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CRB Requests Evaluation for Rivers-Coffey Properties; Fence to Go Around State’s Oldest Sugar Maple

By Paul T. Choate

The rock house on Clay House Drive. Photo by Ken Ketchie

Oct. 18, 2012. On Tuesday, Oct. 16, Cultural Resources Board Director Pilar Fotta asked the Boone Town Council for an evaluation to determine the current structural condition of the two Rivers-Coffey houses on Clay House Drive and Moretz Street for possible renovation and also requested protective fencing around what is believed to be the oldest and largest sugar maple in North Carolina, known as “Baby.”

The two homes on Clay House Drive and Moretz Street were donated to the Town of Boone in 1998 by former Watauga Democrat publishers Rachel Rivers-Coffey and her husband Armfield Coffey. However, in the deed dated Oct. 28, 1998 that gifted the properties to the town, it was stipulated that a life estate be reserved for Jim Butler, who lived in one of the homes. Butler passed away in November 2011, freeing up the home for use by the town. Also in the deed restrictions was a life estate reserved for Rivers-Coffey, but she passed away less than a year after the deed was finalized on Aug. 24, 1999.

Now that the properties are free for the town to use, there is some question as to what the two homes can be used for exactly. The 1998 deed also specified that the property may only be used for recreational space, green space, installation of underground utility provided they have minimal impact on the natural environment, flood mitigation, a wildlife sanctuary or historical purposes.

At present, the CRB is not certain what they want to do with the homes, but due to increasing deterioration they want to make sure the properties are preserved for some use at a later date. Council Member Andy Ball said he had recently been in one of the houses and that it had deteriorated significantly, noting that the ceiling was uneven and that the plumbing and electrical systems probably needed to be worked on.

Town Manager Greg Young said there would need to be an analysis done on things such as the roofs, walls, heating systems and also an inspection for hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead-based paint. Council Member Rennie Brantz also noted that if either of the two homes were converted into a public facility additional measures would need to be taken to bring the properties up to code.

“But we have to look at it and make sure that we keep it to a point that it doesn’t deteriorate right now,” said Mayor Loretta Clawson.

The white house on Moretz Street. Photo by Ken Ketchie

Council Member Jamie Leigh introduced a motion to do the evaluations, which was seconded by Brantz, and a friendly amendment was added by Ball to include analysis by the town manager for hazardous materials. The motion passed unanimously.

Fotta also said she would like the town to approve installation of decorative fencing around “Baby,” a sugar maple also on the Rivers-Coffey property that is believed to be the oldest and largest in the state. The CRB is in the very early stages of planning walking trails around the property and Fotta said “Baby” is right along where one of the paths would likely go. If fencing is not installed, the root system of the tree could be trampled down by people walking close by it.

Fotta said an analysis would be done to make certain that installation of the fence would not harm the tree.

The fencing would come in at a cost of around $6,000 to $7,000, but the council unanimously decided the cost was worth it to protect “Baby” and included in the motion that the fencing would be installed as soon as possible. 

“I think again this is an excellent recommendation from this committee. I think this is important to Boone,” Leigh said.

Fotta also said the CRB would like to refer to the Coffey-Rivers property as Rivers Park going forward, although she did not request it as an official designation. Council members were so supportive of this that Brantz introduced a motion to formally rename the property, but later rescinded his motion when Fotta explained it might be better to wait until next month to allow for more time to look at the schematics and see exactly what would be incorporated in Rivers Park. 

Regardless, that is almost assuredly to be the future name of the property.

“It’s a general consensus that Rivers Park would be the appropriate name,” Brantz said. Clawson added that the property was “a tremendous gift from them and I think that would be very important.”

“This committee is just blowing me away because they are one of the hardest working committees we’ve seen in a long time and they’re coming up with a lot of great ideas,” Leigh said.