Dear High Country Press and Concerned Citizens of Boone,
I write to the community of individuals, county and state officials and residents of Boone and Watauga County to ask questions and inspire the community and its representatives to ask questions regarding Capstone Cottages of Boone, the 894 bed unit that has recently been approved and started just outside the town of Boone town limits off Poplar Grove Rd South in Watauga County.
I particularly address residents in the Poplar Grove, Snaggy Mountain and Hwy 105 areas. However, this is to all residents of the county and our greater community. I believe that questions should be asked and requests made of the developer, the county, the town, ASU and the DOT.
ASU means a good deal to all of us in our community. The Wind Turbine on campus is a symbol of the sustainability movement and the strength of the building technology programs and the strength of the UNC system and ASU’s leadership. The advances of the sustainability goals at ASU are inspiring. With ASU comes growth. Boone, Watauga County, NC and Local DOT and the State of NC should be prepared for such growth.
The need for controlled growth indicates that The Town of Boone, Watauga County, ASU and the NCDOT must all work more closely together to establish growth goals and set policy, along with the people, that will make our community a better place to live and grow – with the interests of current and future residents. Locals and visitors are attracted to Boone’s small town character, including the fact that All of our roads are “back roads”, and that Boone is different from other communities.
Growth will come. We all should ask some questions about planning for growth. Many of these questions concern long term considerations, not simply today and tomorrow.
I will propose a few of many possible questions for neighbors and managers to ask. How important is our history to us? What are we going to do to commemorate this history for our children and our visitors? Not so long ago Hwy 105, Poplar Grove as well as much of the Town of Boone and Watauga County were part of a greater agricultural community.
We are in danger of losing much of what are the few remaining symbols of or community’s agricultural roots. Some of these symbols are a large part of the reason that people outside of this area are drawn to our town. I believe our local governments, in coordination with our TDAs, Chambers and other public and private area promoters, should set policy to protect the few remaining barns, silos, fences and other agricultural symbols that will be lost to future generations if something is not done soon. I believe that as a part of that policy, designate mini parks to include historical markers, should be considered.
I ask that Watauga County and the local DOT as well as NCDOT make an effort to protect the silo and perhaps the barn on the Poplar Grove Mini Park and include a historical marker describing the agricultural base of the families and individuals involved, the history of Tweetsie RR and other historic and aesthetic considerations designated as important by and for our neighborhood.
I will note that there have been many family farms saved by committed individuals and groups. There are several movements to buy local, support the Farmer’s Market and expand opportunities for local farmers. This trend is important and we all should support local businesses, local foods and local farms.
In the memory of many still with us, Tweetsie RR ran down what is now Hwy 105 from downtown Boone towards Shull’s Mill, Grandfather and Pineola towards Cranberry Mill and Elizabethon, TN. A friend told me the story of his brother offering two chickens to the Tweetsie RR Engineer, right on what is now Hwy 105 near Poplar Grove, for a ride to Johnson City. In fact that there are many locations between Blowing Rock and the Avery County line that currently have buildings remaining from the time of the Tweetsie RR that are next to the former RR track. Some have been renovated. Other pieces of History I see little recognition for include the Boone Trace, the former Tweetsie RR Depot in down town Boone and turn style for the train … and other symbols of our community’s history?
Another good friend, a well known local realtor, told me that when he was in High School in the 1960s, Hwy 105 did not exist as a consistent State Route. It was the old Tweetsie RR bed and a collection of roads that connected small communities between Boone and Banner Elk. He says that when Watauga High played Avery High, the Watauga Team took a school bus on Hwy 221 to Newland for The Game.
And look at where we are now, and what we stand to lose in this one Student Housing unit near Hwy 105 and Poplar Grove – as well as in future commercial residential and commercial development projects.
A few more questions of our leaders as they implement the laws related to the development of this 894 bed unit, and any other future projects: Will developers be held responsible for the new roads that are required to be built to handle the traffic for their projects? They profit from the roads. Should they be asked to pay for the roads they use? Will they pay for traffic lights, public road improvement, turning lanes, roads for access and egress (exit road on to Russ Cornette Rd as example), covered bus stops and other features required by their developments?
Will the town and the county administer such proactive Sustainable Growth policies such as permeable sidewalks, parking lots of permeable surfaces, parking lot and building lighting to be less intrusive and manifest down lighting and late night light control, landscaping, drainage and much more? Will the parking lot lighting be on 3-4 foot stands with solar panels or will they have tall power poles that affect profoundly the ability to see the stars and other beauties of Boone at night.
Will energy efficient insulation be required? Will energy efficient HVAC systems be required and/or possibly pro-offered by the developer as a sales tool to their renters or buyers? Will sustainable building materials and policies be a part of the inspections? Will local suppliers and labor be used?
Will the community and current sustainable building trends be considered? Will long term sustainable practices be utilized? Will recycling be required of the new residents? Will recycling containers for glass, metal, paper and other high quantity recyclable materials be made available?
Will any development project be based simply on the standard policies of the developer, or will they be required to follow some basic guidelines regarding their planning that will put them in line with the goals of the community and our nation seeking sustainable polocies?
The shrinking of our water table is of concern for us all. Our water consumption is up and no more rain is falling. Our local waters are limited. A well is a part of the permitting process above Poplar Grove Rd. Roads are being built, parking lots are being built. Is water being diverted to retention ponds and locations above the well? Will the water from the development be retained on the acreage being developed? Will there be fire protection services from water retained in ponds intended to feed the water table and the well system for the project?
Another water concern regards potential costs for those of us in the county. If deep high-demand wells are drilled, our water tables are lowered. It seems to me that individuals may be required to invest in new and deeper wells. What is the science in this and what is being done about this on the part of our planners?
The hillside above Hwy 105 that I speak of has been cleared! Was this unavoidable with good planning? What kind of planning was made to keep existing trees and work existing landscaping into the development plan? Certainly there will be landscaping requirement of the developer and the county. There are important questions related to the kind of landscaping: is it local to Boone and our Mountains? Is it low water use? Will there be underground power? Will there be rain barrels that water the landscaping? Will there be evergreens that will grow and be visually protective of the residents of the development and the local community as well? Will there be a minimum size of evergreen and other landscaping so that the landscaping provide more complete coverage more quickly?
I hope that these specific and general questions from a neighbor will be addressed by our current and future planners. I will note that I do live up Poplar Grove Rd. I have deep mountain roots. I have lived in Boone over half of my life.
I encourage all of you interested in History, Historical Markers, the Agricultural base of our county, good planning, community goals, sustainability, recycling, ASU, the small town mountain community of Boone, developers taking responsibility for their plans, water, parks, DOT’s support of agriculture and history and our small town community character to call their town and county representatives and let them know your thoughts. We live in a great place and calling or writing our Watauga County Commissioner’s will help to facilitate good planning for the future.
I want to see my efforts in writing as pro-active for Boone’s future. I give a great deal of credit to our public and private community leaders, architects and businesses for setting and following through on policy regarding planned design and growth. Regardless of the good in what they have done, we must ask more of them, and of each other, regarding future development in our Historic Mountain Town.
Certainly community property owners and developers should be thanked for their commitment to Boone as a small mountain town as well. However, ultimately the Town, County, University and DOT should seek to set policy, set aside property, build trails, and in other ways protects our unique mountain town – to continue to make Boone different and to stand out as one among few that wills its uniqueness.
Mark H. Kirkpatrick