By Jesse Wood
Oct. 9, 2013. The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce presented a “Meet the Candidates” forum for Boone mayoral and town council candidates to speak their positions on a number of local issues on Tuesday night.
Candidates for mayor include current Boone Town Council Member Andy Ball, John Mena, Brad Harman and write-in candidate Jenny Church. Candidates for three seats on Boone Town Council include incumbent Rennie Brantz, Quint David, Matt Long, James Milner, Jennifer Pena and Mark Templeton. All attended.
Above is a video of each of the candidates’ closing statements.
The same questions were asked of all the candidates in a ‘round robin’ format that was not intended to be a debate. Each candidate had an opportunity to answer first on a different question. The audience was allowed to submit written questions during the forum. The moderator asked all the questions. Each response was limited to a one-minute time limit and each candidate had a two-minute closing statement that is featured in the video above.
Below is word-for-word responses from the candidates.
- Moderator: Given the fact Boone operates a multi-million dollar budget, what is your business experience and how will that benefit you in this position and what’s your best financial experience as well?
Andy Ball: Thank you for the question. My business experience would be in the service industry here in the area. I have worked for nearly 10 years as a bartender as a server, working for tips, also in the management of those industries as well. Also, I have experience creating an environment in the town that’s conducive for relocation for businesses and being attractive community for families to relocate, and so I am very excited about continuing to work on those priorities and making the town a more business friendly place. The DBDA partnership we have and the reinvestment we made two years ago through the reorganization of that process as been extremely beneficial for our downtown community and I think that’s the way to go moving forward to.
Brad Harmon: I have 41 years business experience behind me with my families business and also in the food industry and plus working with the department of corrections and volunteer fire department. Being accountable is one of the most important things, and that is something which I am trying to work on and further that with the government here and then being more business friendly and bringing in more business here. So I have been talking with other people on that. Those are the things which I am willing to work with and work for the people here. That is honor to everybody that is to serve mankind.
Jenny Church: Obviously I don’t have a lot of business experience. I am 22, but I have worked at a lot of local business in Boone and I understand a lot of the problems they face and how their finances work and I’ve done a lot of ride-a-longs and visiting business owners in town and different departments that we fund. And I know some of their needs and some of the ways they want us to fund them. I am really good at asking questions and I know a lot about how to solve problems and where to get answers. So I think that I can give my problem solving experience a hand in the budget matters and how to allocate the funds property. Sometimes it’s not that there is not enough money there, it’s that they don’t spend it the right way.
John Mena: I’ve got 25 years of experience here in Boone. As people have told me if you want to live in Boone, bring a job with you, so I opened my salon in 1989 after just visiting for a week. I didn’t have that many people that I knew. Hardly anybody that I knew lived in Boone, but I knew that this was the area I wanted to work at, and now I employ over 15 people and have for several years. My business burned down in ‘96, the first location, which was on Depot Street. I moved into twice the size and built and expanded and worked 18 to 20 hours a day sometimes getting it up and going after it burned down. It took it about 3 months to redo the building and that’s my experience.
Rennie Brantz: What does a history professor know about business anyhow. You might think that. However, for the last eight years on the council, I have been involved with a great deal of business activity, supporting the DBDA, helping to reorganize the DBDA, strengthening the downtown. A really vibrant downtown cultural life as added to the economy of our community by attracting people from all over the state and the region. I have also encouraged cooperation between the university and businesses in the town during this last eight years. Also been very much supportive of strengthening and updating our infrastructure in town to make business more efficient and more successful. Also, I have tried to streamline as best as possible our regulatory system to make it more efficient. So, those are some of my contributions.
Quint David: My background is directly more in the small local businesses here in Boone. Worked for a few small farms doing mostly green building, doing renewable energy services. The more direct million-dollar budget issues come from: we also do large-scale project management for universities and other larger firms. Those range in the millions of dollars. My time at ASU as a student, we did a lot of fundraising for grants and raising money to do more fun items and that turned into working for the energy center at ASU where we had several grants including a grant I was on, actually for the county, to run a green business plan for the county. So everything from raising money, dealing with large-scale construction projects all the way to small businesses. I have a little bit of background in all of that.
Matt Long: My business experience started upon my graduation from Appalachian State. I moved to Charlotte for a job there and ultimately ended up starting a branch office for a commercial company based out of Atlanta. I managed that office and throughout that course of that experience became very hands on with the accounts receivable, accounts payable, estimating project management, scheduling. So I feel like that was a great initial experience to work for a company and move back to Boone and start my own company with a business partner. I currently do that know. I have worked very hard to survive these lean years with hard work and a lot of understanding for what goes into the money that is received for that hard work.
James Milner: Thanks so much. Not only running my own business and being in a commission based industry you know how to operate with very little. You know how to be fiscally conservative and manage money very well. Some days are good. Some days are bad, but I have been doing that since 2004. Also, in my service with WYN we are currently operating close to a $500,000 budget. I have served two terms as treasurer, one term as chair and I know how to be a good steward of a larger pot of money per se. In doing so, I think that you sometimes have to make hard decisions and those decisions aren’t always easy ones to make.
Jennifer Pena: I have experience of several years working in nonprofits. I understand the issues they face with their budgets and very difficult fundraising situations and very restrictive budgeting situations as well. Also have experience working with budgets at Wilkes Community College as well in very difficult times the last few years that we’ve all been dealing with. Also I am really enthusiastic about being apart of the Boone Town Council, so I can welcome as many business opportunities as possible to be presented to the Town of Boone. I would also really be in favor of incentivizing different programs to encourage more local businesses and more business to come into Boone from outside.
Mark Templeton: My name is Mark and I graduated with a business degree from Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., where I had extensive studies in accounting and finance. I worked in New York Life as a financial advisor where I received my [inaudible], which is related to investment products. Currently, I work for the family business, a for-profit business. The reason that is important is every decision we make is vitally important in whether or not we are successful in company. I am sort of getting my master’s degree in the school of hard knocks: learning the ropes, learning with trial and error.
- Moderator: Having witnessed disturbing and disruptive conflicts between the Boone Town Council and the Watauga County Board of Commissioners, what is your plan to work with other governing bodies with the best interest of the taxpayer and greater community in mind?
Brad Harmon: Well, first things first. We have to have a communication between all the departments and we have to work together. My thing is I want to sit down with the county commissioners and try to resolve the situation that we have especially with the old Watauga High property and also want to work with the other communities we have here, being Blowing Rock, Seven Devils, Hound Ears, and work with them on solving a lot of our problems we have here. Water being another one. It takes a community to work. I want to do that for us, solve the problems and bring in new businesses.
Jenny Church: I think it is important to understand that as much as we love Boone and are residents of Boone, everyone in this county uses it and uses its services and resources and pretty much everybody has a purpose for a trip to Boone at least once a week. The best way to repair the relationship between the county and town is that county residents need Boone to thrive just as much as the residents of Boone need it thrive. If we let the commissioners play a more important role and let their voices be heard, it will be better for the town. We won’t have conflicting policies. We wont’ knock heads as much. It will just be better if we can find ways to work together. The only way to do that is to sit down and have a conversation, and find our similarities rather than focus on our differences.
John Mena: Well, I agree that we have to sit down and talk to each other. I would even be more interested in everybody sitting down and having a beer together and looking at our likenesses, rather than our differences. We have so many things to be thankful for right here right now. I think we can come up with win-win situations in almost any category. Somebody always has to feel like they are going to win something even you have to give up something. I will give up something if you give up something. And we can all have a win-win situation. And you know sitting down and talking: that is the biggest thing but it is not only the county, it’s also ASU. We butt heads with them all the time also, and it’s very, very difficult as a layperson to sit back and wonder why this is going on. All of us live in a small beautiful community, and I don’t see why it should be so difficult to sit down and talk to each other. Our kids go to same schools together, go to the same churches together. It’s just really disheartening to see the kind of animosity that is going on between all of us right here in our own little community.
Andy Ball: A number of good points have made so far about just sitting down at a table and talking in a public setting. That is exactly what the town council proposed this past year to deal with the sales tax distribution issue. We wanted to meet in a public forum setting immediately after we had a mediated session to resolve the sales tax distribution issue with the county and the reason for a mediated session is that both parties get their ideas on the table and are able to come towards each other’s views and come with a compromise rather than just a public meeting, free-for-all where we don’t get anything accomplished because there are ideologies on both sides. The current leadership with the town and the county have vastly different views on the role of local government. That’s what precipitated this situation we are in. We have different constituencies. The town of Boone voters, Boone residents support a healthy environment, protected mountainsides, greenways and green space, sidewalks, bike lanes, a vibrant downtown and safe neighborhoods. And we are not going to hold Boone residents hostage, not going to hold our own ordinances hostage and give away protection for neighborhoods and communities based on county commissioners majority who has an ideology of a certain persuasion. The relationship I think will begin to improve when the town and county come to a resolution on the sales tax distribution issues, and on Matt’s point, the town and ASU relationship has never been stronger.
Rennie Brantz: I think the tensions result from some personal and political agendas in my mind that seem to have little to do with the quality of life in our community. They have developed over several years. Now one way to perhaps address that is to look at areas where we have common ground, where we can cooperate. Maybe smaller issues that we can resolve together before dealing with some of these contentious issues like sales tax revenue and how that should be distributed. I think I have always been a person that favors cooperation over conflict and sometimes you can want to avoid conflict but you just are not able to because of other persons are unwilling to do that. But I have always wanted to find common ground and I am still looking for that.
Quint David: One thing that is very important for all our members of government is that when we are spending tax money we are actually spending other people’s money. We are spending money in order to benefit our community and one of the things to remember that as citizens of the town, we are paying not only taxes to the Town of Boone, but also to Watauga County, so when they are butting heads, it is costing me my own taxes and that’s something that we need to get as far away from as we can. It’s very important for us to work together and make sure the people’s voices and what they want is going to be heard and met by our local officials. So, even if it’s something that perhaps people that have voted for their officials out in the county do not want, if it’s something that people voting in Boone are voting for and our elected officials to have, we have to be able to sit down and come to an agreement.
Matt Long: As our town’s leaders came together and our county’s came together, and they had a issue at hand that they didn’t find common ground on, it was very frustrating for me as a citizen to see our town’s and county’s unwillingness to meet together. The county wanted to meet publicly. The town wanted to meet privately, and no meeting took place. My opinion as publicly elected officials, we should meet publicly and be able to meet and discuss openly with citizens issues at hand. So, I believe that our town council should be able to meet publicly with our county and work together and collaboratively on issues, and I look forward to the opportunity to meet publicly with our county and try to help improve that relationship.
James Milner: I would just say that like so many other people have said, I believe that sitting down and talking is important. It does have to be done in an open forum, so that it can be transparent to what is critically important which is the citizens and the Town of Boone. That is where the problem is: we’re not thinking about the town, the community and its citizens instead of partisan politics, so let’s do what’s right for the town and right for its citizens and meet publicly and come to a compromise. There are not any winners or losers. It’s about working together. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the two and that’s what’s important.
Jennifer Pena: Certainly, I think we are all very tired of the issues between the Boone Town Council and the county commissioners and obviously there have been a lot of finger pointing, people being upset at both groups. I think it really comes down to the fact that this communication that we all want, only works when we have willing, honest, responsible individuals who come to the table and are ready to make sacrifices. You can’t come in with an agenda of your independent issues and what you think is best for you. It has to be what’s best for your constituents, what’s best for the town of Boone, what’s best for the county. It’s not about your own personal agenda, and I am very much against the partisan behavior that we’ve seen. We definitely need to sit down and have more conversations. But I really think until people are willing to be mature and be responsible and honest and open that is not really going to work.
Mark Templeton: I think the tensions arise because of partisan politics and in particular to political activists. Growing up in this community, I don’t remember that being the culture of Boone and so to the extent that we can avoid that, the better off we are going to be. According to the Democrat, in 2012, the town of Elizabeth City had 17 closed session meetings. In that same year, Asheville had 30 closed session meetings and in 2012, your town council had 78 closed session meetings. Now, I can’t say anything unethical is going on, but what I can say is that indicates they are not communicating with the voters. They are not communicating with the local elected officials on the county level. They are not communicating with the communities in Todd or with the neighboring counties like Ashe County. So the more we can get information to everybody, the better off we all are going to be.
- Moderator: Do you support moving forward with New River intake project and if not what do you see as alternative plan to ensure adequate water availability for growth and development of the area?
Jenny Church: I don’t particularly support the intake project. It’s not that I don’t agree that Boone’s going to need to find new ways to allocate water resources, but the project has taken 10 years and nothing really has been done. The engineer study found 27 sites that we could draw raw water from. I think it would be better to explore one of the 26 other options since we are in the exploratory phase still because the residents of Brownwood don’t appreciate it, Ashe County doesn’t appreciate and, quite frankly, it’s going to cost more than $25 million at this point, and I am not ready to put that kind of burden on taxpayers when it’s a project that is widely opposed
John Mena: It is widely opposed, and it’s amazing that we are still talking about it 10 years after its inception and $2 million, I think, we have already spent on it. $80,000 acre -that farmer got a lot for his money especially for being in a flood plain. I do believe in the future we will need this water intake since we’ve already spent $2 million on it for design work, attorney’s fees and purchase of the property. I think we can salvage this as much as possible. It will be a lot more expensive because it has taken this long. I understand the town is in litigation with the surveyor I believe that did the survey on it. I think there was a lot of people dropped the ball on a lot of things in the coming of this water intake. I think there are a lot of things we can do as far as conserving the amount of water that we are using now. I think we should be looking at rainwater collection cisterns to maybe flush our toilets. Some things like that would help a lot in conserving the amount of water that we are using.
Andy Ball: This project is not widely opposed by town voters because they approved it in 2008 with a referendum on the ballot by 73 percent of the vote. The Town of Boone residents and voters at that time decided and agreed with the town that water was needed for growth and everybody in the room and every developer can tell you water drives growth and all of you should know that two. The best sites of the 27 options considered was the site along the New River, where it is proposed. It is planned and in an environmentally responsible way, reducing noise output and blending in with the farmland in the community. We also added WS-4 level protections for high-level resource waters to the New River, so it added extra protection, so there is no measurable impact on the flow levels as well. The one request that we had of representative Jordan coming into his first term a few years ago was that he help us and partner with us on this project and support it. Then he introduced a kill bill for the project to stop it two years ago in the legislature and so that caused a lot of problems for us locally. In addition, I wouldn’t be in favor of handing this asset, 25 million asset, to an independent regional [water authority].
Brad Harmon: Water intake is an indisputable fact of Boone. That is going to grow because of our location. We have searched for water sources; the problem with the approach so far is a mess to say the least. Costly studies, unfulfilled applications and acting less than neighborly has the water intake project incomplete and costing Boone taxpayers millions. Rather than acting [inaudible] and taking what we want, we need to work with every agency and municipality to obtain the water we need in the future in the most economic manner, both monetarily and environmentally. It would not be easy, but there is a solution. I do not look to this project. There are other alternatives. It would cost more to go out that direction. We should look locally and also possibly tap into other areas – Seven Devils or Blowing Rock.
Rennie Brantz: You can live without a lot of things, but you have to have water. Boone is running out of water. Last month the town council received three proposals from developers on apartment complexes requesting a total of 260,000 gallons of water per day. The town has 190,000 gallons of water a day to allocate, so we are running out of water. That’s not the question. It’s how to deal with this. We’ve faced enormous obstacles in this process. It’s been longer than we wanted. It should have been completed by this point. From Raleigh, from other sources: some obstacles. We are working forward on this. I think it’s going to come to fruition. We just have to push ahead with this project for the well being of our community and the future of our community.
Quint David: The water intake issue: I support if for two-fold reasons. Initially, the environmental costs that were already drained from current intakes, we’ve already drained them too far and they are taking too much water. If anyone remembers a few years ago, when we actually had restrictions on who could wash their cars. We are already running out of water. Environmentally, the right thing to do would be to find more water somewhere because Boone is going to keep growing whether we get it from a safe environmentally friendly solution or if we start drilling wells for developments similar to the Cottages of Boone down 105. There is a huge drawback from that issue because just like you said we don’t’ have water for some of these developments but if we do have water it could open up Boone to rampant development that is not restricted in anyway, so we could actually see more Cottages style of development because now Boone has enough water to support them. We must be conscious of the environment but also be conscious of our businesses as well.
Matt Long: I am still trying to gather information and completely educate myself on the current status of the water intake project. I have heard arguments from both sides that it’s necessary, that it’s moving forward. I’ve heard arguments that proper due diligence has not been done to date, and we’ve spent upwards of $2 million to date and tried to inquire with some folks on the water board that really don’t have an understanding exactly where things stand. I really don’t want to say I am for it or against it until I have an opportunity to be brought to speed. I understand the need for water in development certainly, but like John said I thoroughly understand that there are a lot of measures that can be made to conserve water with low-flow fixtures and water-saving toilets. I truly don’t believe our town has put forth an effort to seize some of those benefits, and I would like to see that happen first before I comment further.
James Milner: I do support the Town of Boone finishing what it started. [If] the intake could not be at its proposed location, what’s vital in so many different ways is that we secure a new source of water. Water is key for all development and re-development. Until a final decision is made, we should be good stewards of the water that we have and find ways to address how we allocate water. I think there are ways of how we allocate water with the N.C. discharge schedule, the 60 percent rule. More importantly I would put pressure on the administration of the town to get the information that the town needs to in order to make informed decisions.
Jennifer Pena: Yes. I think certainly we need a lot more information and once we are on the town council that would make it a lot more available to us. So that would be the goal to fully understand the situation and have all the information that is available before we have to make this important decision. That said at this point, I do think the intake is a good plan under certain circumstances. We absolutely have to have it locally controlled. We cannot under any circumstances have water flowing into unregulated areas around the county. We can’t have something, that Quint mentioned, like The Cottages showing up all over the county on every slope that surrounds us. That is a possibility if the water is allowed to flow wherever people want to have it. I think the town is very pleased that The Cottages is not their problem. We also need to make sure that regionalization does not happen to our water. We’ve seen what happened in Asheville, so under no circumstances would I like that to happen to the people in Boone.
Mark Templeton: I think Jennifer said the buzzword I was looking for which was control. The questions is are we after the control of water or do ewe have a need for water. I oppose the current project has it is proposed. W.K. Dickinson, the company charged with doing the assessment, said in 2004 or 05 that we would be over 80 percent capacity. We weren’t. We hit 80 percent capacity, which is a big difference. They said in 2009, we would be at 90 percent capacity and we weren’t. Today, at 2013, we run about at 63 to 65 percent of average daily capacity. So if this document is our source that we are working off of, and it is already proven to be wrong on many counts, I think it would be unwise to use $25 million of the taxpayers’ money to continue on. Not to mention the fact the water committee, we have a liberal Mrs. Pam Williamson and a conservative Tim Wilson, both agree that neither one of them have enough information to make an educated assessment.
- Moderator: How do you see the change to the ad valorem sales tax distribution and the pending real estate revaluation impacting the town’s budget and how should it be addressed?
John Mena: We’ve been giving a backhanded tax really because they haven’t reevaluated the property in the town and the county because it would greatly diminish the amount of money that our taxes would be given to the town or the county, so I think that we really need to look at better ways of raising our tax base by allowing more businesses to be built in the city limits. I think there are a lot things we can do to increase our tax base, making it easier for people to come in here and build buildings and hire people and create jobs, but you know building up our tax base. Our tax base has been devastated over the past 25 years look at all the four-lane highway, the six-lane highway that we got coming down 421. That took a lot of tax base out of our pockets for the town and the county and you know the more that we allow ASU to buy up, we aren’t going to have a tax base.
Andy Ball: On an annual basis, the town of Boone is responsible for bringing over 60 percent of the area’s sales tax in the area. We already feed the smaller communities and the county that sales tax money, so the switch to ad valorem ended with a $2 million shortfall in a $20 million budget for the town. It is a severe decrease there, representing more than 10 percent of our operating funds and we had to cut and cut and cut for infrastructure, for capital outlay, for all kinds of issues. We couldn’t fund any nonprofits as Rennie mentioned. We couldn’t do anything for sidewalks, bike lanes, none of that gets priority. This conversation needs to take place soon. It is very, very important for the future of the town and when you talk about cooperation, you really need to look at the situation and what happened. We marked 150,000 gallons per day for the old high school site. We revised the draft affordable housing ordinance to exempt the property and they still switched it.
Brad Harmon: Well, first things first: I think we need to rework everything with the taxes, and just basically stop the waste that we have. There is a bunch of waste that we have done and used the property that we have. Sell it correctly, and talk with the county commissioners. County commissioners are willing to talk. I’ve spoken with them about their issues, and they are issues that we can meet over and that are not bipartisan. We need to talk and get that money back to help Boone. As a business owner, I do not believe in raising any taxes on any season. That would be the last straw, so that is what we need to do. We have to work together, and the county commissioners we have to work with them.
Jenny Church: The sales tax redistribution happened as a result of bad politics and bad policy. The Town of Boone has a personal vendetta, a very public personal vendetta against the person who made a bid to purchase the property from the county, and they zoned it accordingly to make it almost impossible to build anything affordable there, which is what they rezoned it for. As a result, they cancelled the bid and they didn’t get it. They didn’t sell it. The county was upset. So they did, and they punished the Town of Boone and found another way to get their revenue. Was that the right thing to do? No. But is that how politics work? Yes. The best thing that we can do is to repair the relationship with the county. If we can get them on board and make them feel like a contributing member of our area and treat them as equals. I mean we govern different bodies, but they are mutually exclusive [inaudible.] Really, the best thing we can do is get the county on board and get the sales tax back.
Rennie Brantz: The change in the sales tax distribution has harmed the town, and it was a political decision to punish the town for not caving in on a number of things including our property regulations in particular. Now what that means for the town is serious cutbacks in the kinds of things that we’ve supported in the past. For example, the Western Youth Network and the various kinds of agencies that serve underserved persons, children in particular. We have not been able to fund those agencies the same at any level because we have lost this revenue. I think the kinds of things we could do in Boone would improve enormously if we had access to that additional money. We wouldn’t have to cut back on the various public services that our available, the way we are going to have to under the current circumstances.
Quint David: The reevaluation for the property tax is something that we are going to have to do. It’s the right thing. If it reduces our budget, that is just something we will have to deal with. As far as as the other $2 million that came from sales-tax distribution I am not sure if everyone understands how much of an impact on Boone’s budget that is going to be. It is over 10 percent of our operating budget is going to be gone. For the things, I am really interested in doing, supporting our parks and greenways and bike lanes and trying to improve some of our downtown infrastructure. There are needs that Boone has. There are very old and crumbling infrastructure and working in the construction industry you see it first hand, any time anybody tries to renovate and upgrade one of these old buildings, you can find that infrastructure falling apart. We are looking at pushing back some of these measures to improve the town many, many years because we are not going to have the money to do them. So working with our county commissioners and trying to make some of these issues right is going to be one of my top priorities.
Matt Long: Well, I believe the immediate impact on the Town of Boone, like Quint said was about $2 million. I remember receiving the letter from the mayor telling me that as a citizen I may no longer have police protection, fire protection and snow removal due to this cut that we were imminently seeing as a bullying tactic by the county commissioners and I was very unhappy to receive that letter and read that letter. I think ultimately what that means is the council has to do as much with the budget that they have to work with as possible and be good stewards of that tax money and not waste resources in anyway. I very much look forward to the opportunity to rekindle that working relationship with our county commissioners and would love to see the opportunity to come our way and get that money back to town of Boone.
James Milner: I would say the critical part of my campaign is relationships and we have to fix this relationship with the county commissioners. It’s just that simple. If we fix that relationship, we can work to get the sales tax distribution back into the budget and not make the job of the new town council more difficult when they try to prepare the budget for the next fiscal year. I understand the current town council had to make some very hard decisions, but basically did everything they could without increasing taxes on property owners. I don’t feel like that was a good way to go about it. Boone collects the most money. We are the busiest community with the most services and further more I think that we should work with the county to, part of that relationship is working with the county to get the old high school site closed and continuing the water allocation that property currently has.
Jennifer Pena: Certainly an unfortunate situation, and it definitely goes back to idea that there are individuals on the county commissioners that are just bent on picking fights with the Boone Town Council and that is unfortunate. There is no reason for that. That said, I think we need to continue to grow our businesses and make Boone as profitable as it can be. If need be, we have to go line by line through the budget and eliminate what is not necessary. Obviously, it is going to be a difficult process to go through. We are going to need intelligent, thoughtful, resourceful people who actually care about their constituents to make these choices, and further I think the absolutely last thing we should do is raise property taxes. Obviously, if that is what it comes down to then that is what we’ll have to do. But certainly going line by line carefully and methodically through the budget is one of the safest things we’ll be able to do.
Mark Templeton: I think from a county perspective there are a few options. One is to raise taxes, which I don’t support. And the other is to streamline your operation, which I do support. The Town of Boone has traditionally spent of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands on studies, surveys. We spend money on lobbyists and all of that can be done away with. We can look at our community and use the community as a resource to answer many of the complex issues that we face on a day-to-day basis. But it all starts with good communication. I think if we hold that as a priority, we’ll be just fine.
- Moderator: The Chamber, of course, is very interested in what happens to business here in this community. How do you see the UDO impacting the business that currently operate in or wish to operate in the Town of Boone, for example, the old Watauga High School property?
Rennie Brantz: I think the UDO is in the process of being updated and streamlined and I think that is going to help businesses, help developers move forward with projects much more swiftly than in the past. With the high school property, there is more information that needs to be shared that the town went overboard in trying to help sell this property. We exempted it from certain regulations and tried in everyway we could to make it a deal. It didn’t go through because the person who had made the offer kept upping the ante, asking for more water, asking for more exemptions from regulations. It seems to me that even though that prospect has ended, the prospects of selling that property are very real. There are four or five organizations that are actually very, very interested in purchasing it, and I think it will happen in the next year.
Quint David: The UDO is actually one of the reasons I wanted to get involved with the town council. My background in engineering and sustainability issues have a very nice set of green UDO things I would like to incorporate into what Boone does and to help promote some of that for our town. Also with the existing businesses, we’ve had to deal with issues and complaints about the UDO being too restrictive. Making sure that it is streamlined and with the update coming out supposedly this January, hopefully a lot of problems we’ve been having. We want the UDO, the people of Boone have voted on things such as the water intake and steep slope ordinances, so to say we are not going to do that would be telling the people that a have voted on that that we are not going to do it. So we have to do these things. But we want to make sure we do them right, and we want to make it easy on businesses to achieve some of these measures and in the end, of course, to make our town a better place and a more attractive place for business. So we have to keep working through it.
Matt Long: The revamping of the UDO was a platform item four years ago, and it is now currently undergoing the revisions, the streamlining as far as formatting to be more user friendly, to be less language, less of a document to have to read. It’s in that process thanks in part to staff with the planning and inspections department, planning commissioners, council. All of the above. But it is time to make sure that effort is fully complete as far as the language. The code language in that UDO must be right and not just all this effort in streamlining a document. The language has to be right to promote sustainable, smart development. Real affordable housing options. There are a lot of things there that we need to make sure are included and revised correctly before it is just adopted and everybody thinks the UDO is done.
James Milner: You wont find anyone who is more knowledgeable of the Unified Development Ordinance than me. I use this document everyday. I am dealing with other commercial real estate brokers, developers, people and business who want to invest here in the Town of Boone but find this document so cumbersome. While I applaud the effort of current town council to rewrite it, it’s only been done after several years. This was a recommendation from the 2030 land use master plan to rewrite this document, and it only took four or five years for them to do it. I talked about incentives versus mandates. I think there are so many different ways to go about that whether it is density or parking, whether it is floor area ratios. I am a big proponent of mixed-use development and doing it right, but this controlling document needs some streamlining and it needs some revisions.
Jennifer Pena: I support the UDO. I think it something that is needed for quite some time to provide clarity for these processes for people. It may not be a perfect document, but I feel it’s been needed. I am very pleased that it is coming out hopefully in January. I am also anxious to examine it as we move forward. If there are areas that need more attention in the future, I think we should certainly revisit it on an as needed basis. But in terms of finally creating a more streamlined document that will hopefully make the process simpler for businesses and the public, I think it is something that has been needed. As well as, I also think we need documents that protect the people in Boone. There are certain things that they want. Steep slope ordinances, view sheds, and things of that nature. We need documents that protect those things to keep Boone the way it is.
Mark Templeton: Well, regarding the high school. I can shed some light on that. The high school was not exempted from the affordable task force regulations. In fact, affordable task force urged, one of the town council members, urged the task force to pass these regulations because the high school is under contract and we need to get something done. Those were the words. Three months into the due diligence period, where we had spent over $70,000, we had the game changed on us. That’s why we dropped the contract. Ok, we’ve been waiting on the UDO to be streamlined forever. Look around town. That is the evidence you need. Look at the Scottish Inn. For 15 years, we’ve been looking at that building rotting to the ground. Look at the library across the street. We are watching it rot to the ground. The reason is because we lack the leadership at Town Council. Every developer and business owner is waiting on good leadership, so they can get something done.
Andy Ball: The 2030 smart growth plan, the master plan for the Town of Boone was passed in 2009, and the next two planning retreats, the town council had we instructed town staff to begin a massive overhaul of the UDO to begin streamlining the document, making it easier to use, easier to reference, easier to cross reference. You’ve got transitional zone, incredibly complex matters in that document. It’s a big process to do in-house, but we wanted to save a little bit of money and do that. It’s been two years since we commissioned that revision. Not five. And it does accomplish the goal of beginning to integrate our smart growth strategies of walkability of mixed-use properties of more density in town, bike-ability. All those things that we want as a community and into our development ordinance. The 2030 plan is just a plan, and we have to codify and make those principles into laws before we enforce them.
Brad Harmon: Well, let’s start with the  plan. It’s just a plan. We need to relook at that constantly for it’s a guideline. For the UDO speaking as a business owner, it’s nice to have those things, but we need to remember that businesses trying to come in here need to have a fair play in this and there are a lot of things with that they try to punish businesses especially on other areas like design, coloration, those types of things and that can turn a business against you. So my thing is that needs to be completely overhauled.
Jenny Church: The UDO is a living document that we should update more frequently to meet the town’s needs and plan the future of Boone. Currently, it’s not easy to navigate and it’s not easy to cross-reference. It’s over 400 pages and there is a lot of junk in it. Stuff that you would never actually need to know and a lot of repetitive, just junk. The 2030 plan was contracted out to a non-local group that cost tons of taxpayer dollars. But they identified needs and wants of the citizens of Boone. People say they want Boone to stay a small town, but they also want it to grow. Currently, the UDO makes it very hard to build. The Waffle House that is going in is going to be known as the most expensive Waffle House in the country because it is so strict to build here. The ordinances here are ridiculous. If we want to grow, we are going to have to make it easier for people to startup.
John Mena: The UDO should have been already been done by now. I’ve been here for 25 years and people come around each election period and tell me what they are going to do, and I haven’t seen a lot really going on. I hear a lot of talk. What it takes is a shovel in the ground. We have to pick our battles here and do what we need to do. The UDO I feel is going to be too restrictive for a lot of companies to come here and really put in multi million dollars in investments when the dirt cost you so much, you can’t, there’s no way in hell you are going to be able to do any kind of affordable housing. You are going to have to go up, if you are going to be more competitive. You have to utilize the amount of ground that you’ve got. We have to build within the city limits, so we are not surrounded by The Cottages because that is exactly what’s going to happen unless we start really controlling the growth in our area and control within our city limits, all we are going to be is surrounded by The Cottages.
- Moderator: Many vacant properties exist in Boone what would seem desirable tracts and many on major roads near the center of town. What would you propose to help move these properties from eyesores to useful properties?
Quint David: Excellent, one of things we say in the green building industry is the greenest building is one that already exists. Also, if it has black mold, burn it to the ground. One of the problems that we have with some of these buildings is that they are so old and so dilapidated, you actually have an additional cost to tear down the building in the first place. Especially, with the Scottish Inn particularly, that is right in the middle of one of the worst storm water issues that we have facing our community as well, so not only would a new developer have to deal with the building itself and getting rid of it, but also the problem of constant flooding and storm water issues right there in your backyard. Working with some of our real estate partners to makes sure that these buildings are known to people to be available on the market, our planning staff to help them through some of the code issues and the people of the Town of Boone coming together and say, ‘Hey we want to make sure that our utility and storm water controls will be good so we can actually develop some of these properties.’
Matt Long: I think that you know finishing this revamping of the UDO and getting this development code language right will be the first thing, the first step that needs to be made, so that a potential developer, a potential buyer of these blight properties that we are talking about has a clear understanding of what they can and can’t do with the property. Nobody would want to buy a half-million property to then come to find out that after closing that they can’t develop on it. I think there are a lot of people waiting to see what our town leaders do with the UDO and the quote newly adopted UDO whenever that happens. I believe that we will see a rebuilding and redevelopment of some of these properties, which is as Quint says, is the foundation of green building. Building on a previously developed site or a brownfield site is a gold.
James Milner: What I would say, like some of the other candidates, it does get resolved through fixing the UDO. Like I was saying earlier, incentives versus mandates. All the UDO does is mandate you the property owner or potential property owner what you can do with your property. If we gave incentives and actually took the time at the table with a developer whether it’s planning staff or town council, what is it that you want to do? How can we help you? Let’s share the vision together. I think we would see a redevelopment of these blight properties and encourage, allowing the UDO to encourage redevelopment would make it easier as well. Just want to speak very quickly to storm water is a critical issue facing the town of Boone, and it’s my opinion that we need to provide a public-private partnership to fix the problem and not have it on the backs of property owners.
Jennifer Pena: Obviously these vacant properties are a terrible eyesore. They are unsafe. People are fed up seeing them in what should be our beautiful town. We need to be doing what we can. I like what I heard about working with developers, realtors and town planners and staff to try to come up with incentive programs and try to help these developers to create the spaces that are going to benefit our town and be lot safer, hopefully be more mixed-use development that will benefit everyone in the long run.
Mark Templeton: Well, in regards to the high school, back to the high school. When that deal was going south, you know how many times we were approached by anybody from the Town of Boone wanting to know what they could do to help us. Zero. That’s a pretty big loss to the taxpayer. We have to communicate with one another. We have to work in a culture of what can we do to help you rather than what can we do to stop you. The Honda dealership here just used a bunch of local labor and poured over a million dollars in this local economy to make that dealership to look like a gem, and you know what the guys told me who were working on the project, ‘Sometimes Mark, I feel like the Town of Boone has a personal vendetta against us.’ As long as that is pervasive attitude of Town of Boone and its employees, we are not going to see great development of run down properties because nobody wants to put forth an investment when the risks are so high. When you buy a piece of property you don’t know what you can do with it. When you buy a piece of property you don’t know whether or not the town council is going to change the rules halfway through the process.
Rennie Brantz: I think downtown restrooms would be a great idea. I am for that along with you. We agree. But this issue of dilapidated buildings is a complicated issue. I think sometimes we expect the town to move in and clean it up and start building something new, but you have to respect the rights of ownership. The Scottish Inn, for example, has been a difficult situation because of legal aspects, because of changes in ownership, because of a number of things. Permits to tear the thing down have to be required from the state, some have to be required from even the federal government. It takes a long time frequently to do this, but if we do it right, then we will have new businesses that understand the rules that understand how to become partners within our community. So I think incentives are a great idea, but we also need to be aware of the difficulties and complications that face this kind of renovation.
Andy Ball: We see blighted properties across town and reinstruct our building inspection department to go forward to inspect for any fire, building code issues and make sure property is safe for the public. We did so at Scottish Inn in the middle of town three years ago and successfully secured the property to make it safe for the area and pedestrians walking through. That property now has a contract is looking to develop fortunately. The Downtown Boone Development Association through the town provides services for folks who are looking at properties throughout downtown and list of available of storefronts in the downtown area. That’s a service town provides. Through Watauga Economic Development Commission, partnership with the town, there is an online resource that the county funds for identifying available commercial properties around the area. I am also in favor of incentives written into the UDO for redevelopment of brownfield sites. There are a lot in town and we need to do more about that. And I heard a lot about in the last two questions from candidates about UDO revisions and about how we need to make it more streamlined and make a lot of changes and suggested even the new draft may not be sufficient enough. Now is the time for public comment right now. So if you have suggestions, come into the planning department, come to a council meeting, come to a public hearing.
Brad Harmon: Well as a business owner, I can tell you first hand why a lot of businesses do depart from this area. When I was redoing my building, I kept getting told by the planning department, ‘Oh this is your last setup of what you need to do.’ When you are done, they come back in and give you a whole list of more. Then when you decide do coloration or anything, it was alienation and fight for what you were fighting for. They are anti-business right there. Straight out. We need to make it more business friendly and work with them. Olive Garden was trying to come in and I can tell you one of the reasons that may have been their ax here was of Watauga County, Boone is the only one that does a water usage fee where we have to pay 1,000 per table basically before you can pay for those tables for your restaurant.
Jenny Church: I just like to say the time for public comment is every day. Any time you have an issue you should comment every day. Any time. The only way to get the businesses and those eyesores to become useful properties is to build in incentives or create incentives. If there is not an incentive, make an incentive. If someone doesn’t want to build it because it is too expensive or too hard find a way to help them, find a way to make it work. That is the only way that things get done is when all the streams come together and they work together. I want to see the library get developed just as much as everyone else. It looks bad. It’s been burned down, boarded up. It looks ridiculous. It’s empty, and it’s in the middle of town. We shouldn’t have places like that. That’s a great location, any business could thrive there but it is too expensive to do anything about it. It is too restrictive, they shouldn’t get fined $4,000 if they want to remove a tree. There are things to create incentives.
John Mena: I know first hand that it is kind of difficult to work with the Town of Boone Planning and Inspections. I’ve worked with them remodeling five buildings in the downtown area, and also worked with them on my home, doing renovation work. What we really have to do is really streamline that whole process. I would love to have a liaison person that would help any kind of business owner or person wanting to build a house and make it a lot more user friendly and talk with them and utilize their services to help businesses open. It’s very restrictive, and we still have so many things that aren’t being taken care of as far as helping businesses out. There are vacant places downtown. There are vacant storefronts downtown. We should have a waiting line. A lot of people can’t make it in the downtown area because of our parking situation. We really need to work on the parking situation if we want to have a vibrant downtown. We’ve been asking for 30 years for restrooms downtown, and we still don’t have public restrooms downtown. So, you know, it’s difficult. Being in business in Boone.
- Moderator: In the Town of Boone long-term plan related to economic development, it states area residents support different and more expanded economic activity only if it increases the opportunity for stable, higher-wage jobs and enhances the quality of life for existing residents. What specifically would you propose to do to accomplish this type of development?
Matt Long: I guess it goes back business owners being to be profitable, being able to operate businesses in the town of Boone. I think it kind of circles all the way back to what we’ve talked about being a town that wants to promote business and allow business owners to succeed. I think incentives like we’ve talked about to promote new businesses. I think some of the impact fees that business owners have to absorb are excessive. I think all circles back to being a town that wants to encourage business, so that those business owners are profitable and can pay a fair wage. It also circles back to being offer affordable housing for workforce. So I guess those two things would be ways to improve the quality of life. That was a long question and I don’t know if I answered it all correctly.
James Milner: I think we can all recognize the economic development has been at a standstill for a long time. We will not another Appalachian State University. But for a second imagine the Town of Boone without ASU and its impact that it has on the town. I think we have to find businesses that are wiling to invest here inside the town of Boone and personally, I want to go out and recruit employers that will fit within our character and our high quality of life here in Boone. The tech industry, the health care, these are growing expanding industries where they can utilize the resources of ASU and the people who want to make a commitment to live here in the town of Boone. I am pro-business and I recognize that this town backbone is the small business owner, so I want to make it easier not just on new businesses but on small businesses as well.
Jennifer Pena: I think we definitely need to ease some of these tensions with opening new businesses and inviting new development into Boone. Certainly, I like the idea of liaisons who are knowledgeable but also approachable and able to work with new groups interested in coming in. There are several aspects that need to be considered here. We need watch what we are doing with our water intake. Water needs to be available for these businesses but also maintained locally. We also need to make sure we are looking towards mixed-use development. We don’t need more things like student housing at this point. We have a surplus of about 2,000 apartments right now for students. We need to make sure that we have residencies that are affordable to families and young professionals. Dealing with these other issues can make Boone more attractive and inviting for more businesses and developers.
Mark Templeton: I think the first thing to think about is we often here shop local, buy local. We need to start thinking build local. The simple fact is large developers who come to this area whether building Cracker Barrel or the Cottages seldom use local tradesman. We have carpenters, electricians and plumbers who are the best in their trade but can’t even get a bid in with these larger developers. Look at the other side of that, you’ve got local developers who almost exclusively use local professionals. So the extent to which we can repair the relationship with local people, the better off we are all going to be.
Rennie Brantz: I think we need to use our resources. I agree with a number of things people suggested. One is the DBDA and encouraging the DBDA to reach out and recruit and provide information for new businesses in town. The Chamber itself is also another tool in this whole drive to improve and increase the number of high-paying jobs. Again, I think ASU offers lots of opportunities in terms of developing high-tech industries or companies, small companies. I think it is really a training ground for young, aspiring professionals who want to develop, who want to stay here in this beautiful area and want to develop businesses of their own. I think there are resources in our communities. If we can encourage and support those resources, I think it will help.
Quint David: So we already have a great resource with the EDC with their business incubator programs to get some of these small businesses, local folks to start their own companies. As far as getting higher-paying jobs for the long term, which is very important, increasing not just the quantity but the quality. I work for engineer, so I will bore you with some numbers real quick. Our population has grown over 30 percent in the last 10 years, so Boone is still growing. We’ve doubled since about 1970, so our business community has been increasing very, very quickly. There are growing pains associated with that. If we want to attract some higher-paying jobs actually some great suggestions in that 2030 plan to partner maybe with ASU for things like a research park to try to bring in more research oriented, I guess, computer type developments to an area like Boone and why would they come here? Of course because we have beautiful mountains and all kinds of resources for them to enjoy.
Andy Ball: We do need to attract higher wage jobs to the area and that starts I think with what I think is the town’s central role in terms of business relations, which is creating a healthy and vibrant attractive community that is desirable for relocation for everybody. In 2012, we made the U.S. News list in Top 10 places to retire, great accomplishment for community. In 2007, Money magazine named us Top 10 places to live. ASU has gotten many, many accolades over the years for its programming. We need to do more to attract higher paying jobs, and we do that through investing in our community, infrastructure and our local needs.
Brad Harmon: Well, I have been talking with some banks and other business leaders here on ways we can bring in more businesses, and I have a couple up my sleeve right now that I am considering that would replace TRW and Shadowline and I want to see about bringing those in here. Those types of industries that I am thinking about will not only require people who do have a degree but other people who just have the high school diploma. We have to bring all types of businesses in here to let them develop and have a chance here in our community. I want to work with the community and hear what they have to say, but I think we have to open that door for all businesses to come in here but we have to have a town that works great with businesses and talks them and helps them instead of hindering them. Talking to other businesses, I get to hear that all the time up on King Street.
Jenny Church: I think he said the answer to the question in the question. I think the best thing we can do is utilize the EDC more and take more direction from them and give them more leeway. We could seek more businesses out and seek more avenues to bring jobs here. We can ask businesses, ‘Hey, I got a great spot. I have a college here. I’ve got graduates. We can do this. Come here. This is why you should build in Boone. It really is as simple sometimes you can’t wait for people to come to you. You have to go find them. You have to seek answers to your problems. The only way that solutions will come is if we find them. They don’t always come find us.
John Mena: We do have to absolutely go out and seek companies to come in to our area. Whether they build inside or right outside the city limits. I think this area as a lot to offer, especially ASU with the amount of kids graduating from there, looking for jobs. I see them all the time they want to stay in the area but can’t find a decent paying job. ECR Software company on Howard Street they employee over 70 people right here, I think about a hundred throughout the nation and they pay great wages. They’ve got benefits and they hire mostly exclusively from ASU. The owner Pete Catoe graduated from ASU and wanted to stay here and raise his family here. This is perfect place to raise your family. I think you can go out and actively recruit companies to come here. Boutique hardware and software companies would be a perfect fit for our area because we don’t’ need a huge amount of infrastructure as far as roads and all of that stuff goes.
- Moderator: What are your views concerning the Daniel Boone Parkway to relieve traffic congestion in the Town of Boone?
James Milner: I feel there needs to be some type of solution to get traffic through the town. This idea of taking, there are a lot of different ideas, this one idea of taking it on the backside of Village of Meadowview going out around the old high school property back out 105 is the most viable in my opinion. I would want to do some more investigating on that because I don’t really know a whole lot about the Daniel Boone Parkway.
Jennifer Pena: I certainly think that anything that takes away from the traffic that is going into downtown or to our local businesses is a real problem. We need to make sure that if we do consider something like this that it does not negatively impact downtown. I think that is something I have heard form several people who are concerned about potentially bypassing that area to alleviate some of the traffic flow. There are traffic studies that are being put into practice right now and I would be very interested in seeing what they say and talking further with local business owners as well as residents in areas that could be impacted by this.
Mark Templeton: Honestly, that the rate that the DOT works, I would have to ask my great great grandchildren how it turns out. But my personal opinion, Boone is the epicenter of this area, and to large extent, people are coming here; they are not going through Boone to go to Bristol or to Greensboro. They are coming to Boone to visit Appalachian State to watch a ballgame or see the leaves turn, and so I am not sure the effectiveness of a parkway for easing traffic congestion. I think that even if it was effective, it would be a long-time off before we would see any real changes or benefits to this community.
Rennie Brantz: Nobody has mentioned a fact that if there was a Daniel Boone Parkway somebody would have to pay for it. You are talking about many millions of dollars and I don’t know where that money would come from. I don’t think it’s a good idea. We need to address this traffic problem as best we can using perhaps the AppalCART and new routes for that, biking paths, walking sidewalks, more across town. We need to try to deal with a problem that isn’t going to be resolved. It’s one of those issues we are going to face. If Boone had just built four-lane roads along King Street in 1900 or something we wouldn’t be. But that wasn’t what Boone was. We’ve changed a lot and sometimes we can’t get away from the past. It haunts us no matter what we do.
Quint David: I feel about the Daniel Boone Parkway the same away I feel about the water issue. I worry about it because if you build more highways or build more water, you may end up just increasing the traffic in the area. What we may be doing with this bypass, we open up all these other areas that right now are neighborhoods and forests and open up more areas up for development and we also possibly worsen the traffic problem. It’s going to be very important to spend our tax dollars wisely and going by the plans that we already have as part of our 2030 plan, we already have some pretty extensive plans for improving our existing roads and traffic patterns. We already have great plans for bicycle lanes and walkways. But our problem is our own success. People like to come to Boone. There will always be traffic because people will always want to come here. How can we work together and come to a solution and make people want to come back?
Matt Long: Like everyone else, I would not be fore a Daniel Boone Parkway bypass from 321 to 105. I would like to see all that effort and resources put towards something else like sidewalks within the Town of Boone so pedestrians can safely navigate throughout our town. That is all.
Andy Ball: The Daniel Boone Parkway proposed project does route traffic south of town and totally bypasses the Town of Boone with access points on 321 at the Elk Motel and then on N.C. 105 towards the intersection of 105 bypass. I was not in favor of this project years ago when mentioned, and still not in favor. I actually had to vote against the comprehensive transportation plan about three moths ago because this project was the highlight and featured in the plan. It may decrease the congestion in town if we can find ways to mitigate that. We can find ways to address parking, congestion and traffic. The bottom line on the parkway is it routes traffic around Boone. Whether stopping for gas, [inaudible], lunch, a show or whatever you are shopping for, we want your tax revenue. We talk about solutions of the town to increase its tax base and this is going to kill the tax base, so I don’t support the project at all.
Brad Harmon: That is an interesting subject because the town of Boone has always had a traffic problem ever since I was a small kid. There is no real solution to that but I think there are ideas that could be talked about but the bottom line is we are always going to have a problem with traffic. We have to deal with it. I don’t want to take and put a parkway in here that bypasses it because it will take away from revenue from downtown. People are coming here to Mast General Store, F.A.R.M. Café, Mountaineer Mania, ASU, things like that. They will not take that road. I’ve seen other proposals that would even take north of Boone. That was 25 – 30 years ago. I am not in favor of it. I want us to see our money going to the center of town.
Jenny Church: I don’t know that people wouldn’t still stop in Boone if you are going to a ballgame or going to a Mast Store, you are probably going to do those things because they are probably on your bucket list. But I don’t necessarily support that route or those access points because they are not near the center of town and they are not where we want you to spend your tax dollars. Not a whole lot on the 105 Bypass and not much by the Elk Motel other than Walgreens. Not sure that would be a good access point. I do know there are a lot of transportation experts in our community. We have a lot at ASU. They teach classes on it. There are business owners downtown. There is one that owns a local grocery store downtown. He has a PHD in transportation, and he talks to me about it to me every time I stop by his store. There are people we can ask and there are ways to find solutions to our traffic problems other than maybe alleviating some of our tax revenue.
John Mena: I am not in favor of it because I do a lot of bicycling around the county and I don’t like to be on a four-lane highway with cars going by at 80 mph. It’s kind of scary. But I do think we can do a lot of things here in the town to alleviate some of the congestion. First and foremost is sustainable building inside the city limits. Get more people closer to town, you got less cars you have to worry about. We have to also really work with our bus systems and bike lanes and sidewalks. We need to encourage more healthy transportation instead of everybody getting in their car and having to drive into town and trying to get a parking place and then getting a ticket. I am not in favor of four-laning everything and six-laning everything. We have enough of that already. We have a six lane highway coming into a two lane town. We need to worry about putting these people somewhere else and making their transgression through town a lot easier
- Moderator: In light of projected 10-20-100 year flood maps, what are your thoughts on surface water mitigation in the Town along U.S. 321?
Andy Ball: Surface water mitigation: We have had a serious and severe flooding in the community as you all are aware in the past couple years. It has led to injuries and more severe incidents in the town. I started a conversation with local business owners about eight months ago for starting a community conversation about surface water mitigation and what we do about this serious problem in our area. We have more impervious surface area than ever in town precipitated by development in downtown area and at ASU and we don’t have enough catchment systems, enough retention pools and enough infrastructure system built in to our storm water management plan that was recently revisited in 2007 to do that kind of catchment, to create this underground facilities so it can catch the water and retain for a while and release it gradually. It’s a conversation need to start in the community. It’s not a cheap solution. It will be an investment on the town’s part any track we go.
Brad Harmon: Well, as growing up I got to see a lot of flooding because my grandparents had a home on highland avenue, so I got to see that an awful lot. So, we have had some serious injuries and one death that happened right there near McDonald’s there with the child. We are going to have a hard time with this and we do need to work this out. It’s going to take time for us to get the correct information from the department of engineering and see what can possibly do. But I do agree we need to utilize storm drainage into that that could possibly even help us with our water situation that we are trying to have a solution thereof. We need to reevaluate this area and make sure we don’t’ have those things happening again.
Jenny Church: we need better drainage systems. We need better communications between the agencies that deal with flooding and water and the town of Boone. The best thing that I know to do about it is to just find ways to innovate around it. Start a conversation now before it gets worse. We don’t want to keep putting Bandaids on gunshot wounds. We just need to things to get better. The only way for things to get better is if we deal with it now. We don’t need a project that is going to take 10 years, five years or seven years. We are going to need a project that we can settle on what we are going to do about it. This is how we are going to do it. These are the experts we are going to do. This is how much this is going to cost and we need to do it quickly because rain is going to keep falling, so we are going to have these problems forever until we deal with them.
John Mena: A lot of the property owners along that corridor have been very very dissatisfied with the amount of help they are getting from the town. What I am hearing from them is that they are basically putting it on to them. It’s your property you deal with it. But it’s all of our problem because we have as we’ve grown created more and more parking lots and apartment complexes and widened roads and I can remember when I first moved here. Rivers Street was a two-lane road, now it’s four-lane road. 105 was a two-lane road, now it’s a four lane road. Six lanes going up the extension there. That’s a lot of water. I’ve been caught in the rain on my bicycle going along Rivers Street. It’s like riding down the New River. So we have to really look at that and all of us have to get in touch with Army Corps of Engineers and whatever agencies that we can to get in here and really help out with that. It’s all of our problems.
Jennifer Pena: This is obviously a real critical problem that hasn’t any good solutions. It has been discussed extensively over the years. I think we need a separate authority that will handle floodwater mitigation. We have had some discussions with local business owners in the flood plane, who are desperate for a resolution to this problem. I am glad that the dialogue is continuing and ramping up at this point. I think it’s up to the town and planners to get together with these business owners that finds a solution that works for them. We definitely need to have them at the table for these conversations.
Mark Templeton: I think it’s a very important issue that we’ve put off long enough. I think when you are talking about storm water issues and development, obviously you are also talking about the health of our streams. A lot of people come to this area to fish, go floating down the river … like to bicycle along the road down in Todd. But to the extent that we protect that resource and we make sure we are good stewards of the environment and we need to be. As far as a solution to that, it’s going to take a huge collaborative effort. We will likely work with Army Corps of Engineers, talk with DENR and other government-related agencies and try to get some guidance on where to start on that process.
Rennie Brantz: The problem’s been here a long time and we’ve discussed it on council for several years, and I think at one point we were waiting for the state of North Carolina to issue a mandate on storm water. But that hasn’t come forward and I think we are going to have to take the lead on this and establish a storm water authority that begins to explore some kind of better approach than we’ve had so far, and I think that is in the works and unfortunately it’s going to be an increase in taxes if we go that route. But I don’t know how else we can undertake to resolve this issue of constant flooding that’s been going on here and seems to be getting worse.
Quint David: I am going to second Rennie’s opinion about starting a storm water authority this is a serious issue. There have been deaths associated with it. It’s a horrible burden on the property owners in that area as they are the ones responsible for the culvert blowouts like the Scottish Inn that was mentioned. Would you want to buy a property where you have to pay for 300,000 worth of storm water mitigation issues? Part of the UDO is very important in preventing that currently, a big storm water section in there. Of course, 20 years ago that didn’t exist. We ended up paving paradise, and now we have bicycle rivers in the middle of the road. Also, our 2030 plan does include that comprehensive plan to do storm water management and I think that’s something we should move to the front of the list. However, then the question comes up with who pays and how much does that cost and again because our budget is running so thin, we will have to create a list of needs and wants, and I really want this to be on the needs list for something we have to do.
Matt Long: I think our town needs be the leader in a collaborative effort with property owners, business owners, state, federal agencies the town needs to take the lead here and help these individuals having financial hardships every time their business or property floods out. We are having public safety issues with these flash floods. We are polluting streams and rivers with the runoff from these floods, so I do think it’s an issue that, we’ve known that Kraut Creek, 321 has been a flood problem in the past, and I don’t really think the town has ever put it on the forefront and it sounds like everybody here is interested in doing that and I think that is exactly what needs to be done.
James Milner: You know I don’t want to discuss this anymore. I want to come and provide a solution. I think the solution is a comprehensive plan as I said that addresses both 321 specifically, Clement down to Meadowview Drive out 105 . Those of you that know me, know I serve on the Board of Adjustment. I am hearing case after case after case of where these property owners are wanting an abatement of their fines because of the UDO and the code after spending $30,000 to $60,000 plus. It’s just not right. We do need to provide a solution. I agree with Matt said that I think it’s a town, federal and state and even the property owners. Everyone has a stake in the proposition. Everyone has a buy-in per se. The only thing I wanted to add is if capital improvements are so important why was it stripped away from the budget that was passed this town council.
- Moderator: Share your vision on how you would like the town and ASU work together in the future. What major issues do you see htat need to be addressed and how would you work toward solutions?
Mark Templeton: I think Appalachian is most likely the most under utilized resource that we have in Boone. From the students that go there from the programs that they offer and the thousands of dollars that we waste every year on consulting firms that we could be subbing that out to college students. That would be a great start. I would like to see an internship program started at Appalachian to get students involved in our local economy. A lot of the students who go to Appalachian want to live here and I want to give them a reason to stay here and start their business here. That all starts with relationships. The best we can do foster those relationships, the better off we’ll be.
Rennie Brantz: ASU is a great university. Having been there employed there for all these years, I know that and can say that the opportunities, ASU has been a motor force for development in Boone and has a brought expertize. Maybe not as much as suggested that we could handle every problem that comes along, every study that needs to be done. However, there is a lot that is being done by faculty members on ASU for the town of Boone, serving on committees, serving on the town council. The students here at Appalachian through organization like ACT, literally thousands of students do service projects that benefit the people of Boone, the community. This is an enormous asset. I think we are in better shape in our communications through the town and the university now. The fire truck that Andy mentioned was an important symbol of that kind of progress and cooperation between the university and the town.
Quint David: Because I used to work for ASU and part of my job was actually outreach and education about renewable energy, I got to spend a lot of time going through ASU and different groups and meetings and talking about his issue and talking about how ASU could work with the town. I think both groups are interested in working together and partnering on a lot more than just ladder trucks and possibly a lot more than a ski lift that goes to the top of the mountain like Gatlinburg or something. During my time there, there was several students doing studies on how much solar could fit on the roofs of all the buildings in Boone. We were doing studies on Kraut Creek constantly. I am not sure if I would trust students to do the engineering for the water intake. We could certainly, we have a great GIS department that could certainly map out a lot of things and get a lot of the preliminary work done for many of our items. They are a great resource and we should continue to use them and continue to brainstorm some ideas to further that partnership.
Matt Long: Well I am glad to hear that our relationship is as strong as it has ever been. I think it could still be improved upon. I think that our town needs to show the university that we do want to be a partner. I think there are opportunities to allow the university to be a very valuable resource for the town. We heard a lot of those opportunities already. Continued committee participation from faculty and students, continued internships if they do exist with the students and the town. A partnership with the university for events, for festivals, for energy and resource conservation efforts, community improvement efforts. I think that the town can continue to show university that they want to be a partners and want to work with them, we will be able to reap some of those benefits.
James Milner: The keyword is relationship, and there is a established relationship that has to continue to be cultivated. In order for that relationship to be cultivated, it takes leadership and expertise. It takes someone willing to sit down at the table and say what’s good is for you, is also good for me. However, we need to keep open lines of communication and listen to that other partner whenever they speak and not do all the talking ourselves and not make them jump through so many hoops. I just also want to speak briefly on development on campus. While there is core main campus development, it is important to work with ASU to where development affects transitional zones and work with them to mitigate any negative impacts.
Jennifer Pena: Well Appalachian is the reason I fell in love with this place and the reason I came here in the first place. The love of Boone is the reason I am still here. These two entities are symbiotic. They live and die by each other. I think it is fantastic that we can relate so well to each other. I don’t think there is anything better than a game day Saturday in the fall walking through downtown. I think it is great. I really agree with a lot of what other folks have said about working closely with the students and faculty and the resources available there. I am glad we have interns downtown. I just think we need to maintain and nurture that relationship in the future.
Andy Ball: The ASU town has never been stronger in my opinion. Last year the town and ASU partnered on a ladder extension truck, on a purchase on a fire truck to reach the highest dormitory on the ASU campus. That was a great example of partnership between the two entities. The ASU student government president does serve as an ex-officio member of the town council. We encourage those dialogues often. I’ve served on university committee for years working with administrative officials and some of the toughest issues the university faces. I think those conversations are ongoing right now. We have a lot of work to do on this. We’ve done a lot so far. The town and gown have a partnership committee formed between the ASU Office of External Affairs and the town to approve relations. We also have internship programs in town manager’s office and also in the P&I Department among others.
Brad Harmon: Well, being on the DBDA board, I know we do one person who was a consultant or person who is on the board who speaks for ASU. I know that ASU and Boone does work together. I think there is always room for improvement. I want to see more involvement with students. I know there is involvement with the students with the town, but I can always hear of us doing more with the students and hearing what they have to say. They are the next generation who will be here, and they may have a solution that we haven’t thought of, so I want to work with the students and ASU in cooperation on more projects here.
Jenny Church: The Town of Boone likes to contract out studies for every decision we make, which is a good thing because it is good to be informed. But we always contract those out to other states and agencies when we have the experts here in town. To remain a professor, you have to produce research, diaries, journals, you have to stay current and published. We should let the planning department and the students in the master’s programs and professionals already here that experience Boone on a daily basis conduct those studies because they will have Boone’s best interests at heart because they live here and work here. They can do the study for a lot cheaper than $35,000 or $40,000 or whatever it is that we are charging and the students can get real life experience in the area they are attending school.
John Mena: $250,000 it cost us for the Boone 2030. Nice piece of paper, and I think it is great, but we went off the mountain and spent that money with somebody else and I think we could have gotten ASU and their departments to work on this whole thing also in conjunction with town council in conjunction with building and inspections. I think we could have done all this in house and got 25 or 30 different proposals and been able to pick and choose what we wanted to work on and then get the engineers to work on things and kick it off. Somebody always has to pull the trigger on something and it’s not easy to sit down and see all these hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent outside the city limits when it can be spent inside the city limits. As a businessperson, you want to get the most bang for your buck each and every time. I think utilizing these students is imperative to the growth of our town. I had a woman sitting in my chair, getting her master’s in planning, and I asked her what she was doing her master’s thesis on. This was something I was thinking about year’s ago. It was above ground trolley system, and to get students in and out of the city limits.
- Moderator: Regarding Howard Street: You know the only change taking place in 22 years is a one-way road from Depot Street to Water Street. As a businessperson in this community, I am frustrated that there is an awful lot of talk regarding and not a lot of action. Comments?
Andy Ball: Ten years ago the town council recognized a safety need for pedestrians and an issue of congestion in the center of downtown on Howard Street. A study was commissioned and completed that involved the two-lane stretch from Appalachian to Water Street along Howard. It involved water and sewer improvements. It involved streetscape improvements, lighting, benches, new pavement and raised sidewalk and all of those amenities. We then sought ought the engineering and contract and sought out the easements for the property owners to give a couple feet of their project to help out on the project’s completion. To date, after about six or seven years of trying, at least four or five attempts we have gotten 11 of the 22 easements signed over and that is not enough buy in from the Howard Street property owners to make this project happen. In that time materials cost have increased, the cost of the project and estimate have increased, so we are looking at $5 million to $7 million project for two blocks. We have a $22 million budget annually, it isn’t feasible to do in one year in one special project, have to finance that project over time. There hasn’t been a feasible way especially without having Howard Street property owners on board to give this project underway.
Brad Harmon: Being a business owner in downtown, I know about the Howard Street program and what it’s safety issues are, especially with being on the downtown Boone Development Association and hearing that and talking about it. I am not in favor of changing the way they are wanting to do it as a one-way street, and now they want to snake it through Howard Street and make it look more European. The reason I want to keep it as a two-lane road is as the new Appalachian Theatre coming inline, we are going have trucks coming in and out of there whenever they do a performance, live concert, or play, those trucks are going to have to have either way of coming in and ASU has trucks coming in. I think what we need to do is increase a walkway for the students, but we’ve got to keep that traffic flowing because a lot that goes in right between there.
Jenny Church: I agree that there is a lot of activity so a lot of people notice that it is kind of rundown and we kind of feel it when you walk through it. It’s just a slummy area of downtown. It’s one of those problems where there isn’t an easy solution. There are a lot of problems like cost and the fact that it is busy and we are going to have to have trucks in and out of there. Do you make it walker friendly or do you make it vehicle friendly? Sometimes you can’t do both. That is something we are just going to have to explore more. If there isn’t funding, we will have to find funding. There are grants, there are incentives. We could sell bonds. We could do something that promotes ownership so that everybody would want to participate to help solve the problem.
John Mena: It hasn’t been only five or seven years. It’s been 25 years, and one of the reasons I am here. The Howard Street project in 1988 December when I first moved up here were talking about it being unsightly and unsafe and it’s still unsightly and unsafe after 25 years. Mr. Ball said it was $5 to $7 million project and this cost has gone up and up and up. I don’t know where we got that $5 to $7 million because the whole of the 421 project only cost $18 million with six lanes of highway and buying up all the property. I don’t know where he is getting $5 to $7 million unless they are doing it with spoons. They are taking out 38 parking spaces also. Parking is very, very important to the downtown area since we don’t’ have enough of it. Taking out 38 parking spaces, and again they went off the mountain to find designers to come up here and look at it who had no idea what we really wanted and they came up with the most beautiful design and we can’t afford it. You have to do what you can afford.
Rennie Brantz: I don’t know if any of you were downtown last Friday with the first Friday and all the people and the Appalachian Theatre were having tours through the theatre and all sorts of musicians on the street, the jones House was open for an exhibit. It was a vibrant, lively exciting downtown Friday evening. It seems to me if we could complete that Howard Street project, which I have supported from the very beginning despite everything and all the obstacles facing it, we could expand the vibrancy of our downtown enormously. Maybe it is a more modest kind of project. I think that has opportunities for our town, for improving the cultural life in our downtown area.
Quint David: That question actually has some interesting personal story for me as well. I have been living in and around King Street for almost 10 years now. I have seen it improve slightly and change a little bit. But it has stayed largely the same. There has been lot more events happening downtown and a lot more great things going on. But in a project I was working on recently, remodeling one of the buildings, – not sure if I can talk about it – there may or may not have been a very leaky sewer pipe going under one of these buildings. When it comes to an infrastructure question once again, we want to increase the walkability and park-ability and the ability for people to come and visit downtown and spend money at our local businesses, but when we have to replace sewer pipes and roads, we need to make sure we know how much that is going to cost and that our local citizens and businesses are willing to pay for that cost. If we are not going to raise taxes or not see our two million dollars, I would love to see it happen, but not sure how to see it through yet.
Matt Long: If the numbers are accurate $5 to $7 million and not money to do it, then I think that current plan or design should be shelved. Maybe we should get the Appalachian State students to put together some different proposals for us and we could look at those studies. I do feel like that the question that has to be answered. If current design is feasible or not and if it’s not, alter that plan to make it more affordable to allow for the necessary infrastructure improvements that have to take place, that should take place prior to the finish. I would be in favor of revisiting the design and trying to come up with a solution that makes sense to allow for the town to afford to finally make this happen. It has so much potential. I think something would be better than nothing.
James Milner: I would just say regarding Howard Street, it’s more of the same. It’s just another example of how something gets drug out over a long period of time without something we the citizens of the town of Boone are happy with. It goes back to a critical point that I have talked about a lot tonight – relationships. The question needs to be asked why are these property owners downtown not on board? What can we do to sit down with them and ask them what will it take to either acquire the right of way or move this project forward if that is the obstacle, let’s find a solution for this problem. I love downtown. I am all about walking downtown. I want it to be safe. That is very important, but if you remove parking spaces like John was saying, you have to provide solutions of where these people will park. I think the town really needs to consider, and I would be in favor of providing, a more suitable solution for parking in downtown.
Jennifer Pena: I definitely agree with the idea something needs to be done to this area. Something needs to be done sooner than later. That said going through committees, going through councils, it takes time. It’s frustrating. It’s annoying. People want action, and I think we want to do the best that we can once we are on the town council in a timely manner but we also have to take care of the issues like potential sewer problems, safety issues and things of that sort. I would definitely be in favor of looking back at the proposal of this area and talking to business owners and revisiting this and see if we can come to some better solution that would at least alleviate some of the concerns with the area now and maybe in the more long term make it want everybody would really be happy about seeing.
Mark Templeton: Parking is the foundation for any vibrant downtown area. And without it, it really doesn’t make any difference what we do with Howard Street. Saying that, we have spent tens of thousands of dollars studying Howard Street in the downtown area, and all we have to show for it is plastic cones. I don’t think there is one individual in this town that would come up that solution, but you put a bunch of people in a think tank or committee or have a study and that’s what we end up with. Sometimes government needs to back out from the question and ask the local business owners, what do they think, involve them in the process, we haven’t got the easements we needed. We need to talk to these people, ask what they need in exchange for these easements. I know they are willing to work with us. I have heard from them. The question is do we have people who can talk, can build a relationship, can broker a deal. I think I can do that for the town of Boone.