By a 4-1 vote at its Nov. 12 meeting, the Blowing Rock Town Council approved a conditional rezoning request that includes a five-year vested rights period for construction of new commercial and residential space on the site of the former New River Inn in the 6800 block of Valley Boulevard.
The presentation to the council was made by 4 Forty Four, which owns the property and plans to develop the land. The property has been unused for more than 25 years.
4 Forty Four co-owner Kevin Troyer said the plan is for the company’s main office to relocate to a new building at the site where the New River Inn office sits, then build between 10 and 16 residential units on the property. The project is currently known as The Village on the Headwaters.
“We see it more through the lens of stewarding the property rather than owning it,” Troyer said. “We want to create something the entire community can be proud of.”
Councilwoman Sue Sweeting was the lone vote against the conditional rezoning. Despite loving the plan, Sweeting said she would prefer that any future modifications to the plan go before the town council rather than town staff.
“We’re the ones who need to know what’s going on; we’re the ones that will hear about it and as a council, we need to be responsible,” Sweeting said.
North Carolina state law allows up to five-year vested rights on a conditional permit, Blowing Rock Planning Director Kevin Rothrock explained. Vested rights means that once approved, the developer has that time to secure the permits for the approved building. Typically, applicants have two years of vested rights, Rothrock said.
As explained by David Harwood of Sketchline Architecture – the architect of the project – the five-year vested rights request was so the developers can examine market conditions once they build one set of units. 4 Forty Four could change its plans to build certain types of units in following phases, Harwood said.
Harwood was elected to Blowing Rock Town Council on Nov. 5 and is set to take his seat on the council on Dec. 10 after the results of the election are made official on Friday, Nov. 15.
Currently, the plan is to build a single one-bedroom and three two-bedroom cottages, as well as three one-bedroom and three two-bedroom “tree houses” for a total of 10 residential units. Future plans could include a second commercial space, which could be used for storage, Troyer explained, or up to 16 residential units.
Parking spaces would have to be added if the project went up to 16 units, Rothrock explained, and the site plan had a spot for additional spaces if needed to comply with Blowing Rock town code.
Other aspects of the project include solar panels on the south-facing roof of the commercial building that would supply all the building’s electricity. Rothrock explained they won’t be visible to northbound drivers on Valley Boulevard.
Currently, there is no start date on the project, Troyer said.
Councilwoman Virginia Powell and Sweeting initially questioned granting five years of vested rights.
“To give you free rein to do whatever you may do in five years, adjust it, mix it up, based on market demands and alter the location of things, I’ve never ever seen us do that,” Powell said early in the discussion.
Troyer said the plan isn’t to wait most of the five years, stating they want to build the office building in the near future.
Councilman Jim Steele said he trusts 4 Forty Four, saying they did their job and that the five-year vested rights would not set a precedent as every conditional rezoning has to stand on its own merits.
“I really don’t see any downside to this project at all,” Steele said. “This project will enhance our village and our whole area.”
In other business by the council, $4.37 million worth of general obligations public improvement bonds, initially approved in a 2014 general vote, were unanimously approved by the council to be issued.
According to Blowing Rock Finance Director Nicole Norman, the breakdown is that $3,689,706 will go toward transportation projects, $303,000 will go to sewer projects and the remaining $1,695,304 will go toward various projects such as sidewalks and Memorial Park improvements.
Norman said the bond issuance will complete all planned paving projects in the town, and that the town should see a boon of funds in tax revaluation from Caldwell and Watauga counties in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
The Sunset Drive streetscape project is on track for completion by the end of November, Blowing Rock Town Manager Shane Fox stated. Milling began on Nov. 11 and paving is scheduled for the week of Nov. 18-22, Fox added, noting that the temperatures have to be more than 40 degrees for paving to occur. The project is on budget, Fox said.