Black Mountain to realign with state restrictions on restaurants, gatherings

Ty Roush
Black Mountain News
Black Mountain Town Hall

The Board of Aldermen voted to not continue with a Buncombe County ordinance restricting restaurant capacity and indoor gatherings during its Jan. 11 meeting.

A previous unanimous vote to restrict capacity to 30%, down from 50%, and indoor gatherings from 10 to two followed a Dec. 23 ordinance. During the board's Dec. 29 vote, Mayor Larry Harris said to "micromanage it from the local level, it creates some problems in my opinion."

The vote was required because, despite a belief that the ordinance would have expired Jan. 8, the county directive would remain in place until repealed, replaced or rescinded.

A motion by Ryan Stone to move forward with the ordinance until Jan. 22 failed 3-2. Pam King joined Stone in favor of the motion.

King said it was initially difficult to regulate and focus on restaurants because of contrasting resident compliance.

"It's real hard to tell which is making an impact and which isn't when there's some parts of the community that are just not following any guidelines," King said. "For me to say that restaurants have to follow greater restrictions when the entire community is not helping is a real frustration to me."

She added that restaurants struggling with a reduced income "(doesn't) have to be so bad" should residents decide to order more takeout.

Alderman Archie Pertiller Jr. agreed with King and said he doesn't want to "punish" restaurants.

"It's really difficult whenever you see some people doing everything they can to do what's right, and then you see others who ... (for) a lack of words, act like they really just don't care," Pertiller said. "I don't want to feel like we are punishing the restaurants for others' behavior."

Alderman Tim Raines agreed with Pertiller.

"To single out the restaurant industry in Black Mountain, I don't feel like it's right for us to do that," Raines said. "It's not just the restaurant owners. It's the employees."

Prior to the board's discussion and subsequent vote, Harris said the town was not required to move forward with the ordinance and said other municipalities in the county, like Biltmore Forest, are not following the order.

Stone said he wanted to see COVID-19 case numbers "relax" before lifting any type of restriction.

"You look at all of Western North Carolina and everyone's in the critical stage except for two counties," Stone said. "I think that shows the graveness of this situation."

He says he wasn't "placing the blame on (restaurants)."

"I'm not saying the spread causes from them, but that unique nature of that industry, the unique nature of our anatomy to remove this mask to eat and drink, creates risk ... not just to the business itself, but to the individual," Stone said.

Citizen comments included many asking to move forward with restrictions while some urged the town to move back to a state-mandated 50%. Black Mountain Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce executive director Sharon Tabor said the restrictions only added to a list of challenges for restaurants.

"Black Mountain retail and dining diminish dramatically in January, even in normal years," Tabor said. "Frustrating and adding additional restrictions to the challenges of restaurant survival adds fuel to their stresses. It's like closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out."

Town manager Josh Harrold said the town is discussing possible designated curbside parking spots for downtown businesses. 

Harrold added that HealthRidge Pharmacy has discussed the availability of Lakeview Center For Active Aging as a possible distributing site for COVID-19 vaccines. An agreement between the town and HealthRidge is expected soon, Harrold said.