BLOWING ROCK — The four candidates for the two seats on the Blowing Rock Town Council and the lone mayoral candidate answered a myriad of questions at the Blowing Rock Civic Association’s Candidates Forum on Oct. 3 at a packed American Legion Hall.
The format was based on numbers the five candidates picked, which determined the order. After an opening comment, the candidates picked out one of five prepared questions to answer. After all of the candidates answered their randomly-picked questions, the opportunity was given for rebuttals, but none took the offer. The second part was audience questions either directed generally to the candidates or to one specifically.
Moderating the discussion was retired judge Robert M. Burroughs.
In the first round of questions, challenger Ray Pickett was first up and drew a question regarding potentially moving town council retreats from Asheville to Watauga County. Pickett said he hadn’t thought about it, but said that with a large audience, it might take longer to get the retreat done, and he has enjoyed previous council retreats in Asheville.
Current councilman Albert Yount was asked about supporting a full-time or seasonal EMS service for the town. As a retired firefighter, Yount said the council and staff have been working on it and he is fully in favor of a full-time EMS service in town.
In response to a question about scheduling “important governance matters” from May to October to ensure seasonal residents take part, Mayor Charlie Sellers said Blowing Rock is a 12-month town, not a six-month town and that modern technology gives part-time residents a chance to voice their concerns.
Current councilman Jim Steele was asked about the potential of paid parking on Main Street. Steele said he’s not sure if that is the answer, but said he would have to discuss the entire issue and would support the majority of the council’s decision on it.
Challenger David Harwood was asked about potentially eliminating the quasi-judicial conditional use permit process in favor of the legislative conditional zoning process. Harwood said he would be interested in talking about it and said he’s in favor of the conditional zoning process himself.
During the audience questions part of the program, Pickett was asked why the town makes a big deal about what color your door is, to which he and later Steele replied that in downtown, there’s a color palette to go by.
Pickett was later asked about parks and rec “favoring” out-of-town residents over locals, to which he responded that he’d be in favor of higher camp and facility fees for out-of-town residents, which is already in place.
Pickett was asked about short-term rentals, which he called a sticky situation that he wanted to get more information about. In addition, Steele said that short-term rentals is something the town will face in the next couple of years from the state level.
Yount was asked about impact fees and dump trucks for building projects tearing up roads. Yount replied that most contractors are amenable to pay for damages.
Yount was asked again about EMS response time, to which he said Watauga County is “culpable” to provide the town service and that he wants them to do it.
In response to a question about water quality and addressing redevelopment, Sellers said that he’s worked 34 years in water and that in comparision, Blowing Rock water is great and that the infrastructure is being taken care of over time due to the 2014 bonds the town voted in favor of.
Steele said he would be interested in exploring a neighborhood advisory board.
Harwood was asked about establishing pickleball courts on the lower court in Blowing Rock’s Memorial Park. In response, Harwood said he learned more about pickleball from a group of citizens pushing the issue in the pre-forum social than ever before. Harwood said the sport is “absolutely perfect” for the town and was in favor, as well as expanding outside of Memorial Park and not kicking the issue down the road.
Harwood was later asked about a land use code that includes greenscape. In his answer, Harwood said that the town already has that and said the town has a strong sign ordinance and would be interested in looking at differing standards for green space in different areas of town.
Sellers later said he’s in favor of updating land use codes in the 2014 Comprehensive Plan, in response to a question about the subject.
Steele was asked about whether the town should build subsidized housing and responded that he felt like it wasn’t something on their radar.
In a pamphlet that was handed out, each candidate included a biography and stated the top two issues they feel are facing Blowing Rock.
Harwood said his top two were achieving reasonable economic growth while retaining small-town charm and proactive planning and leadership to preserve the town’s past while preparing for the future.
Balancing the needs of full-time residents, seasonal residents and business owners to unite the community and updating codes and ordinances in the interest of clarity, quality and fairness were the two big issues listed by Pickett.
Sellers said his top two were parking in the town, which he believes could be resolved with First Baptist Church of Blowing Rock, and additional property purchases and stabilization of the short-term rental issue.
Steele explained that short-term rentals and additional revenue streams to meet growing costs were his top two issues.
Yount answered that managing growth based on public input by updating the land use code to determine what Blowing Rock will look like in the next four to 40 years, controlling and expanding parking and reducing traffic traffic gridlock were his top issues.