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The Public Speaks: Blowing Rock Town Council Approves Appalachian Ski Mtn.’s Proposed Sign on Highway 321

A artistic rendering of the proposed welcome center and freestanding sign at the corner of Edmisten Road and U.S. 321.
A artistic rendering of the proposed welcome center and freestanding sign at the corner of Edmisten Road and U.S. 321.

By Jesse Wood

Feb. 11, 2015. On Tuesday evening, the Blowing Rock Town Council unanimously approved an ordinance amendment for Appalachian Ski Mtn.’s proposed sign at the corner of U.S. 321 and Edmisten Road, which leads to the resort.

Before the vote, a number of citizens spoke in favor of Appalachian Ski Mtn. and its proposed project, which will include a visitor center, potentially the new home of High Country Host. Those speaking included Cullie Tarleton, Kent Tarbutton on behalf of High Country Host, Four Eggers as citizen in the community and friend of ASM, and Charlie Sellers, owner of The Blowing Rock attraction.

Council members – as did Tarleton – noted that the Blowing Rock Chamber awarded Appalachian Ski Mtn. the Economic Impact Special Recognition Award at the chamber’s annual luncheon earlier in the day. The event was held at the Green Park Inn and sponsored by Piedmont Federal Savings Bank.

Sellers quantified the impact that ASM has on his tourist operation. He noted that during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday more than 500 of his customers had ASM lift tickets attached to their clothes.

“Thank you,” Sellers said, directing his comment to ASM General Manager Brad Moretz and other ASM representatives present. “You helped our business.”

This is the second time that the Blowing Rock Town Council has held a public hearing regarding the proposed sign. While the visitor center building was approved by the town’s planning department, the sign went before the council because the size of the sign exceeded town code.

On Jan. 13, a number of citizens and town leaders spoke in favor of ASM and its proposed project. As Blowing Rock Mayor J.B. Lawrence told High Country Press after the meeting, Blowing Rock has an exemption in the town’s ordinance for certain signs that fall under historical significance.

“If anyone has earned it, they have,” Lawrence said, adding that he was “blindsided” that the Blowing Rock Town Council didn’t immediately approve of the sign. (Lawrence recused himself on Tuesday because his son works part-time at the resort. In the event of a gridlock vote, Lawrence held the tie-breaking vote as mayor.)

At that initial meeting on Jan. 13, the Blowing Rock Town Council unanimously voted to send the matter back to the planning board, which originally recommended the sign unanimously, to revisit with a review of the town’s ordinance regulating signs in areas where the speed limit exceeds 35 mph. At the time, council members noted concern about setting a “precedent” in an area that will see future development, especially as the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s Chestnut Ridge at Blowing Rock comes online.

ASM is proposing this project due to the historic billboard that has advertised ASM for more than four decades being torn down because of the construction of an access road to Chestnut Ridge, which is located directly across the street from the project in question.

On Jan. 29, the Planning Board again recommended the project to the council with some minor changes. The planning board also “touched on” reviewing the ordinance for signs in areas where the speed limit is above 35 mph.

On Tuesday, Councilman Al Yount clarified, as other council members did, to those in attendance that the Blowing Rock Town Council isn’t “guilty of turning down” the sign. It just wanted to hold off approving the sign until the entire ordinance was reviewed.

As Councilman Dan Phillips, quoting a movie he recently watched, said, “Gossip is the devil’s radio.” Phillips, too, added, that the plan all along was to revisit the ordinance before approving the sign.

But the reaction from the public, town leaders and business owners in Blowing Rock in favor of this project was overwhelming. As Councilman Doug Matheson said, “We’ve all been listening.”

ASM General Manager Brad Moretz spoke before the council during the public hearing and thanked them for input on the sign. Moretz added that the final product will be “more beautiful and effective” than what was initially approved.

After Moretz spoke, he received a roaring applause from those in attendance.

Council unanimously approved the ordinance amendment for the sign and again directed the planning board to revisit ordinances regulating signage in areas where the speed limit exceeds 35 mph.