empty Bowls to be April 24-25

BOONE — The Watauga Arts Council is teaming up with the Watauga High School Art Department and the Hunger and Health Coalition to host Empty Bowls on April 24 and 25.

Empty Bowls is an annual fundraising event organized by the high school art department. Proceeds of Empty Bowls go to the Hunger and Health Coalition — a large-scale local food pantry serving High Country residents who struggle with food insecurity.

For the first time since its inception in 2001, Watauga High School Empty Bowls was canceled in 2020.

“Because of the prolonged nature of the pandemic, an event at the high school was not plausible and we were searching for possibilities to continue with the spirit of the event,” said Brett McDonough, a Watauga High School ceramics teacher.

“Our event is built 100 percent on donations from generous local potters, restaurant owners, and artists,” said Dacia Trethewey, Watauga High School art teacher. “We were sensitive to even ask for donations due to the challenges many have faced this year. So, when Amber (Bateman), the director of the Watauga County Arts Council, reached out offering to help we were thrilled.”

As the pandemic continued and many families in the community struggled to make ends meet, the Hunger and Health Coalition stayed open to ensure that local residents would have steady access to healthy foods.

“Being a consistent and reliable resource for our neighbors in need has never been more important. We know that providing nutritious foods helps our community stay healthy and keeps their immune systems strong. We are honored to partner with this passionate group of local artists to bring back such a beloved event,” said Elizabeth Young, Hunger and Health Coalition executive director.

“This has been such a tough year for so many people. I can’t think of a better way to lift spirits and encourage our residents,” Bateman said. “We feel so blessed to have the Blue Ridge ArtSpace and King Street Art Collective and want these spaces to be used for collaborative, creative purposes. We hope to see more of this in the future.”

The Arts Council is offering structure and support to help facilitate this fundraising event.

“Offering this to our friends at the high school and to the Hunger and Health Coalition while also inspiring creativity for our potters is the perfect way to showcase the spirit that makes the High Country so special,” Bateman said.

Empty Bowls 2021 will be a simplified version of the traditional Empty Bowls. While the event can’t offer the full soup-eating, social experience, it can offer beautiful bowls and shirts designed by Asa Markus, a senior at Watauga High School. Businesses who want to sponsor this event are encouraged to reach out to the Watauga Arts Council.

Artists looking to donate their wares can drop off their items at the Blue Ridge ArtSpace building at 377 Shadowline Drive, Boone, from now through April 23. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call (828) 264-1789 if needed.

The event will be on Saturday, April 24, 5 to 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 25, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the King Street Art Collective located at 585 West King Street, Boone — just above Doe Ridge Pottery. This year, ticket holders will be able to drop in to choose a locally-made bowl, listen to a live band and check out the App State Senior Design Showcase.

Due to the pandemic, soup will not be served this year. To best keep patrons safe, the event is offering two different days and various pick-up times. Tickets can be purchased in advanced at www.eventbrite.com/e/watauga-county-empty-bowls-2021-tickets-148442915757. Links for tickets can be found on the Hunger and Health Coalition’s or the Watauga Arts Council website and Facebook page.

Those interested in volunteering can fill out a volunteer form at www.jotform.com/WataugaArts/volunteer-registration and put Empty Bowls in the comment section of the registration form. For more information, contact the Watauga County Arts Council at (828) 264-1789.

WHS to hold graduation ceremony May 28

BOONE — Watauga High School will hold a graduation ceremony for the class of 2021 at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 28. So the school can allow students to have as many guests as safely possible while adhering to state restrictions on large gatherings, the ceremony will be held outdoors at the Jack Groce Stadium on the campus of Watauga High School.

With the current COVID-19 restrictions in place, students will be allowed to have up to four guests attend the ceremony. Students will receive information from the high school on how guests can be registered soon.

Every effort will be made to hold the ceremony on Friday evening weather permitting, but if inclement weather cannot be avoided, a rain date is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 29.

The graduation ceremony will use both the home and visitor sides of the stadium to allow for physical distancing. Masks will be required for everyone attending the event. The event will be livestreamed and recorded for those who cannot attend in person.

Boone Town Council urges legislature not to pass controversial bills

BOONE — In a March 31 special called meeting, the Boone Town Council unanimously passed a resolution asking the N.C. General Assembly to not adopt House Bill 291 and House Bill 401/Senate Bill 349.

If adopted, HB 291 would set new deadlines for commercial building plan reviews, and HB 401 and SB 349 would transfer local control to the state for local zoning decisions involving residential zoning districts, according to the town of Boone.

The town stated that Boone Town Council adopted a resolution opposing HB 291 and HB 401/SB 349 due to the negative impacts that they would have on the town of Boone and local neighborhoods.

"Through their actions, the Boone Town Council choose to support and protect our community’s neighborhoods and to protect citizens of the town from being forced to subsidize development," the town stated on April 2. 

HB 291 — which is pending in the N.C. General Assembly — would force municipalities to complete an “initial plan review” of commercial development plans initially sealed by a “design professional.” The town stated that the review would be done "without regard to their complexity, deficiencies or impacts of human health and safety" within 15 days, and issue permits within 30 days of the application for development unless additional information is requested within the first 15 days and provides that if within the initial 15 day period. If additional information is requested by the town, permits must be granted within 15 days of the submission of additional information or the developer may retain a “third party firm” to review its plans at the expense of the municipality and must issue “all necessary permits” for the development within 72 hours of approval by that third party.

In order to comply with HB 291, the town of Boone stated it would have to "greatly expand" its planning department by hiring additional staff, which would impose an increase in property taxes or a decrease in other services. The town added that HB 291 "unfairly puts the burden on taxpayers to pay for the private development permitting by commercial developers."

"HB 291 essentially redirects long-extant governmental functions now performed by local governments to protect the public and to allow for the orderly growth of communities through zoning, to private and unspecified engineering or architectural firms who may have conflicts of interest, with no recourse for decisions which may violate local zoning ordinances," according to the town of Boone.

HB 401/SB 349 — also pending in the N.C. General Assembly — would require municipalities to allow duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and townhouses into all residential zones, including all low-density zoning districts, according to the town. This would be for the stated purpose of expanding housing opportunities in towns. The town of Boone stated that SB 349 exempts residential areas in which private restrictive covenants apply, thus differentiating between sub-divisions such as gated communities and the neighborhoods without such protections — which protects "the wealthy by exposing middle and low income residents to incompatible development dictated by state government," the town stated. SB 349 would essentially eliminate single-family zoning statewide.

Although SB 349 has reportedly been endorsed by “affordable housing” proponents as a way to increase supply and decrease costs, the town states that the bill doesn't include language about controlling costs.

"While SB 349 hides behind the term 'affordable housing' while serving as a radical one-size-fits all approach to zoning, (it) strips the authority of local governments and eliminates input from local residents," the town stated on April 2.

The town of Boone added that, "history has shown us when low density neighborhoods in Boone have been made available for higher density housing, existing single-family homes have often been demolished to allow more intense types of housing, destroying the character of Boone, which has made it attractive, but also with the unintended result that rental prices have actually increased as low-density housing disappears."

SB 349 likewise mandates the allowance of “one accessory dwelling,” which can consist of a duplex, on each lot on which there is a single-family residence, circumventing all usual approval processes such as conditional district zoning, and trumping all local parking requirements and utility approval protocols without regard to the impacts of a potential tripling of density.

The town stated that SB 349 has the potential to fundamentally change most neighborhoods in Boone, and accelerate the disruption of the lives of its permanent citizens as "out-of-town investors and AirBnB type operators continue to buy up low density housing stock."

"SB 349 allows deficient applications to nevertheless vest development rights, undermining the ability of local jurisdictions to react to changes within their communities and by using terms which are undefined and vague, makes expensive future litigation likely to create certainty around the meaning of its terms," the town stated.

SB 349 would shift financial responsibility for a developer’s attorney’s fees onto the municipality whether or not the town’s decisions have been made in good faith in a manner seeking to protect the common good. Additionally, the bill would prohibit a municipality from examining a traffic impact analysis, which has satisfied the N.C. Department of Transportation, whether or not the municipality believes that the traffic generated by the project "poses a danger to public safety and the ratification by the department is prudent," according to the town.

The town of Boone's resolution requests that the N.C. General Assembly not adopt HB 291 or SB 349 and for Gov. Roy Cooper to veto the bills if they are passed by the legislature.

More information on HB 291 can be found at www.ncleg.gov/BillLookup/2019/H29. Information on HB 401 can be found at www.ncleg.gov/BillLookup/2019/H401. For information on SB 349, visit www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2021/S349.

With restrictions easing, some nonprofits beginning to allow back volunteers

WATAUGA — Slowly, as restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 ease, some charitable organizations and nonprofits are able to begin welcoming back volunteers at higher numbers.

When the restrictions first began in March 2020, the Watauga Habitat for Humanity completely shut down their volunteer program amid a stay-at-home order, eventually reopening it to two-to-three volunteers at a time.

“It has increased the cost of building our homes,” said Watauga Habitat Director Allison Jennings. “Not only has the cost of construction itself skyrocketed, but we build homes with primarily volunteer labor, and we have not been able to do that for the last year. So it’s going to be a cost savings to us, when we are able to welcome more people back.”

Jennigs said the house Habitat has been working on took about the same amount of time to build, even with less volunteers, but only because they were able to hire skilled labor. At the same time, Habitat’s Watauga ReStore has not felt the same crunch, due to the few people needed to actually run and operate the facility.

By the time they break ground on their next house project in June, Jennings said the expectation is that they will be able to bring out full groups to work on it.

“It sounds like we’re going to be able to have groups of 10 volunteers,” Jennings said. “We usually don’t have more than that at one time anyway, because it’s just kind of harder to manage. They do need some sort of instruction and when you’re doing construction, they kind of need to be taught how to how to do certain things. But, it does look very much like we’ll be able to open it back up to our regular numbers in the beginning of June.”

Other organizations are also reopening their doors to volunteers and programs, if at a more-limited-than-normal capacity.

According to Watauga Humane Society President Monique Eckerd, the humane society is beginning to allow more volunteers back into the shelter.

“The Watauga Humane Society is scheduling senior volunteers, community service and interns,” Eckerd said. “We have not opened up for new volunteers yet or large groups. For most groups, we’ve helped navigate offsite support through donation drives.”

The Watauga Humane Society is currently only open to visitors by appointment, although Eckerd said the board is discussing what the next steps will be to reopen for walk-ins. Meanwhile, the Arko Dog Park in Boone reopened on Thursday, April 1, with single-day, week and yearly passes available for purchase from the humane society.

With limited access to the public, the Watauga Humane Society also took advantage of the time and has been renovating their dog kennel. Eckerd said the renovations should be finished by the end of May, but the kennel area may be closed to the public during certain times whenever they allow walk-ins.

The Western Youth Network has taken a case-by-case approach to their interns, although that have continued to welcome them when the positions are available, according to Director of Student Programs Heather Canipe. She said that some have been meeting with mentees virtually through their mentorship program while others have done in-person work depending on the risk factor.

“As we have begun to open back up, we now allow volunteers at our Ashe After-school site and mentoring is still taking volunteers,” Canipe said. “At our Watauga after-school site, we will start taking volunteers again in the fall semester, although, most likely a smaller number than typical.”

As of April 1, Canipe said staff has been working virtually, but can come into the office when needed. She added that no specific plan has been made to go back to the office yet, as they are prioritizing their Watauga after-school program being there instead of staff, due to the space needed to run programs socially distanced.