Mayor’s Summary of the June 10, 2021 Town Council Meeting

Greetings Montreaters,

Last night’s Town Council meeting was a first- the first time we have had a monthly meeting in the new Town Hall with no COVID restrictions. It was great to see everyone’s faces without masks and greet friends we had not seen in a while. There were approximately 35 people in attendance for the meeting. We live streamed it but unfortunately due to technical difficulties, we were unable to record it. As you know, a full overview will be in the official meeting minutes in July’s agenda packet.

Here’s a summary of the meeting:

  • Public Forum questions/comments included:
    • Clary Phipps expressed her feelings about Montreat and her great concern that the MRA lodge issue may divide us. She suggested one of the buildings be made a memorial to Billy Graham and called for peace in our valley.
    • Mary Standaert expressed concern about the “tax increase” due to the real estate reappraisals done by the county. The appraised value of some people’s homes increased, thus resulting in higher taxes. Please be aware that the proposed budget did not include an actual tax rate increase.
    • Grace Nichols read an email from Meredith Greene regarding the need for help on the Town Hall landscaping. Town staff mows the grass but it doesn’t seem anyone is tending to the plantings at the Town Hall and the pocket park. She suggested budgeted funds be used to hire professionals. Mayor Pro Tem Widmer commented that there was a group of volunteers doing so, but the chairperson resigned and no one is tending to the landscaping currently. He thanked Meredith for her work in weeding and said they will work on re-organizing the volunteer team.
    • Bryant McEntire recommended amending the proposed Zoning Ordinances by including language about preservation of buildings and homes, requiring large building projects to conduct environmental impact studies, and requiring fiscal impact studies for large projects to protect the town.
    • John Ellington stated that his recent experiences with Town staff over a proposed house project was not a positive experience. He was not happy with the Town’s records retention policy and that obtaining building permits is unnecessarily difficult to obtain. He has talked to Town Council members about it but no action has ensued.
    • Mike Sonnenberg offered two comments: 1. Shared that David and Susan Holcomb will be moving to Costa Rica this week and they have done so much to help the town; 2. Informed us that his son Joel will be having yet another serious and very complicated surgery on June 29 and requested prayer.
    • Bob Warner commented that he is very disappointed that although there have been many attempts, no meaningful dialogue has occurred between MRA and those opposing the new lodge project.
    • Nancy Fox spoke to the need for preserving the three MRA buildings that will be demolished to build the lodge and urged the addition of language to preserve historically significant buildings.
    • Martha Campbell informed everyone about the Montreat Stream Team and the need for volunteers. The Stream Team takes weekly samples of Flat Creek to monitor water quality. Anyone willing to volunteer should contact Martha at [email protected].
  • After the Town Council Meeting was called to order, a Public Hearing was held regarding the FY 2021-2022 Town Budget. Mary Standaert again expressed concern about increased taxes due to real estate reevaluations. She also expressed support for the Texas Road Bridge repair project but suggested it be closed to pedestrian and bike traffic until it is repaired for liability reasons. She then suggested a variety of revenue enhancement ideas to help bring additional income to the Town.
  • A very interesting report on the Stormwater Study was presented by Mary Roderick from the Land of Sky Regional Council. She summarized the study, shared findings and gave recommendations to improve our stormwater system. We were delighted to hear that our stormwater management system is extremely effective and there were few improvement recommendations coming out of her report. She also suggested resources that we and MRA might utilize in completing the recommendations. If you are interested in reviewing her report, it is in the AGENDA PACKET beginning on page 88.
  • In my communications I announced that I appointed Commissioner Otto to lead a group made up of Town, Conference Center, Montreat College and Cottager representatives to discuss and “stay ahead” of issues that may impact our community in the future. The group will work together in looking forward, as much as five years, to anticipate, discuss and address key issues to help make Montreat a better place.
  • In discussion of the Administrative reports, Mayor Pro Tem Widmer asked that future financial reports be more complete and include both revenues and expenses, especially since we are still in a tight financial period.
  • Public Comments included:
    • Erica LaClaire from the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County spoke to the importance of preservation, described the agency’s services, and offered assistance if/when the Town pursues preservation measures.
    • Priscilla Hayner commented that the issues that are being discussed are larger than just the MRA lodge project and that she hopes the Town will consider future action on the three main objections being voiced: historical preservation of buildings and homes, environmental impact studies for large projects, and fiscal impact assessments for large projects.
    • Brendan Hayner Slattery reiterated Priscilla’s comments about the three issues.
    • Mary Standaert commented about Town rights-of-way including their importance and that the Town should keep them for future needs.
    • Martha Campbell complimented the Town staff and gave examples of Officer Gant helping a woman whose keys were locked in her car, Daniel Wiggs helping cut down ivy off trees and Mike Harrison digging out stormwater inlets to keep from flooding. The audience applauded the staff’s work.
  • There was no Old Business, so we moved directly to New Business:
    • The Council approved the FY 2021-2022 Budget with no changes and no increase in taxes.
    • The Council approved the Montreat Zoning Ordinance amendments as presented by the Planning & Zoning Commission with no changes after discussion and Q&A with Town Attorney Susan Taylor Rash about historical preservation provisions that might be dealt with in the future.
    • I then read a Proclamation which I had signed moments earlier (after the action above) recognizing the tireless work of the Montreat Planning & Zoning Commission and proclaiming a debt of gratitude to its members for their efforts. The room broke out in applause. CLICK HERE to read the Proclamation.
    • The Council approved two budget amendments for the FY 2020-2021 budget to move funds from one department to another.
    • The Council approved the appointment of John Hinkle to the Planning & Zoning Commission.
    • The Council also approved the appointment of Wade Burns to the  Planning & Zoning Commission.
    • The Council approved a resolution to receive Federal Funds under the American Rescue Plan Act, part of the COVID relief legislation. We could receive as much as $250,000 for revenue replacement and specific projects. I’ll keep you informed on this as we learn more.
  • During the second Public Comment period:
    • Bill Scheu, chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission thanked the Commission, Alex Carmichael and Zoning Administrator Scott Adams for their hard work on the Zoning Ordinance amendments and enduring the 27 months of work. He also thanked Priscilla Hayner and her family for their suggestions in making the Special Use Permit section of the ordinances more effective. He further commented that the Commission will continue to look at and make recommendations for additional amendments in the months to come, but the major work is complete.
    • Mary Standaert reminded everyone the opportunity for the public to comment during meetings goes beyond what is required by law. Only one opportunity for public comment is required per month. But Town Council offers three opportunities per Council meeting. She also appealed for comments to be civil.
    • Bryant McEntire thanked Bill Scheu for his leadership on the Planning & Zoning Commission, especially during the Ordinance review. He also stated that he is glad the Montreat community is engaged in the issues and hopes they stay engaged.
    • Wade Burns praised the Town Council, Alex Carmichael and Scott Adams for their outstanding work and reinforced Mary Standaert’s statement about having a civil tone in comments made.
  • In Commissioners’ Communications:
    • Commissioner Otto said he appreciated the processes of the past several months and feels that we are at a new place as a town looking forward at issues. He looks forward to leading the new committee.
    • Commissioner Lentz reminded us that the Council asked Planning & Zoning to review the Ordinances back in December 2018. During that time the new state regulations were passed requiring certain changes to planning and zoning ordinances. The new state regulations address historic preservation very specifically and outline steps and requirements. The discussion we have had with the public over the past two and a half weeks regarding historic preservation is important and should be continued, but tonight was not the time for new language to be inserted into the ordinance amendments. Careful thought and abiding by state regulations must be given to our work.
    • Commissioner Fouche reminded everyone that the Presbyterian Heritage Center is now open five days per week with many fascinating exhibits, so stop by. She also thanked the Planning & Zoning Commission for their hard work.
    • Likewise, Mayor Pro Tem Widmer thanked the P&Z Commission for their expertise and commitment to the arduous project of the ordinance revisions. He also reminded everyone of the new Montreat Water Quality Report published last week. We continue to have high quality water. Copies of the report are available at the Town Hall or can be downloaded by clicking HERE.
  • We then adjourned into closed session to conduct Alex Carmichael’s annual performance evaluation.

As you can see, it was a full and action-packed evening, and I’m extremely grateful for the public’s participation. Continue to stay in touch with us and I hope to see you at future meetings.

If you have any questions about this meeting summary or any topic, please write me at [email protected] or call me at 828/669-3852.

Mayor Tim Helms on behalf of the Town Council