The Boone town council voted on Feb. 15 to postpone consideration to repeal the Boone 2030 Land Use Plan until the March 19 regular meeting.
Originally, the town council had planned to vote on the repeal at the Feb. 15 meeting at 11:40 p.m. They chose to do otherwise after the large amount of public outcry that occurred before the meeting.
Quint David, a former member of the town council, sent an email to a number of students at Appalachian State University. This email detailed the council’s plans and encouraged the students who received it to attend the meeting and make their voices heard.
The 2030 plan, adopted in 2009, details an overall plan that would serve as a guideline for the town in order to encourage growth and improve sustainability, while maintaining the town’s natural beauty.
The action request to repeal the plan was submitted by Jane Shook, the director of the Town of Boone Planning and Inspections Department. John Ward, the town manager, said in a face-to-face meeting that Shook had been directed to do so by the town council after their Jan. 8 planning retreat.
According to an as-yet unreleased draft of the minutes from the retreat, the council came to a unanimous vote to vote to consider the repeal of the plan. The council opted to hold a public session to discuss the repeal after town attorney Allison Meade “questioned repealing a document that had so much public input in the beginning without providing an opportunity for public input now.”
This public comment period was scheduled to take place at 11:40 p.m. the night of the vote. Obviously, the council considered this to be the best time to gather as much of the public’s input on this as they could. It couldn’t be that they were trying to keep this quiet could it?
Town council member Sam Furgiuele seemed to have the most concerns with the plan, having been the member to submit the action request form to discuss the planning of the vote to repeal the plan. At the meeting, he claimed that the plan should be repealed due to the loss of the ETJ zone, or the extraterritorial jurisdiction zone, and for the fact that development could be forced on the town that it may not want.
The ETJ zone was formerly the area that extended one mile outside of the town limits that was not a formal part of Boone. However, the town still maintained the ability to regulate the area, but the people there did not have to pay taxes, nor could they vote in town elections. This was stripped from the town in 2016 after the North Carolina Supreme Court declared that the North Carolina General Assembly’s “Boone Act” did in fact have the power to take the area from the town.
According to the minutes taken from the retreat, “Council Member Furgiuele stated that the 2030 Plan described a town that no longer existed due to the ETJ and felt the town was taking a legal risk by keeping the document on the table.”
However, in response to Furgiuele’s claim that the town could face unwanted development, council member Lynne Mason “stated she had used the 2030 Land Use Plan to turn down projects and much as she had used it to approve projects,” according to the minutes from the retreat.
Furthermore, Furgiuele’s reasons for repealing the 2030 plan may go beyond just the loss of the ETJ. In his action request form to consider the repeal of the plan, Furgiuele wrote that “The Standard, a development that most town residents are unhappy with, is the direct fulfillment of the 2030 Plan and does not represent the future citizens want for this community.”
What is interesting about The Standard, aside from the length of time it took to build it, is the fact that it is one of the few buildings in Boone that exceeds two to three stories in height.
Aside from university buildings, business offices out near the greenway and the apartment complexes around town, most of the buildings in Boone are two stories tall, and it seems that Furgiuele and other members of the council would like to keep it this way.
All throughout the minutes of the retreat, Furgiuele and Mason display a sense of displeasure at buildings being too tall. According to the minutes, “Council member Furgiuele felt building height limitations were too high in the B1 and suggested height limitations of 34’ and 3 stories.” Additionally, earlier in the meeting Mason “questioned if 5 stories were too much for Boone.” Several other times in the meeting they, Furgiuele in particular, made several such statements as this.
Had Furgiuele not mentioned The Standard by name then his desire to repeal the 2030 plan would have been understandable. The plan does rely on the town having the ETJ to develop land and install new properties. However, Furgiuele did mention The Standard, and he has expressed a desire to not have the town allow any more buildings like it.
It seems that both Furgiuele and Mason are trying to steer the town in the direction that they feel is best and not necessarily in the direction that would be best for the town.
According to the official university website, as of fall 2017, Appalachian State University had 18,811 students enrolled. Further, as of 2016, Boone boasted a population of 18,834. Appalachian State students literally double the population of Boone during the school year.
It is no secret that Appalachian does not have enough housing for the students they enroll, as each semester housing sends out email after email asking students if they would be willing to give up their on-campus housing to house new students.
Boone is not a large town. Students looking to find off-campus housing have a difficult time finding places to live. This will continue to compound as the university continues to grow, and eventually housing will could become rather elusive.
The only place for Boone to develop is up, but Furgiuele and the Town Council seem intent on preventing that. Well, at least Furgiuele and Mason, some of the Town Council do not seem to care, or, in the case of council member Connie Ulmer, they have not even read the plan, according to the minutes from the retreat.
That is right, one of the most important documents in the town and one of the people voting to repeal it has not even read it. That, combined with the fact that they wanted to hold a public comment session late at night and the fact that they still have not published the minutes of the meeting from the Jan 8. retreat over a month later is worrying.
Why not just repeal the parts of the plan that no longer apply? It is obvious that whatever the council wants to do with the plan is not on the up-and-up, and whatever public comment they make on the matter should be taken with a grain of salt
Q Russell is a junior journalism major from Charlotte, North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter at @Q_M_Russell
Photo by: Julianne Blaylock, Chief Copy Editor
Featured photo: The lobby of The Standard, which was mentioned by name in the action request form to repeal the Boone 2030 Land Use Plan.