By Jesse Wood
Jan. 15, 2015. While many expected a swift signoff on Appalachian Ski Mtn.’s proposed sign and visitor center project planned at the intersection of U.S. 321 and Edmisten Road, the Blowing Rock Town Council sent the item back to the Blowing Rock Planning Board.
“To be quite honest, I was totally blindsided by it,” Blowing Rock Mayor J.B. Lawrence said. “I personally thought it would be quickly approved.”
During public comment on Tuesday, several business leaders endorsed the project and nobody spoke out against the conditional use permit that Appalachian Ski Mtn. is seeking.
Still, the Blowing Rock Town Council unanimously sent the item back to the Planning Board and directed the board to review ordinances that regulate signs in areas where the speed limit exceeds 35 mph.
Currently, the sign ordinance only allows for ground-mounted signs to be eight feet at the top of the structure, and Appalachian Ski Mtn. is proposing a sign that is 18 feet at the top of the structure, according to Blowing Rock Planning Director Kevin Rothrock.
Councilwoman Sue Sweeting said that the council is “concerned about setting a precedent” because its possible that hotels and restaurants, for two examples, will be built in that annexed area, where Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s Chestnut Ridge at Blowing Rock is being built.
Sweeting said that the council wanted to send this issue back to the Planning Board “to really look at it before we agree to something so far off from the ordinance” and to also “get a handle on that part of U.S. 321” in terms of what future development might look like with new businesses and their signs.
When noting the amount of support for the resort’s proposal or the resort, in general, Sweeting said Tuesday’s vote doesn’t have anything to do with how she or the rest of the council thinks of Appalachian Ski Mtn. She mentioned that the resort plays a “big factor” in the town’s revenue and that her children ski on the slopes of Appalachian Ski Mtn.
“I think we are all aware of [the positive impact the resort has on Blowing Rock],” Sweeting said. “Our concern is what else is going there in the future.”
She mentioned that any criticism towards the council has been unfair because, for one, the council already “bent over” and allowed the visitor’s center to include the color orange, which matches the resort’s logo and is not a town-approved color.
Appalachian Ski Mtn. General Manager Brad Moretz said he was expecting the project to be approved. He said that the Planning Board recommended this project to the council with a 9-0 vote, and that town staff worked with the Planning Board during the planning phase “to come up with something to effectively promote our business.”
“They had an amendment ready in writing,” Moretz said.
The town sign ordinance has an exemption for certain signs that fall under historical significance. One example is the sign off of U.S. 321 leading visitors to The Blowing Rock. This is something that the mayor alluded to as well.
“We have a provision where we would allow special signage,” Lawrence said. “This would easily fit in that perimeter.”
Asked if Appalachian Ski Mountain has earned that distinction in all of its years in the High Country, Lawrence said, “I do. If anyone has earned it, they have.”
Moretz added, “We feel like there are 10 different ways that we make a unique contribution that is unparallel by any other situation in the Blowing Rock ETJ.”
Moretz also noted that he hasn’t heard anybody talk negatively about the sign before the meeting.
“We’ve not heard a single negative thought until we got to that meeting. We had the consensus unanimity, as far as we could tell, of the businesses and community at large,” Moretz said.
The reason Appalachian Ski Mtn. is proposing this project is because the 45-year-old billboard that has advertised the resort across the street is being torn down for an access road to the future post-acute care facility by ARHS.
Moretz said that the next step, of course, is to go back to the Planning Board. He said that he hopes have this situation worked out in a way that will “allow us to accomplish what we would like.”
“I still think we will arrive to a positive resolution,” Moretz said, “but it’s not quite the path we expected.”
View renderings below: