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Originally published: 2012-06-14 13:35:34
Last modified: 2012-06-14 13:38:35

Banner Elk Town Council narrowly passes zoning ordinance amendment

Jamie Shell / (

The agenda item that caused the longest conversation at the June meeting of Banner Elk Town Council on Monday, June 11, involved an amendment to the town zoning ordinance's conditional uses, defining the term "incubator." The amendment called for incubators as a whole to be considered conditional use for zoning purposes, therefore requiring specific parameters for approval.

During the public hearing on the matter, discussion took place regarding specific language in the definition. Avery County Economic Developer Bret Gardella addressed council regarding his concern with language in the amendment that would deem pre-existing businesses that may be failing in Town of Banner Elk or elsewhere in Avery County ineligible to enter into the incubator opportunity.
“My goal is to not only to create new businesses, but also to help those that are struggling,” Gardella explained.

Gardella went on to share that he had no issue with the town excluding businesses from within Banner Elk's town limits from the incubator, as they have the prerogative to do so. Gardella expressed disagreement, however, with not allowing other businesses who are in other parts of Avery County that are struggling to take advantage of the opportunity an incubator might offer to help keep their businesses operating. He also explained that there would be an increase in difficulty in attracting businesses to the incubator if only new startup businesses were eligible.

"If you pass this by saying no existing businesses are allowed, I'm not going to get any phone calls," Gardella added. "I'm stuck with trying to start new businesses, and that's a harder concept to do than to try to help some of those who are struggling now. In my opinion, I don't believe regulating who can come in there is in either the county's best interest or your best interest. If you say this happens with no existing businesses allowed, it's the wrong thing to do. It's the wrong message being sent."

Council discussed the measure at length before Councilman Robert Tufts made a motion to accept the amendment, with the language "no existing businesses" intact in the incubator definition.

Councilman Charlie B. VonCanon offered a second. Tufts, VonCanon and Councilman Allen Bolick voted in favor of the motion, while Councilman David Lecka and Councilwoman Gail Draughon were opposed, passing the measure by a 3-to-2 margin.

Following a pair of budget workshops and public hearing earlier in the evening, Council approved its fiscal year 2012-13 budget ordinance. The budget calls for a total amount of just more than $1.54 million designated for town use. Funds are distributed in the areas of governing body, administrative, finance, planning, public buildings, police, drug task force, parks and streets. The budget will take effect beginning July 1, 2012, and ending June 30, 2013.

A public hearing was held in regard to adopting a comprehensive land use plan compiled by town planning board members and volunteers and submitted to council by planning and zoning officer Cheryl Buchanan at its May meeting. A three-year process, the land use plan is an update from a plan last compiled 45 years ago, and contains updated data, charts and maps for goals and objectives the town potentially foresees in the next 20 years. After discussion regarding the matter, council moved to adopt the plan.

In other news and notes:

• Town Manager Rick Owen asked council to call for a public hearing regarding speed limits within the town. Owen explained that town code requires that a list of town streets be maintained, in addition to the speed limits of the town and ordinances that authorize them. Owen added that following a discussion with NCDOT regarding a 0.4-mile stretch of Hickory Nut Gap Road that is within town limits, it was discovered that a current list is not on file, and town staff wished to compile a new comprehensive list for members to adopt at its July meeting. Council discussed the issue and moved to call for a public hearing at the Monday, July 10, meeting.

• Council moved to approve the appointment of Donna Dicks to serve as Banner Elk's ABC Board representative. Dicks is approaching the end of her current term, and has expressed to the town a willingness to continue to serve.

• Owen presented council with two letters of appreciation from Lees-McRae College for funds allocated for its New Opportunity for Women and for LMC Summer Theater.

• Owen informed council that a town park plan update had been revised from Derek Goddard of Blue Ridge Environmental and that bid documents are being drawn up by Town Attorney Four Eggers. Owen laid out a timetable for the bidding process, recommending that council set a special meeting on Wednesday, July 18, to award the appropriate bid. Council approved a motion to set the special meeting.

The July meeting of Banner Elk Town Council will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 9, tentatively scheduled at Banner Elk Town Hall, pending completion of council chambers renovations. If renovations are incomplete, the meeting will occur at Banner Elk Police Department.