By Jesse Wood
The Boone Town Council unanimously approved purchasing 53.8 acres of property in between Brookshire Park and Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation for $4.68 million on Thursday afternoon.
The Town of Boone plans to develop the property into a municipal complex, which would house the future home of Boone Public Works Department and the Boone Police Department – as well as a recreational greenspace.
The building housing the public works department is 60 years old and building housing the police department on Blowing Rock Road was built in 1969, according to Town Manager John Ward.
“Due to the growth of the Town of Boone, both departments have experienced increases in both staffing and equipment necessary to provide the levels of service that our citizens and visitors have come to expect,” Ward said in a statement on Thursday. “The current aging facilities have served the community well but are now undersized and outdated.”
Ward mentioned that the council members identified a potential acquisition of property to relocate the departments as a “main priority” at the recent council retreat.
The property, consisting of four parcels owned by the Bolick family, has 1,450 linear feet of road frontage along U.S. 421 and nearly 2,900 linear feet along the New River. Due to the river frontage and the property bordering Brookshire Park, a future park and extension of the greenway trail is planned for the property as well.
The funds for the property are temporarily coming out of the general fund and the water and sewer fund, and Ward noted that the properties housing public works on U.S. 421 and the police station on U.S. 321 are expected to bring in more than $5.5 million.
Council Member Loretta Clawson played devil’s advocate before vocalizing her support of the property purchase. She asked if water and sewer bills and taxes would increase because of this purchase. Town Manager John Ward said that no increase is planned.
Clawson said that the price wasn’t “too much” relative to the high property costs in Boone but she did ask how much it would cost to develop this property into a municipal complex.
Ward said staff hasn’t put the time or effort into compiling that because they weren’t sure if the Boone Town Council would be agreeable to purchasing the property. The property is located in the ETJ and is available for the town’s annexation, Ward said.
In pointing out that the old Watauga High School still is up for sale, Clawson mentioned that it’s not a guarantee that the Town of Boone can sell those two properties housing the public works and the police departments.
“I think there is potential for these building, and I know they are worth a lot, but I do think that the potential is there that they won’t sell,” Clawson said.
Clawson asked if the town’s planning and inspections department, which is housed in the lower level of the historic Downtown Boone Post Office that the town purchased and renovated, would be consolidated into this planned complex. Ward said that there is no plan to change the operations currently going on at the post office.
After all of her questions and thoughts, Clawson concluded, “I still have concerns about the project. But I do think being the way the Brown Building is now, I don’t’ want anything bad to happen to [Public Works Director] Rick Miller or any of the employees in there. For many years we’ve looked at replacing the Brown Building [which houses Public Works Department on U.S. 421]. It is in bad shape, and I do plan to support this.”
Council Member Lynne Mason noted that this property will provide efficiency since the town has equipment and materials spread out at multiple locations and that this property could house a needed fire station in the future.
“I am also really excited about the addition of the greenspace along the river and the preservation of that,” Mason added.
Council Member Jennifer Teague said that the “beauty” of this property is the flexibility it affords and the options it opens up. Options that the town hasn’t had in the past.
“I am looking forward to the future of this project and glad to be able to sit on council at this really exciting time,” Teague said.
Mayor Rennie Brantz read a prepared statement and talked about this being an important moment in the history of Boone and that it allows the town to continue the balancing act of preserving the past and investing in the future.