By Paul T. Choate
Sept. 11, 2012. The Boone Planning Commission met on Monday, Sept. 10, and voted unanimously to recommend the Town Council approve a rezoning request sought by Appalachian State for four land parcels along University Hall Drive.
The parcels in question are adjacent and are located around 330 and 400 University Hall Drive.
The first tract of land is owned by Maurice Templeton LLC and is currently zoned B-3 General Businesses. This property is currently developed with the former Singing News building and ASU would like office space for its Human Resource Services in the building. They have already established a lease purchase agreement with Templeton for the property and are in the process or renovating the building.
The second and third tracts of land are already owned by ASU and are currently zoned R-3 Multiple Family. They are developed with a parking area and the University Hall building.
Appalachian State University Foundations, Inc., 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which runs the Campaign for Appalachian, owns the fourth tract of land. At 5.8 acres, it is by far the largest tract and is currently undeveloped. It is currently zoned B-3 and a portion is subject to Business Corridor Overlay restrictions.
ASU has requested that all four parcels be rezoned to U-1 University.
Prior to the Planning Commission meeting a special public hearing was held with Town Council members also present. Greg Lovins, interim vice chancellor for business affairs at ASU, spoke to Commission and Council members on behalf of the university and took questions at the hearing.
“It just seemed to us – particularly after talking amongst ourselves and with some of you – it seemed to make sense and to comply with existing use,” said Lovins. “It is aligned with the 2030 plan that designates the current University Hall and parking area as university campus.”
Councilwoman Jamie Leigh raised multiple issues, including building height limitations if the property was zoned U-1 as well as ASU’s right to construct a dormitory on one of the parcels if they chose to in the future.
As per article XII, section 207 of Boone’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), even if the properties were rezoned U-1 portions of them would still be subject to limitations due to being adjacent to R-3 and B-3 districts.
Planning and Inspections Director Bill Bailey clarified that anything in U-1 within 50 feet of an adjacent R-3 district would have a height limitation of 50 feet and within 50 feet of an adjacent B-3 district would have a height limitation of 44 feet. Additionally, any buildings proposed within 100 feet of an R-1, R-1A, RR, R-2, R-4 or RA (residential districts) would be limited to a maximum height of 35 feet.
When none of those regulations apply, height limitations for U-1 are governed by what the fire department deems manageable in the event of an emergency.
Because U-1 is primarily a zoning district meant for the main campus, Bailey said there is currently a plan in place to try to create a secondary U-2 district for facilities off of the main campus such as the one desired by ASU at the former Singing News building. He said a U-2 plan had been drafted but added that it is not a quick process to create a new zoning district.
If the properties on University Hall Drive – as well as other off-campus properties – are rezoned as U-1 and then a U-2 district is created, subsequent rezoning would have to take place.
Dayton Cole, general legal counsel for ASU, addressed Leigh’s concern of the possibility of a dormitory being constructed by saying no plans to develop such a building were in the works. Lovins expanded on this, saying the topography of the land would make it extremely difficult to construct such a building there.
Leigh also asked if ASU would consider just requesting the parcel with the former Singing News building be rezoned for now, but Lovins said the university would prefer to have all four parcels rezoned now so they would not have to come back requesting more rezoning in the future.
Upon closing the public hearing, Town Council members left the Council Chambers and the Planning Commission further discussed the request. Susan McCracken was recused due to being employed by ASU.
Commissioner Gregory Simmons raised the issue of portions of the largest parcel being further restricted by Business Corridor Overlay regulations even if rezoning was approved, adding that he wished he had raised the issue while council members were still present because it might quell some of their concerns.
Commissioner Thomas Purper introduced two motions at the conclusion of discussion on the issue. In the first, he moved that the rezoning is consistent with the comprehensive plan, that it encourages rehabilitation and redevelopment of properties, that it would be consistent with current usage and that it moves Boone closer to realizing 2030 Plan’s vision. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Jay Vincent and passed unanimously.
Purper then moved to recommend that the Town Council approve the request. Commissioner Cameron Lippard added a friendly amendment noting the benefits of further restrictions due to the Business Corridor Overlay and Vincent again seconded. This motion also passed with a unanimous vote.
The issue is now in the hands of the Town Council, who will ultimately have the final say on whether or not to rezone the properties U-1 at the Sept. 18 or Sept. 20 meeting.