LETTERS / Judge’s Ruling Based On Technicality Rather Than Blowing Rock Council’s Actions

Published Wednesday, March 18, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Dear Editor,

Thanks so much for your coverage of yesterday’s hearing of Concerned Citizens of Blowing Rock’s appeal of the Town of Blowing Rock’s conditional use permit for the Mountainleaf development.

As often happens in our imperfect legal system individuals were run over by a developer and the Town using a hyper technical interpretation of the law that denied us a hearing on the merits of whether the Town did the right thing by passing the Mountainleaf CUP. State law creates a number of barriers to citizens who oppose a development and yesterday’s decision creates one more, precise timing of an impacted member’s joining an organization.

What this means is that citizens must join and have a strong, ongoing organization in place to protect their interests well in advance of a public hearing. Otherwise an individual will find himself or herself in a virtually impossible position to oppose a project legally with huge expenses for attorneys and technical experts and exposure to other liabilities. The time for developing expert opposition to a development is very limited once the public process is announced.

When my wife Betsy and I and four other good citizens of Blowing Rock formed Concerned Citizens of Blowing Rock, LLC, in November of 2013 our stated purpose was and is “to protect and foster the interest of Blowing Rock and surrounding areas”. While our immediate battle at that time was to prevent erection of an eyesore cell tower on the top of Green Hill all of us had a profound interest in protecting homeowners throughout Blowing Rock.

Homeowners provide most of the tax dollars for the town government but often receive little consideration in town actions. With the encouragement of a number of community leaders who were troubled by the Mountainleaf development and by the failure of the council to require important studies on the project’s impact on adjoining and abutting property values, traffic, parking and other matters we met with attorney Dale Howard to seek ways to obtain justice from some of the members of the town council.

In this process the lobbyist created issue of “standing” was explained to our surprise. We thought that citizens and homeowners could ask for a review of council actions by the Watauga Superior Court but we learned that an immediately aggrieved party must be in the group to achieve “standing”.

Because of our interest in protecting all Blowing Rock homeowners we started talking with the Holding family and others who joined our organization because we shared common interests. We also learned that they were concerned about the potentially substantial reduction of their property value that can result from the Mountainleaf development. They, like us, are not opposed to appropriate development. We have long known the Holdings, and their family members the Bisanars and the Snyders, all of whom have been major benefactors of Blowing Rock for many years.

Pace Holding, who is an appraiser himself, retained experienced appraiser Landon Phillips who estimated that the reduction in the Holding property value due to this particular development could be very substantial. The Holdings decided to join our group. Our attorneys advised us that the Holdings’ timing in joining Concerned Citizens was legally acceptable for our appeal. Judge Marvin Pope disagreed. He therefore denied us the opportunity to present our case against the Town’s very bad handling of the Mountainleaf conditional use permit.

A decision was made by Concerned Citizens of Blowing Rock to attend Town Council meetings whenever possible to have a voice on issues of substantial impact. It was that decision that resulted in my presence for the first part of the two Council hearings on the Mountainleaf project. In both cases I had to leave early to attend two charity fundraisers, one for the Community Foundation. I therefore did not have the opportunity to speak at these hearings.

I did send emails to and called Council members with my views. According to legal guidance given the Council by the town attorney my comments could not be used in their decision making process because I do not qualify as an expert on property values, traffic, parking, etc. I am only a taxpayer. Concerned Citizens of Blowing Rock is considering an appeal of Judge Pope’s decision to dismiss our appeal for lack of “standing”.

We are also planning to move forward with this community organization “to protect and foster…” the interests of Blowing Rock citizens and homeowners. My wife Betsy and I are, like many others, volunteers with no personal gain and no personal “axes to grind” in this challenging work for our great town. We are deeply grateful for the enthusiastic monetary and moral support of the more than one hundred and forty people who have contributed to our efforts in appealing the Mountainleaf CUP.

We hope that some of our Town Council members will not again blatantly disregard important requirements in future actions.

Sincerely,

George T. Wilcox

President

Concerned Citizens of Blowing Rock, LLC

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