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Post Gnarnia, Beech Town Council To Look at Amending Charter Exempting Ski Resort From Town Ordinances

By Jesse Wood

Aug. 18, 2012. The Town Charter for Beech Mountain, which exempts Beech Mountain Resort from all of the town’s ordinances and regulations, has been brought into focus for the first time because of Festival of Gnarnia, which took place in infamous fashion last weekend at the resort.

During a Beech Mountain Town Council meeting last Tuesday, one resident advised the board to consider amending the charter, which was granted by the N.C. General Assembly in 1981 when Beech Mountain incorporated.

It states that Beech Mountain Resort “shall not be subject to town regulations or ordinances which restrict its operation as a ski resort, theme park or recreational area,” including “zoning, hours or day of operation, building permits and inspections and ordinances that regulate noise or lighting.”

Larry Miller, who was an unsuccessful town council candidate last fall, said, “[Beech Mountain residents] have nothing to say about what happens on that property. The resort could hold a festival every weekend, and you all can’t stop it. That’s the way it is.”

During the meeting, council members listened to nearly a dozen residents’ comments about the festival – which all but Miller’s were pro-festival. During the meeting, though, none of the town officials discussed the charter. 

After the meeting, Mayor Rick Owen told High Country Press, “We didn’t take any action on the charter [in closed session], but expect some conversation about the charter in the future.”

Town Manager Randy Feierabend said, “It creates problems having an entity within your town limits that is somewhat immune to any of your local laws.”

Council Member Alan Holcombe said that this issue of the charter exemptions has been brought up before “a time or two” in the past 30 years. 

“But, I think [Festival of Gnarnia] has kind of brought it more into focus,” Holcombe said. “The festival has brought some things to us that we really hadn’t experienced before.”

In particular, he mentioned the noise – music played until the wee hours of the darkness, ending at three or four in the morning.

He added that there was great fear when the town incorporated that Beech Mountain Resort wouldn’t be able to ski at night, maintain equipment at night and so forth.

“There’s been enough of a track record and what needs to go on and how it needs to go that we now need to amend the charter, so we operate like a normal charter, and we all operate under the same rules,” Holcombe said.

“We can make variances to cover certain things to keep economy and everybody happy. It’s time to do it,” he said, adding that the potential elimination of the exemption wouldn’t impede the normal operations of the ski resort.

In the end, Holcombe said, “I think we have a reasonable council staff and we want Beech Mountain Resort to succeed. They are our biggest business. If they don’t succeed, we are shot in the head. So we are going to be cooperative.”

If the Beech Mountain Town Council elects to amend the charter that grants the exemption, town officials would have to work with legislatures at the General Assembly in Raleigh, which would become quite an involved process.

Fred Pfohl, who was around when the town incorporated, said, “I hope, if the town does decide to pursue, it won’t become a major issue and that cool heads will prevail and work out the differences.”

Beech Mountain Resort General Manager Ryan Costin declined to comment about the town charter.

How Town of Beech Was Strong Armed Into Exempting Beech Mountain Resort

Before Beech Mountain became incorporated, it began as a private resort development in the mid ‘60s by Carolina Caribbean Corporation (CCC), formed by Grover and Harry Robbins and 35 other investors.

CCC built what is Beech Mountain Resort today, along with most of the roads, houses and water and sewer system – all before it filed for bankruptcy in 1974. After the Property Owner’s Association, which was formed in 1970, took control of the utilities and roadways, the association became a Sanitary District because it needed to improve the sewer and water facilities.

“[Becoming a Sanitary District] also meant we could tax property owners for funds to maintain facilities, [and] we could have a bond to help raise and borrow money,” said Pfohl, who was on the committee that was involved in these proceedings. “As it did, we thought it was probably the best route to go from a Sanitary District to an incorporated town.”

But little did that committee know that Beech Mountain Resort would become exempt from all the ordinances and regulations of the newly incorporated town.

Apparently, Tri-South Mortgage Investors – which was able to retain assets of the ski resort  after the bankruptcy because it loaned money to CCC and held part of the note – had some pull in Raleigh and were eager to help incorporate Beech Mountain, according to Pfohl.

“Some how along the line, the folks at Tri-South became concerned that as we became incorporated, we might put rules and regulations into effect for the town that might not be best for them and the ski slope,” Pfohl said. “As a result they got close to some of the legislatures helping us and for whatever various reasons, the legislatures came back to us and said, ‘We will incorporate the town but only if Beech Mountain Resort is exempt.”

“To me this was maybe almost unconstitutional. I don’t know of anywhere in North Carolina that this exists,” Pfohl said. “Those of us working hard to save the town of Beech and incorporate it wanted to turn it into a viable town that could levy taxes. The only way to pass the bill was to include [the Beech Mountain Resort exemption].”

“We were totally against it. We didn’t have a choice. We were a town in desperate need of everything working well,” he said. “It was either do or don’t. [Members of legislature said], ‘If you don’t play ball, we won’t incorporate.’”