By Jesse Wood
Aug. 27, 2014. The Blowing Rock Town Council approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for the proposed Mountainleaf development that is to feature a 112-room hotel and 20 condos with up to 26,000-square-feet of retail and restaurant space – just two blocks from the heart of downtown.
The permit, which included three variance requests, was approved at a special meeting on Wednesday night.
The meeting began with a summary from Blowing Rock Planning Director Kevin Rothrock, reading through numerous passages of the permit to enlighten those in attendance. This was done at the request of Councilwoman Sue Sweeting.
Just about as soon as Rothrock finished a thorough review of the application, Councilman Al Yount made a motion to deny the permit, which was quickly seconded by Councilman Dan Phillips.
Phillips said the developer, which is Charlotte-based Catellus Group, doesn’t have stamped architectural drawings or approved financing for the project, doesn’t own the property and could flip the property at anytime once it is secured. As Town Attorney Allan Moseley said, the CUP will follow the property if any land transaction were to be made.
“At the end of the day, we are making a decision on a concept and Blowing Rock is taking all of the risk. Every bit of the risk, and I can’t look the citizens of Blowing Rock in the eye and say, ‘I am in favor of this,’” Phillips said. “I just can’t do it.”
At a prior public hearing on the matter, representatives of Catellus Group said the contract to purchase the seven-acre parcel, which is in between Hill Street and the Chetola Resort entrance, was pending the approval of the CUP. Representatives also said that it wasn’t practical to finalize everything before the project has even been approved by the town.
Phillips also cited concerns that critics of the project had regarding it dividing downtown Blowing Rock and turning Blowing Rock into a town rather than a village.
“[That property] is going to be developed, but it needs to be the right thing for this town,” Phillips said. “You know what? This is a village and should always remain a village. There is no question in my mind that if this is not done right Blowing Rock is going to become a town. When the town changes, everything else changes.”
He also referenced the dozen or so folks in attendance holding “Vote No” signs.
“I just don’t see a lot of ‘Vote Yes’ signs,” Phillips quipped.
The motion to deny the project failed whenever Councilman Doug Matheson, Councilwoman Sue Sweeting and Mayor J.B. Lawrence voted in opposition to Yount and Phillips.
Because Councilman Ray Pickett, who owns a hotel in Blowing Rock, recused himself, Mayor J.B. Lawrence held the tiebreaking vote.
Sweeting said the project would cause enrollment of Blowing Rock Elementary School to increase, which would alleviate concerns of declining enrollment. She also added that the jobs of the project would be a benefit to Blowing Rock and cause the town’s tax base to increase.
“I think that is an asset,” Sweeting said.
Matheson added, “I think there are a lot of people out there who think this is a good idea and are willing to embrace this project also. I think it is good for the future of Blowing Rock.”
Both Matheson and Sweeting did say, however, that they agreed with Phillips in regards to the Blowing Rock Town Council having more oversight with smaller line items of the project that are usually vetted by the Planning Department.
After more discussion, Sweeting eventually made a motion to approve the conditional use permit with several amendments such as more oversight from the council; inclusion of a sidewalk on the perimeter of the property, which would join Hill Street to the Chetola Resort entrance; trash and delivery service operation times be limited to between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.; and only granting three years of vesting.
(In prior public hearings, Catellus Group were adamant in their request for five years to finish the entire project. It’s not clear how these amendments may affect this project because after the meeting, Catellus Group President Ben Cassarino, who is also counsel, declined to comment on whether or not the developers were agreeable to the amendments tacked onto the approval of the conditional use permit..)
Matheson seconded Sweeting’s motion and then Matheson, Sweeting and Lawrence voted to approve the permit.
However, when Phillips voted against the measure, Yount said he abstained from the vote. This was done in hopes of circumventing the majority vote and squashing the approval of this permit.
Town Attorney Allan Moseley then had to go into his office and flip through state statutes after he was asked what happens if a voting members abstains. Moseley returned said that this abstention would be recorded as an “affirmative” vote.
With that Mayor J.B. Lawrence’s vote didn’t count because a tiebreaker wasn’t needed – and the permit was approved.
“This flies in the face of Robert Rules of Order,” Yount said. “I want that noted for the record.”
Check back tomorrow for a video of this meeting. For prior stories on this proposed development and more artist renderings, click here.