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Commission Recommends Rezoning of Downtown Parcels for Third Time, What Will Council Decide Thursday?

Owners of these two properties - the vacant lot and the white house - have requested they be rezoned. Photo by Jesse Wood
Owners of these two properties – the vacant lot and the white house – have requested they be rezoned. Photo by Jesse Wood

By Jesse Wood

Aug. 12, 2014. For the third time in four years, the Boone Area Planning Commission has recommended that the Boone Town Council rezone two properties in downtown Boone – 302 and 316 W. King Street – from B-2 neighborhood business to B-1 central business.

The Boone Area Planning Commission made the unanimous recommendation on Monday evening – following a public hearing in the prior week.

Now, the Boone Town Council – at its upcoming monthly meeting – will have an opportunity to either deny the request from Hospitality House and First Baptist Church and recommendation from the Planning Commission for a third time or approve the zoning request, which first came before the town in 2010.

The property owned by First Baptist Church is vacant, while the property owned by Hospitality House is currently occupied as single-family residential. Before Hospitality House moved to its new location in the spring of 2011, the homeless shelter was located in the white house on King Street.

The properties border King Street.
The properties border King Street.

In August 2010 and again in August 2012 and now in August 2014, the First Baptist Church and Hospitality House have requested the rezoning of the two parcels to B-1 central business, which is typical of properties housing businesses in the downtown district.

Highlighted in the packet announcing the meeting were the intensity regulations between the two districts, which vary as B-1 has a minimum building footprint requirement of 50 percent, while B-2 features a maximum building footprint of 30 percent.

In 2010, Dick James, board chair of the Hospitality House at the time, said Hospitality House was looking at both selling and developing the property and that the rezoning would “give them a better opportunity for future plans,” according to meeting minutes from 2010. Skip Greene, who was representing First Baptist Church, said in 2010 that the church had no plans for the property, but felt that it should be zoned B-1.

Tax maps show that the .36 acres of 316 West King St., which is vacant and owned by First Baptist Church, has a land value of $313,000. The 302 West King St. property, which is owned by Hospitality House, has a total appraisal value of $475,000. The property has a 12,000-square-foot building on .29 acres.

In 2010, Boone Planning Director Bill Bailey told the Boone Area Planning Commission that the B-1 zoning district would allow for more height in future development, more flexibility in table of permissible uses and allow for more density. Asked about this change being a positive or a negative on surrounding neighborhoods during a public hearing in 2010, Bailey was paraphrased in the minutes as saying: “You will have a more intense effect on the R-1 neighborhoods [Wallace Circle], as a planner you must assume it is facing the main corridor through town. The Town Council members must decide which is more important of the two factors, whether to present on the front and what to protect on the back.”

A couple weeks after the public hearing and following the recommendation to approve the request by the Planning Commission in a 9-1 vote, a motion to approve the zoning request died with a 2-3 vote. Council Members Rennie Brantz and Stephen Phillips voted to rezone the property, while Council Members Andy Ball and Jamie Leigh voted against rezoning the property. Because Councilwoman Lynne Mason recused herself because of her affiliation with the Hospitality House, former Mayor Loretta Clawson held the tiebreaking vote and sided with Ball and Leigh.

When this issue popped up again in 2012, Clawson and Ball noted that their reasons for voting against rezoning the property was because of concerns of the property becoming a parking lot and concerns about buffering between residential zones and higher density uses like B-1. During a public hearing on the matter in 2012, Marsha Turner, a resident of Wallace Circle, said she was concerned about traffic on her street if these properties were to be accessed from Wallace Circle.

Again in 2012, the Boone Area Planning Commission voted 7-1 for the rezoning of the parcels, noting that this request supported goals in the 2006 Comprehensive Plan and Boone 2030 Land Use Plan. Those goals included economic development efforts to revitalize unused or underutilized properties and that “this area was proposed for greater density and infill and moves the town towards a more walk-able, nonsprawling pattern related to downtown.”

Following that recommendation, the Boone Town Council in a 3-2 vote denied the request again, citing that this rezoning wouldn’t be in harmony with surrounding properties and is not consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan and other applicable plans adopted by the town. Once again the nay votes were Ball, Clawson and Leigh.

When asked on Tuesday, Mayor Andy Ball, who was a council member during the requests in 2010 and 2012, said, “I didn’t hear anything in the public hearing that … was significant or changed the request” from the prior years.

However, Ball said that he hadn’t come up with a voting position on the matter because he didn’t intend on voting as mayor. Councilwoman Lynne Mason retired as executive director of the Hospitality House in July, and the council features new members Quint David, Jennifer Pena and Fred Hay.

The council will vote on this matter at its meeting Aug. 21. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. and will be held in the Council Chambers on Blowing Rock Road.