WATAUGA COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
JOINT MEETING WITH THE BOONE TOWN COUNCIL
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2020
The Watauga County Board of Commissioners held a joint meeting with the Boone Town Council at 6:30 P.M. on Monday, February 24, 2020, at the Agricultural Conference Center, Boone, North Carolina.
Those present were:
Watauga County: Chairman John Welch, Commissioners: Larry Turnbow, Charlie Wallin, and Perry Yates, as well as County Attorney, Anthony di Santi, County Manager Deron Geouque, and Clerk to the Board, Anita Fogle.
[Clerk’s Note: Watauga County Vice-Chairman Billy Kennedy was absent due to a prior commitment.]
Town of Boone: Mayor, Rennie Brantz; Mayor Pro-Tem, Loretta Clawson; Council Members: Sam Furgiuele, Dustin Hicks, Nancy LaPlaca, and Connie Ulmer; Town Attorney, Allison Meade; Town Manager, John Ward; Town Clerk, Nicole Harmon; and Planning and Inspections Director, Jane Shook.
Mayor Brantz, followed by Chairman Welch, called the joint meeting to order at 6:30 P.M.
Commissioner Yates, seconded by Commissioner Turnbow, moved to add a closed session at the end of the Watauga County Commissioners’ agenda for Attorney/Client Matters, per G. S. 143-318.11(a)(6) to discuss the Town of Boone vs. Watauga County lawsuit.
Mayor Brantz asked County Manager Geouque to begin discussions. County Manager Geouque shared that the County bought the Turner House property for the purpose of creating parking spaces. The County had once owned the Turner House property (which was originally part of the Ginn property). After turning the upper portion of the Ginn lot into parking the County sold the lower portion, including the house, to Mr. Turner who used the house for his law offices. When the property became available, the County purchased it (now referred to as the Turner property) for parking which would include the demolition of the house to accommodate for the maximum number of parking spaces.
Mayor Brantz asked if Mr. Eric Plaag, who has served as a historical consultant for the Town of Boone, could share a presentation in regards to the history of the house on the Turner property.
County Manager Geouque stated that the Board of Commissioners had previously been briefed by Mr. Plaag; however, Council Member LaPlaca stated that she would like to hear the presentation.
Mr. Plaag shared the following: The Turner House has historical significance. It is not currently on the historic register; however, Mr. Plaag stated that his professional opinion was that the Turner House is historically significant with minor changes. It was built in 1926 by Oscar and Sue Hardin who lived in the house until their untimely death. The Brown’s, Author and Clara, then lived in the home from 1952-1990. In 1997 the State decide not to add the home to the historical register due, in part, to the vinyl/aluminum siding, enclosure of porches, and other upkeep issues. Mr. Plaag stated that the home would have architectural and historical significance when restored.
When asked if it was important for the house to stay at the current location, Mr. Plaag replied that houses that had been moved were not usually accepted in the historical registry. Mr. Plaag stated that there have been exceptions, such as a Frank Lloyd Wright home that had been moved but was still listed. Mr. Plaag stated that, if the Turner House were moved, it would probably never be listed with the registry.
Lengthy discussion was held in regards to the house on the Turner property and its possible historical significance to the Town of Boone.
County Manager Geouque stated that the Turner property was purchased with the intent to gain forty to fifty parking spaces and then subsequently gain fifty-plus additional parking spaces by extending the Ginn parking lot over the Turner property parking lot.
Town Manager Ward presented the possibility of the Town of Boone and County working together to construct a parking deck at the Town’s Queen Street parking lot which could possibly benefit both Courthouse and Library patrons. A parking deck on that lot could potentially double its size from one hundred to two hundred spaces.
Chairman Welch stated that the Turner property was purchased to use as parking not to restore the house. Discussion was held regarding the timeline of the Town creating a Historic District and the purchase of the house.
After discussion, Town Attorney Meade suggested the County sell the Turner House property and discuss parking options with the Town of Boone.
Town Manager Ward stated that the Queen Street lot could double in size. The Town of Boone could provide the property and a business model could be used where a third party would rent spaces in the deck with a certain number of spaces per jurisdiction.
Commissioner Wallin was concerned for elderly citizens who may need access to County buildings. Town Manager Ward suggested flipping current parking lots for public parking areas and have staff parking in the Queen Street lot.
Discussion turned to the County’s intent to demolish the Turner House. The County has a Town of Boone issued demolition permit for the property which County Manager Geouque stated that the County had to show activity by the date of June 3, 2020, or the permit expires. County Manager Geouque stated that the County solicited for someone to purchase the house and move it to another location. No offers were made. In the meantime, the County still needs additional parking.
County Manager Geouque stated that the County’s primary parking needs were between 8:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. Monday through Friday with no demand on Saturdays. Town Manager Ward stated that the Town’s highest use of parking was on the weekends with the trends in downtown businesses changing toward higher end restaurants and the different types of shops opening as well as people staying to attend the newly renovated Appalachian Theatre which results in more demand for evening parking.
Commissioner Yates stated that it will take time to explore alternate parking options and the County’s demolition permit would potentially expire prior to finding a solution.
Town Attorney Meade suggested the County either reapply for a demolition permit prior to the Town putting new regulations into place or the Town agreeing to make sure the County would be issued the permit when needed. Attorney Meade didn’t want the County to demo the property, prior to the permit expiring, if something could be worked out for parking. Town Manager Ward stated that he didn’t want a delay. Chairman Welch stated that there were trust issues between the County and Town and suggested having the two attorneys looking into the possibilities and make sure there was an iron clad agreement that would be beneficial for all.
County Manager Geouque suggested having the County and Town Attorneys work toward extending the demolition permit while he and Town Manager Ward worked on determining the possibilities of the Queen Street lot.
Commissioner Turnbow stated that a timeline was needed and that costs analysis was important. Also, if the Historical Society were to restore the house, it would be better for it not to sit empty.
County Manager Geouque suggested the County could potentially donate the Turner House property to the Town of Boone with the County’s purchase price value of $755,000 being put toward the construction of the parking deck. The County Manager stated that the County was not interested in being in real estate and trying to sell the property. The County Attorney also stated that an engineer would be needed for the Queen Street lot and that would not be a quick process; however, he and Town Manger Ward could work on that.
Town Manager Ward stated that the Town had worked with the University of North Carolina - School of Government (UNC-SOG) on Howard Street parking and was told the space was too small for a parking deck. Approximately one hundred spaces would be needed per level.
County Manager Geouque stated that the County has long-range plans to build a facility between the Human Services Building and the Health Department and move all County operations to that area which would leave only Courthouse functions at the current County building locations.
County Manager Geouque stated that the County had $100,000 budgeted for the demolition and surface lot at the Turner property which would be Phase One. Phase Two would consist of the construction of the extension of the Ginn lot extending out over the Turner property surface lot. There was no estimate for Phase Two at this time.
Discussion was held regarding the County’s immediate need for fifty parking spaces. Town Manager Ward stated that any additional reserved spaces from current Town of Boone lots would take away from customer parking for downtown which would hurt the revenue (sales tax) and would impact downtown businesses. Town Attorney Meade suggested the County would have immediate spaces once the Turner house was vacated. County Manager Geouque stated that would be around ten to twelve spaces as Town of Boone regulations would prohibit more spaces by eliminating the landscaping. Council Member Hicks stated that there are parking areas that are underutilized. County Manager Geouque stated that both the County-owned property near the new AppalCART facility and the Brookshire Park parking lot (during the winter months) have been unofficial park-and-ride sites.
After further discussion, and the agreement that both the County and Town need additional parking, County Manager Geouque stated that the Board of Commissioners would need to file for an extension of the demolition permit which, if granted, would give time to receive reports in regards to potential parking solutions.
By consensus, the Board of Commissioners, along with the Boone Town Council, agreed to have the County and Town Managers work with the County and Town Attorneys to develop possible solutions.
County Manager Geouque stated he and Town Manager Ward could have a preliminary plan within two months.
The Boone Town Council adjourned their meeting at 7:59 P.M.
Commissioner Wallin, seconded by Commissioner Turnbow, moved to enter closed session for Attorney/Client Matters, per G. S. 143-318.11(a)(6) including discussion on the Town of Boone vs. Watauga County lawsuit in regards to sales tax distribution.
Commissioner Yates, seconded by Commissioner Turnbow, moved to resume the open meeting at 8:40 P.M.
Commissioner Wallin, seconded by Commissioner Turnbow, moved to adjourn the meeting at 8:40 P.M.
John Welch, Chairman ATTEST: Anita J. Fogle, Clerk to the Board