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Town Council Voices Support for HB 44, Opposition to Senate Bill 317, Declares June Pride Month, Discusses Other Budget Matters

The Boone Town Council meets on Tuesday, May 8th. Photo by Zack Hill

The Boone Town Council took up two controversial pieces of state legislation at its meeting Tuesday, May 8th, voting to oppose a Senate measure that would reduce local control of housing development and agreeing to support a House bill that would remove the literacy requirement for voting from the state’s constitution.

Senate Bill 317 is known as the “Addressing the Workforce Housing Crisis” bill. Its stated aim is to “address housing shortages for firefighters, law enforcement, teachers, nurses, first-responders, and other vital workers and first-time homebuyers.” Critics of the bill argue that it strips oversight of planning and development from local government and places it in the hands of state regulators who are less familiar with community needs.

The council voted unanimously to pass a resolution opposing SB 317.

The bill would mean local governments like the town council or county commissioners would not be able to enforce their own zoning regulations for areas that fall under the workforce housing designation. It stipulates that a developer would need to dedicate only 20 percent of any new construction for affordable housing with the remaining 80 percent left to be built and used at the developer’s discretion.

By meeting the criteria, developers could bypass certain local regulations. And it’s that aspect of the bill that has many in N.C. local governments concerned.

As an example of how the bill could interfere with ability to regulate growth. Town attorney Allison Meade said that, from her reading, it could be understood to require a town’s public utilities to run water and sewer extensions outside of town limits. It would also impede on a city or county’s ability to control population density.

“Talk about unregulated growth,” Meade said.

Boone isn’t alone in its concern.

“We do have it in good faith from all the other municipalities in the county that they will in fact be joining us in approving this and sending it to the general assembly,” Mayor Tim Futrelle said. 

“This is in no way being critical of our own representatives. It’s asserting the wishes of our citizens to those representatives so that they might make a worthwhile and good decision on our behalf.”

The council also unanimously passed a resolution supporting House Bill 44, which would remove the literacy requirement for voting that remains in North Carolina’s constitution. The law has been negated for decades by federal legislation. But proponents of HB 44 say it’s a relic of the Jim Crow South that should be taken off the books.

Futrelle praised council member Dalton George’s passion pursuing for ridding the state’s constitution of the provision.

“Thank you, Mr. George, for your work on this,” Futrelle said. “The foundation of what we do [as government] is based on whether or not our citizens can choose who represents them.”

The town unanimously passed a resolution that makes June “Pride Month” in support of the local LGBTQ+ community. June is known as Pride Month across the nation and around the world.

Council member Virginia Roseman noted that already this year, “11 bills in North Carolina and 471 across the nation are trying to be shoved through” that infringe on the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

“Towns need to support people in their community and people around the world,” Roseman said.

“Let it be proclaimed we support all members of our community regardless of identity affiliation and sexual orientation,” Futrelle said.

He also thank council member Todd Carter for his efforts in promoting equality.

“Todd Carter has worked tirelessly throughout his life to stand up for and support everyone in his community,” Futrelle said. “I think it’s important that he’s recognized for that.”

Watauga County maintenance director Robert Marsh and Health and Hunger Coalition executive director Jenn Bass asked the council about helping the county and Coalition repave portions of their driveway and parking lot.

Town of Boone public works director Rick Miller said the project was likely one in which the town shouldn’t and couldn’t get involved. He said the town didn’t have the budget for it and since it was out of town limits it could open the door to more organizations asking for funding for projects outside the scope of the town.

“We’re out of paving funding. I don’t think we can provide anything,” Miller said. “It’s private property, not a public street and we do not go on private property. It’s cut and dry.”

Meade pushed back, saying “There are some things the town can do outside the city limit and I think this is a situation where it might be worth investigating. There’s nothing special about private property. The question is what the use is.” She cited the Appalachian Theater as an example of the town helping with a private project.

“I think more of the clients that drive through there,” Carter said. “A lot of times their vehicles are in really rough shape. If we can figure out a way to provide a bandaid, I’m for that.”

Roseman said her main concern was the community. Roseman used Coalition during times in her life when it helped provide for her family and said that experience gave her a lot of appreciation for what the Coalition does.

“It’s a community effort to provide for the community,” Roseman said. “Providing aid to the people comes first. If we’re not taking care of the people of the community, town and county, what are we doing? Bottom line is we should be able to entertain this thought.”

Marsh didn’t have completed estimates for the cost but said the project would likely cost “a few thousand dollars.” Marsh and Bass said they would gather more information on cost and bring it back to the council.

“Consensus is, we want to do whatever we can to help,” Futrelle said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re making money, it matters if we’re taking care of people.”

AppalCart director Craig Hughes provided the council with an update including ridership numbers and how the system compares to others in N.C.

Craig Hughes of AppalCart speaks to the council. Photo by Zack Hill

He showed a graphic that demonstrated how many cars are taken off the road by a bus full of riders on AppalCart.

“When I hear people say AppalCart doesn’t benefit me, I like to show them this picture,” Hughes said.

AppalCart averages 8,000 rides a day during the school year and projects more than 1.4 million for the year.

“That’s tons of carbon emission not hitting the environment,” Hughes said. “And it opens up parking spaces downtown and on campus.”

Hughes said ridership is moving back towards pre-pandemic levels.

“More riders equals less cost per trip,” Hughes said. “It makes us more cost effective and appeals to other groups who might invest.”

Hughes provided charts that showed how AppalCart compares to other public transit systems in the state. AppalCart trails only Durham and Chapel Hill in trips per mile, which is a standard measure of efficiency, and Hughes noted those are metro systems in larger cities with far more municipal funding.

“Thank you for your presentation,” mayor pro tem Edie Tugman said. “I think it’s so important to invest in transportation, not just single passenger cars.”

The council asked Hughes about the potential for developing more park-and-ride locations to alleviate traffic congestion and parking issues in Boone, especially downtown.

“We would definitely be willing to look for more opportunities to work with the county to alleviate some of the stress traffic as on this area,” Hughes said.

Roseman praised AppalCart’s role in making the town accessible to residents without vehicles, mentioning how impactful it had been on her own children.

“It opened the world up for my kids,” Roseman said. “I taught them to use the bus system and they showed their friends. The independence it gives a person to get from point A to point B is imperative to what it can give an individual to take of themselves. Some people wouldn’t have means of transportation without it.”

Jim Hamilton, director of Watauga Cooperative Extension, and Kelly Coffey, chair of the Watauga County Farmland Preservation Advisory Council, spoke to the council about a proposed meat processing facility near the site of the county’s main landfill. They also asked the town to co-sign an application for grant money. 

They said the project would benefit from being granted several exemptions from town ordinances. He used the possibility of the facility being able to tie into town’s current water and sewer systems with a few exemptions from regular town ordinances as an example.

Meade had concerns that since the meat processing facility site does not fall within town limits, there would be issues with providing exemptions without the town annexing the site.

“There are obstacles that can be overcome but the commitment to sewer and water today would not be consistent with town ordinance that property be annexed before water and sewer can be committed,” Meade said. “It will require analysis I have not done yet to see if this could be done on an ad hoc basis. The only quick answer to the water and sewer question is annexation.”

County manager Deron Geouque said that the project, including annexation, would be worth investigation by the town.

“I think it’s a discussion that’s important to have,” Geouque said. “I think personally it’s an important project and circular food economies are good and what we’re trying to build here. But I do appreciate the rigid nature of that code. It’s the way we control growth and plan for the future.”

Miller was concerned that making exceptions for the processing facility could open the door to other projects knocking on the county’s door for exemptions.

“If you do waive development fees, if you waive them for one, you have people asking if you’d waive them for them,” Miller said. “I’m sorry, I hate to keep raining on the parade, but 100 dollar bills aren’t falling out of the sky. It’s my duty to let the town know this.”

Futrelle thanked Miller for his insistence on making sure decisions are made with consideration to town budget and code and his knowledge of regulations and finance.

With the grant application due at the end of the month, Hamilton and Coffey said they would try to gather more information as soon as possible. Hamilton said that their application would be withdrawn and entered again at any time without penalty.

The council was quick to say they supported the project but wanted to make sure it was done in compliance with ordinances and budget needs.

“The town will do our best to support the facility,” Futrelle said.

Andy Brooks of the board of adjustment receives recognition. Photo by Zack Hill.

Andy Brooks, whose tenure on the board of adjustments for the town is coming to end, was recognized with a resolution and certificate.

“I had the pleasure of serving with Mr. Brooks on the board of adjustment and was always impressed by the amount of effort he put into this board,” George said. “It’s probably the only board that has hours equal to the town council. He served excellently. We appreciate you, hate we’re losing you, but excited you’re still in the community.”

Meade said she “thought you [Brooks] set a new standard in approach and patience.”

Brooks thanked the council for the resolution.

“I very much enjoyed my time on the board and appreciate the opportunity to serve,” Brooks said.