BOONE – The Boone Town Council is going to look at five local streets that could be renamed after famed civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., and also ask the N.C. Department of Transportation about exceptions to a policy limiting renaming state-maintained roads, according to action taken at a Tuesday, July 16, meeting.
New Market Boulevard, Howard Street, State Farm Road, Meadowview Road and Old East King Street will be considered by the council in an August meeting to be renamed after King, with Boone Town Manager John Ward asked to inquire further about the potential of renamining N.C. 105 Extension.
The item was first discussed at a June 20 meeting with the focus on renaming New Market Boulevard by Labor Day in September. At that meeting, several business owners along the road expressed opposition due to the financial strain and confusion it would cause on such short notice.
Many of those business owners were back in attendance on July 16, along with others who were in support of the idea.
Addressing the possibility of renaming one of the town’s highways, Ward said a 2004 memo from the NCDOT stated that the agency won’t issue a name to a street they maintain, such as U.S. 421, U.S. 321, N.C. 105 or N.C. 194, if that name is already used in the state of North Carolina. Ward said he checked and the memo was still valid and no exceptions were included.
Later in the discussion, town attorney Allison Meade questioned the legal validity of that 2004 NCDOT memo.
The dictum means the town would be limited to roads it maintains for renaming.
Boone Public Works Director Rick Miller said that the longest roads the town maintains are State Farm Road, New Market Boulevard, Oak Street and Meadowview Drive. Out of those roads, Miller said State Farm is the busiest, but said New Market is up there due to Hardin Park School traffic.
Councilman Sam Furgiuele said that for all the pushback they’ve gotten about New Market Boulevard due to the businesses located on it, it would be “times a hundred” for State Farm Road.
Councilwoman Lynne Mason suggested the under-development municipal center and park at the Bolick Farm Property as an option.
Furgiuele, who originally proposed the idea, said renaming Water Street or a multi-modal path after King would be “insulting” and pushed for council to do something.
Furgiuele brought up Howard Street as a “fair alternative” and said it will eventually be “the jewel of the town” once the revitalization project is completed. Furgiuele added that there were legitimate counterpoints to New Market Boulevard, but still felt like it was the best possible option.
“It’s one of the most prominent streets in the town,” Furgiuele said.
Furgiuele addressed a claim that the potential renaming was done too quickly and without input, saying he submitted his agenda items the same way he always does and that even though the agenda said it was an action item, that didn’t mean a vote would be held, but rather it could mean direction would be given to town staff.
Councilman Marshall Ashcraft said the problem with the lack of notification was on the town council and that there is no policy in place for notification, to which Councilwoman Loretta Clawson agreed.
Furgiuele said that if NCDOT-maintained roads were an option, N.C. 105 Extension would be his No. 1 choice and asked Ward to bring it up again, with other council members noting the confusion that N.C. 105 Extension, N.C. 105 and N.C. 105 Bypass causes.
Councilwoman Connie Ulmer thanked Furgiuele for starting the conversation.
“We need to do something not because it’s good to do, but because we believe in it,” Ulmer said.
During public comment, former Boone councilman Fred Hay said renaming New Market Boulevard after King needed to be done “in this time of growing white nationalism.” Hay said he proposed something similar years ago, but said it was sent to a committee and died.
“Boone is the progressive place we want it to be,” Hay said. “To not do so would suggest the opposite.”
Later in the meeting, Clawson said the renaming of a street after King was something this council would do and it won’t be put on the shelf again.
Juanita Hay suggested a compromise of using both New Market Boulevard and King’s name for the street.
Julie Waldrep, a dentist along New Market Boulevard, spoke to town council again about the financial hardships a street name change would cause to the numerous small businesses on the road. Waldrep said that due to the money that would have to be spent by her business if the street name change happens, it would affect numerous donations her office makes to local nonprofits.
“While there would be a positive impact, there would also be a negative impact,” Waldrep said.
Ralph Leonard, a property owner along New Market Boulevard, said the street wouldn’t be a fitting tribute to King’s legacy, saying it’s not a heavily trafficked road and that there are other better options.
“If we do this, we need to do this in a way that honors (King),” Leonard said.
Charles Stanley, who said he’s a member of the Boone United Methodist Church along the road, agreed with Leonard, saying New Market Boulevard is a “small insignificant street,” and suggested a community vote.
“If you are coming to Boone and did not know the area … you would drive down King Street and not even recognize it,” Stanley said.
Graydon Eggers, who said he has no financial stake in the discussion, said he was one of the people who named the road New Market Boulevard around 30 years ago when the road was built. Eggers said naming a new park or facility would be a better tribute to King and said it would feel wrong to change the name of New Market Boulevard.
“I don’t think (King would) feel good about (people being) inconvenienced or having cost incurred,” Eggers said.
During the street renaming discussion, Ward updated council on the Howard Street revitalization project, saying they were waiting for the 100 percent design to bring to council. Ward said the project will be north of $10 million and said there will be an opportunity for “quite a few education and art exhibits” along Howard Street if council wants to make it a larger project.
A brief discussion was had regarding a potential ordinance to address nuisance properties, with Meade saying it’s a priority of hers and she’ll bring back a proposed ordinance when she completes it. Meade said she believes these should be a policy rather than an ordinance.
Boone Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Jackson spoke during public comment on nuisance ordinances, saying they would protect a zoning district that has affordable property. Jackson said the chamber’s leadership team would like to help energize the conversation on more stern enforcement on nuisance ordinances and on affordable housing challenges.
The council unanimously approved an application to apply for a Community Development Block Grant of $2 million to replace the Deck Hill water tank. Josh Eller of Boone Public Works said replacing the 500,000-gallon water tank would improve quality of life for the middle-to-low income people of Boone. The grant would require no match from the town, but the estimated cost of the project is $2,285,000, which Ward said might come from reserves in the water/sewer fund or system fees collected.
A complete reworking of the town’s fire code, amendments to the town’s unified development ordinance that would limit the availability of sidewalk construction fee-in-lieu options, as well as town code changes to streets and sidewalks will be brought back at a future meeting.