By Jesse Wood
March 5, 2014. After seeing the master plan for “Our Mother’s Garden” – an elaborate green space proposal with a walking trail for seniors, children’s playground, picnic area, raised gardens and more on county-owned property in between the local health department and social services building – the Watauga County Board of Commissioners instead directed the developers of “Our Mother’s Garden” to relocate the project to the current green space between the parking lot and West King Street.
While the commissioners praised the project Tuesday, which is a proposal by a group of Appalachian State University faculty and students, the board noted that its main concern was building such a nice green space would create backlash once the county decides to build on the land in the future.
Last year when a representative of the project spoke before the commissioners, County Manager Deron Geouque noted that the county has had plans for the space all along and that the location would be a logical place for the Watauga County Planning & Inspections since it would neighbor the health department.
Last year, the commissioners tabled the proposal because of those concerns and Commissioner Billy Kennedy suggested creating a proposal with removable structures.
The master plan that commissioners saw on Tuesday was similar to how “Our Mother’s Garden” was described in 2013 and again no county funds were requested for the project.
Chair Nathan Miller mentioned that this was a “beautiful plan” – more elaborate than he had in mind.
Mary Sheryl Horine, speaking for the project and on behalf of the elderly at The Lois E. Harril Senior Center located in the complex, was adamant that “Our Mother’s Garden” would be removed as soon as the county began developing the property. She even said that this agreement could be addressed in a lease or license of the property, so that there was no confusion down the road.
But Miller said he didn’t want to put future commissioners in a bind.
“If you build that, we will never be able to build a building on [that property]. We will get so much public backlash for moving it [after] you have spent thousands of dollars,” Miller said. “It’s a beautiful plan, but it’s not what this space is intended for.”
Commissioner David Blust agreed. He also added that when he was a commissioner in 2003 he can remember the development of that county-owned property and how it cost $1.2 million just to blast the rock and flatten out the property.
“Nothing against you guys, I think it is fantastic,” Blust said, then suggesting the space in between the parking lot and highway.
The commissioners essentially told proponents to design the project on the property that borders West King Street and forget about building at the back of the property, which Horine said was a perfect location because it was bordered by two buildings and a retaining wall and didn’t require walking through the parking lot to access from the senior center.
Horine and staff members from Destination by Design, the planning and design firm that was hired to prepare the conceptual plans, noted that it would conduct a survey to see if seniors would utilize the new location.
County Manager Deron Geouque instructed that the survey not be “slanted” to elicit favorable responses for the project’s preferred site that the commissioners do not favor.
He suggested the question: Do you want to have a park or no park?
Commissioner Billy Kennedy added, “Life is full of compromises.”