BOONE — Amid concerns from downtown merchants, the town of Boone will soon reopen the Jones House Community Center restrooms to the public after several months of being closed due to COVID-19.
At its meeting on Sept. 15, the Boone Town Council also directed Town Manager John Ward to gather information about a restroom trailer that could be placed downtown as a temporary measure as the town explores a permanent restroom facility in the area.
Kendra Sink, general manager of Mast General Store in Boone, spoke about the matter during the meeting's public comment period.
"For several months now, during every (Downtown Boone Development Association) virtual meeting, small business owners have asked for help with public restrooms," Sink said. "Town offices and the Jones House have been closed to the public in order to keep their staff members safe. However, your downtown small businesses do not have that option. We must open in order to survive. Most small businesses are not equipped to handle crowds with their small private restrooms."
Sink noted that since it reopened in May, it has offered one of the only public restrooms in downtown Boone. The store limits its capacity, and 10 percent of its allowed number of shoppers are in line to use the restroom, she said.
"This is unacceptable," she said.
Ward said that the restrooms on the lower floor of the Jones House will be accessible from the house's rear entrance, and that it will be cordoned off from the rest of the house. Signage will be placed near King Street to direct members of the public to the rear entrance.
Ward presented a restroom trailer as one option for the council to consider, but he noted that the trailer would need to be connected to the town's water and sewer systems, and that the town would need to contract for cleaning services. By the time that happened, he said, state restrictions could have changed again.
But Councilperson Sam Furgiuele suggested that the town should look further at the trailer option, adding that he did not think Downtown Boone Development Association members would be completely satisfied with the Jones House option.
The staff and council briefly discussed ideas for permanent restroom facilities at a potential parking garage on Queen Street or at the town's King Street parking lot.
Also at the meeting, at the request of Furgiuele, the council discussed the creation of a municipal service tax district for stormwater improvements in the area of the Blowing Rock Road/U.S. 321.
Under North Carolina law, a city government may define any number of service districts in order to finance, provide or maintain for specific services “upon finding that a proposed district is in need of one or more of the services … to a demonstrably greater extent than the remainder of the city.”
Furgiuele first proposed the establishment of an MSD “to address flooding, drainage projects and watershed improvement projects,” as authorized by N.C. General Statutes § 160A-536, in January 2018. The council discussed the proposal again in July 2018 and in January 2019.
At this week's meeting, Furgiuele said it is important to begin the process now to establish the district — which could take years before any taxes are collected, he said — so that the town can raise the revenue it needs for stormwater studies, plans and eventual improvements.
But the council voted to table the matter after several council members raised concerns about the timing, with businesses facing continued challenges due to COVID-19 and associated restrictions.