By Jesse Wood
Feb. 5, 2015. With the N.C. Department of Transportation considering selling property featuring the visitor center near the old Kmart shopping center, High Country Host has been in talks with Appalachian Ski Mtn. (ASM) about moving operations to Blowing Rock.
ASM initially planned to build its own visitor center to advertise the resort in the wintertime – along with constructing signage at the corner of U.S. 321 and Edmisten Road for year-road, road-frontage advertising.
ASM planned the project in light of the upcoming demolition of the resort’s historic billboard because of the future construction of an access road to Appalachian Regional Healthcare Services’ Chestnut Ridge at Blowing Rock.
Currently, High Country Host doesn’t pay any rent for the visitor center near the old Kmart. So, Appalachian Ski Mtn.’s General Manager Brad Moretz said that he has a similar offer for High Country Host, which would operate in the facility year-round.
“We’ve offered to make it to them on a rent-free basis. They would just have to pay ongoing property and operating costs, which would be taxes, insurance, lawn care and utilities,” Moretz said. “I think it’s a pretty nice deal.”
Speaking last week, Candice Cook, a marketing director for High Country Host, said she was aware of the NCDOT looking at other options for the property. An NCDOT spokesperson said that if it were to force High Country Host off of the property, it would be to sell the property to interested developers.
In a statement last week, Cook said:
“High Country Host works closely with the DOT and intends on continuing to run a High Country Regional Visitors Center. There are currently no concrete plans, but we want to make sure we can continue to provide visitors with a warm welcome to the High Country and the resources they need to plan there stay.”
In January, the town approved of the 960-square-foot building. The Blowing Rock Town Council, however, had concerns about the scale of the sign, which exceeded town ordinances in height by 10 feet. So, the Blowing Rock Town Council sent the matter back to the Blowing Rock Planning Board to review with ordinances that regulate signs in areas where the speed limit exceeds 35 mph.
Councilwoman Sue Sweeting said that the council was “concerned about setting a precedent” because it’s possible that hotels and restaurants, for two examples, will likely be built near the Chestnut Ridge at Blowing Rock.
Sweeting said that the council wanted to send this issue back to the Planning Board “to really look at it before we agree to something so far off from the ordinance” and to also “get a handle on that part of U.S. 321” in terms of what future development might look like with new businesses and their signs.
The Planning Board met earlier this week, and Planning Director Kevin Rothrock said that the board made some “minor revisions” to the draft ordinance for ASM’s proposed sign, including increasing the signage area from 60 square feet to 70 square feet to accommodate another tenant.
Rothrock said the board also added more supporting language to recognize ASM’s significant impact to the local economy in the winter and clarified that the draft ordinance “would not preclude other tourism-related tenants.”
Rothrock said the issue pertaining to ordinances regulating signs in areas where the speed limit exceeds 35 mph was “touched on” in the staff report. Rothrock added that ultimately the planning board just made adjustments pertaining to ASM’s proposed sign.
In January whenever the Blowing Rock Town Council unanimously motioned the signage issue back to the Planning Board, everyone else seemed to be in favor of letting ASM construct the sign as presented.
The Planning Board had previously recommended all of the project in a 9-0 vote to the council, and a number of town leaders and business owners, including Blowing Rock Chamber Executive Director Charles Hardin and Mayor J.B. Lawrence felt that ASM “earned” the right to build that sign.
As Lawrence said, “If anyone has earned it, they have.”
Moretz, who attended the Planning Board meeting earlier this week, said he felt the middle ground between the council members and seemingly everyone else could be met on Tuesday, whenever the Blowing Rock Town Council will look at the matter again.
“I think we reached a solution that everyone will really feel good about,” Moretz said.