By Nathan Ham
At Tuesday’s Blowing Rock Town Council meeting, a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for the hotly discussed Rainey Lodge was approved by a 3-1 vote. Doug Matheson, Jim Steele and Virginia Powell voted to support the permit while Albert Yount voted against it and Sue Sweeting was recused from voting.
Rainey Lodge is a proposed 40-room hotel that will be constructed in downtown Blowing Rock on less than one full acre of land near Rainey Street, Morningside Drive and U.S. Highway 221. The project has drawn the ire of elected officials and residents in Blowing Rock with complaints ranging from traffic impacts, the height of the building and property valuation.
“This has been a very tough situation for all of us, council and citizens,” said Blowing Rock Mayor Charlie Sellers prior to the council’s vote on Tuesday.
Councilman Matheson made the motion to approve the permit on the conditions that no delivery trucks with more than two axles can be on Morningside Drive for deliveries to the lodge and that the developers, Grand Dakota Development, must include a performance bond of 125 percent of the costs approved by an engineer from the town before any “land disturbance.” Matheson also included another condition that 100 percent of the project must be completed before the town gives Rainey Lodge a certificate of occupancy.
Councilman Steele, who supported the vote, said the permit applicant met all of the ordinances for building on his property. Stephen Barker, who owns and operates Grand Dakota Development, owns the land.
“When we have these CUPs, we are bound by what our ordinances are and what the laws are. We don’t get to pick and choose which ones we like and don’t like. This particular applicant met all the things that our ordinances call for,” said Steele. “He owns the property, it’s his property, so it seems to me that we are bound to let him build it.”
Steele said he hopes that the town is “diligent in making sure all of these conditions are met” for the permit. In addition to the previous conditions, ordinances for the town state that contractors and subcontractors cannot park on the streets during the day blocking access for drivers in town. Steele also said that all building materials have to be stored on that property.
“They can’t impinge on anyone else’s property, that’s part of the rules,” he added. “We have to look out for all the stakeholders. Not just the neighborhood but everybody.”
As the lone vote against the permit, Councilman Yount shared a brief moment of displeasure for the project, however, he also hopes that as the project goes forward, that all ordinances and conditions are met by Barker and Grand Dakota Development.
“I think the thing is too high up in the air and too massive for right there,” he said.
Yount addressed Barker who was in attendance and offered his support.
“I’m not going to be out there throwing rocks at you. I’m going to be available to help you any way that I can to make it the best that we can make it for our town, because it’s going to be there, and I’m counting on you to do all the things that this thing (permit) says you’re going to do,” Yount said.
Councilwoman Powell offered up her final thoughts on the project hoping for the best for both the development and for the town as a whole.
“This project has brought out the worst in some of us. As we’re going forward I expect Rainey Lodge to be a good neighbor and I’m going to be a good neighbor to Rainey Lodge,” Powell said.
Mayor Sellers, who also touched on the issue of Councilwoman Sweeting being recused from voting due to previous contact with the NCDOT about traffic concerns with this potential project during which time no one on the council was allowed to comment on the matter, is ready to see the town move on and embrace the future with Rainey Lodge being a part of it.
“We have rules, we have ordinances, we have a protocol that we have to follow. When we’re up here, we’re here to represent everybody and we have to follow the letter of the law. We’ve all lost a lot of sleep over this. I will follow suit with Albert and say that you gentlemen follow and go above and beyond what the project should look like,” said Mayor Sellers. “Once it happens, you’ve got to keep in mind, you’re an important part of the town of Blowing Rock.”