BLOWING ROCK — Two familiar faces had the interim tag taken off their titles in Blowing Rock as Aaron Miller and Matt Blackburn were named the permanent police chief and public works director, respectively, as announced at the conclusion of the monthly town council meeting on Aug. 13.
The announcement was made by Blowing Rock Town Manager Shane Fox.
“It is no doubt to me in the two and a half months that I’ve been here that these gentlemen have earned the right through a tremendous amount of hard work,” Fox said. “Our town is better with them than without them.”
Miller and Blackburn have been with the town for 11 and 14 years, respectively.
“We appreciate the support of the town manager,” Miller said after the announcement was made. “Shane’s been super to work with and we appreciate all the support we felt from town council in our interim positions in the last year or so.”
“I’m grateful for the opportunity and look forward to continue what we’ve been doing,” Blackburn said.
Miller follows Tony Jones, who retired at the end of September 2018. Blackburn succeeds Mike Wilcox, who retired in November 2018.
Blackburn and Miller remained as the interim heads of their respective departments throughout the town’s transition to a new town manager. The Blowing Rock Town Council and former interim Town Manager Jim Freeman previously stated they wanted the new town manager to make his own permanent hires after previous Town Manager Ed Evans announced his retirement in October 2018. Fox was hired in May.
Miller and Blackburn were given the promotions effective Aug. 1, Fox said.
“We’ve had a lot of support from the community, a lot of support from the council going through an interim manager; Jim (Freeman) was great to work with, we appreciate his leadership,” Miller said.
In the most contentious issue on the agenda, the council voted to deny conditional rezoning of five properties located in the 8800 block of Valley Boulevard that would have allowed those owners to have short-term rentals in what would have been a specially-made zoning district.
The vote was 4-1 to deny, with Councilman Jim Steele against.
The vote came after the proposal was previously approved by the town’s planning board with 14 conditions presented by the applicants, who were Lisa Harris, Paul Armbruster, Patsy Ebert, Cherry Point Properties, Dennis Dagenhardt and Andrew Allison, owners of the five properties. The properties are currently zoned R-15, where short-term rentals are not allowed.
The proposed conditions included 911 address signage to meet town code, a parking space per bedroom requirement, a minimum age of 27 and a minimum weekly rental length of seven consecutive nights. Town attorney Allen Moseley said the conditions were fair since they were proposed by the applicant and would run with the land no matter who the owners would be.
Blowing Rock Planning Director Kevin Rothrock said he thought the situation was unique and worth proposing because the properties were bordered by U.S. 321, 300 acres of steep terrain and were in proximity to The Ridgeline restaurant.
Harris and Armbruster told the council they currently rent the home monthly to comply with the ordinances and said their home at 8866 Valley Boulevard is a high-end property and they would run it as such.
Four residents spoke on the issue, two for the proposal and two against.
Steele believed that allowing the zoning district wouldn’t hurt anyone.
“It’s a source of revenue for our town,” Steele said about the potential tax revenue.
Councilwoman Virginia Powell said Blowing Rock isn’t hurting for short-term rental properties and said this wouldn’t be fair to any other property in Blowing Rock where short-term rentals are already allowed.
“We are keeping our small town village feel because we have rules and zoning,” Powell said. “In my opinion, this is not needed.”
Sweeting said there would be more signs, trash and recyclables at the property and was against expanding the zoning usage.
“I think you’re opening up a can of worms that would change this town forever,” Sweeting said.
Councilman Doug Matheson liked the proposed conditions and thought it was a unique situation, but was worried about the precedent it would establish.