The long dispute over the location of Montreat's town hall moved a step closer to resolution Jan. 8.
A unanimous decision by Black Mountain aldermen at Montreat's request could lead to a new configuration of boundaries between the two municipalities.
Black Mountain aldermen voted to de-annex four parcels of Black Mountain land near the Montreat gate, at the intersection of Montreat Road and Rainbow Terrace. The move will allow the neighboring town of Montreat to annex the property.
Though both municipalities are in agreement, the state General Assembly will have to approve the move. Alex Carmichael, Montreat town administrator, is hopeful the annexation could be finalized this summer.
Montreat bought a portion of the de-annexed property - .70 acres at 1210 Montreat Road - at the end of December from the Mountain Retreat Association. The town paid $125,000 for the land, Carmichael said.
The effect of the de-annexation will be negligible, Black Mountain town manager Matt Settlemyer told aldermen. The property wasn't taxable when it was owned by the Mountain Retreat Association, and it isn't taxable under the town of Montreat's ownership either, he said. "So (de-annexation) doesn’t impact any revenue for the town of Black Mountain.”
The change settles the long-standing issue of where Montreat, a town of just over 700 permanent residents, will erect its town hall. Nearly everyone agrees the current facilities near the Montreat Gate are insufficient. But where its replacement should be has been a contentious issue in town and one that shaped the town's current board of commissioners.
In 2013, the previous board authorized spending $225,000 for less than an acre of land on Florida Terrace for the town hall. Several members of the community objected, and in December 2014 five of them filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the construction of the facility.
A Buncombe County Superior Court judge ruled the town had not obtained the necessary pre-audit certificate required by state statute. In March 2016, the Montreat town council announced the town would not build the facility on Florida Terrace.
The eastern side of Florida Terrace, where the proposed town hall site is located, was rezoned by the town council in October from institutional/residential use to residential low density. The property is currently platted as three lots, but the size of those lots makes them nonconforming under the town’s zoning ordinances.
“The deed for that site was recorded as one parcel,” Carmichael said. “What we’re doing is having it surveyed, which should happen around the end of this month, and having it re-recorded as two parcels.”
The new configuration will create two lots that conform with the ordinances, he said.
An existing structure at 1210 Montreat Road, a house that the MRA has used to house staff and volunteers in recent years, will need to be demolished before Montreat can build the new town hall. Carmichael does not anticipate breaking ground on the facility before the fiscal year ends in June, he said.
The town will, however, begin seeking bids for architects and engineers through a request for qualifications. Commissioners will carry out the process in open meetings, Carmichael said.
"That is a lengthy and public process, which is good, because it allows for opportunity for public input," he said.