Blowing Rock officials debate rock for walls
On Tuesday evening, members of the Blowing Rock Town Council and the public wrestled with the choices they must soon make for the retaining walls that the North Carolina Department of Transportation will soon be constructing as part of the ongoing U.S. 321 widening project.
Rock retaining walls, some of them more than 50 feet high, will be placed next to the new four-lane highway at various places between the Green Park Inn and Tanger Shoppes on the Parkway.
The walls will not really be made of rock. Instead, they will be faux rock walls made of concrete and painted to look like stone and mortar. The NCDOT used a similar process for retaining walls along the side of the new U.S. 421 project in Deep Gap a decade ago.
“We have been working with Mike Pettijohn, head of the DOT for this area, to make this decision,” said Blowing Rock Town Planner Kevin Rothrock. “He wants to work with us.”
During the discussion at the town council meeting, some members of the public expressed their concerns about how some rock walls’ mortar secretes white fluid that runs down and stains the wall.
There was also a concern, expressed by Commissioner Tommy Klutz about how the faux rock walls will look if they are damaged, possibly by vehicles, and have to be patched.
During the meeting, Rothrock presented a PowerPoint presentation showing the commissioners options for retaining wall designs, including one created specifically for the U.S. 321 widening project. Various stone shapes, sizes and colors were discussed, as was the question of grout versus dry stacking.
“Currently, Blowing Rock is about 50-50 on the grout/dry-stack question,” said Town Manager Scott Hildebran.
According to Rothrock, the town could have as many as three choices of design from the DOT, including one custom design created specifically for Blowing Rock.
The town council unanimously approved a motion considering a design called “1305 Vista Drystack” from Customrock Formlines, a company located in Wisconsin.
The DOT is working separately with the Blowing Rock Country Club on the design that will be used on the U.S. 321 retaining walls that will be placed between the club’s golf course and the new four-lane.
In other town council news, the commissioners unanimously approved the voluntary annexation of Blue Ridge Vistas, a 31-unit condominium building on 3.03 acres on U.S. 321 South. The property is losing its well due to the U.S. 321 widening project and owners wish to hook up to the town water system. It has its own septic system and does not wish to use the town’s sewer services. Blue Ridge Vistas is currently zoned R-20 residential by Caldwell County.
During Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners discussed whether the property could re-zoned as a general business district. That would allow condominium owners to rent their units for short-term rentals of less than 30 days. As the commissioners noted, even if it was not re-zoned, condo owners would still be allowed to rent out their units for short-term rentals due to the grandfather clause.
The commissioners discussed a possible 3 percent occupancy tax that would go to the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority.
Caldwell County is currently imposing a 3 percent occupancy tax on the condos. The state allows as much as a 6 percent occupancy tax on condos, motel and hotel rooms.
Commissioner Tommy Klutz asked that the new ordinance agreeing to the voluntary annexation include wording that would make the owners of Blue Ridge Vistas responsible for expenses if they ask to be hooked up to the Blowing Rock sewer system in the future.
The commissioners also heard an update on the Town Comprehensive Plan Survey that was mailed to residents this month. Residents can either fill out the survey online, using passwords mailed to them, or request a paper copy from the town. Some residents at the meeting said that they had not received their survey yet.
According to Rothrock, approximately 20 percent of the survey had been filled out. The deadline for filling out the survey has been extended to Oct. 30.
The commissioners unanimously approved consideration of adding an additional section to the Mountain Crest, LLCV contract on Phase III of the Downtown Streetscape Improvement project. The next phase is approximately 48-foot in length and will include improved sidewalks, gutters and ramps in the downtown area of Main Street.
The commissioners also approved consideration of the municipality participating in the Community Development Block Grant Scattered Site Housing Program in Watauga County.
Administered by the North Carolina Department of Commerce, the program is designed to assist very low income homeowners.
The commissioners also approved the time of this year’s Christmas parade in downtown Blowing Rock. The parade will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 24, on Main Street.