Montreat Board of Commissioners terms, no parking on Appalachian Way discussed

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
Commissioner Tom Widmer was sworn in for a new term on Dec. 8.

Montreat Mayor Tim Helms opened the Dec. 8 Board of Commissioners meeting by welcoming new Buncombe County Superintendent of Schools Rob Jackson.

A Swannanoa native, Jackson said he felt “blessed” to be back in the Valley and wanted to thank the board for its “great relationship” with the school system.

Following Jackson’s statement, Commissioner Tom Widmer shared that the town had previously applied for a grant from the Metropolitan Planning Organization to do work on the Texas Road bridge. This grant amounted to $191,000, but the town was initially told the funds would not be available until late 2026 at the earliest. Widmer told the board that the timeline had moved up and the funds will now be accessible in October 2023.

The residents of Montreat re-elected three commissioners in the November election. Widmer, Mason Blake and Kent Otto were all sworn in at the Dec. 8 meeting.

More:Reelected Montreat commissioners on their plans for the town

Former Mayor Pro Tem Widmer nominated Blake to take over the role, with a second from Otto.

The board then heard a report from Levonia Reese on the fiscal year 2021-22 financial audit in which the town was found to be in an “excellent” financial position. At the end of the fiscal year, the town’s net position was $8.4 million.

More:Montreat in 'excellent' financial status following audit

Public Works Director Barry Creasman presented the Board of Commissioners with a consideration of a stormwater system conveyance. Creasman said the system in question was “really good” and the board voted unanimously to dedicate it.

Chief of Police David Arrant asked the board to consider putting up new signs prohibiting parking on Appalachian Way because of Montreat College students using the road as parking. Arrant said these students are doing so to save money on parking passes from the college.

Blake provided photos for the board and said the road become a “muddy mess in a few weeks” and he supports Arrant’s proposal.

Widmer proposed a similar solution to parking on Lookout Road, but Otto said this location needed looking at further because of complexities within the geography and neighborhood.

Commissioner Kent Otto was sworn in for a new term on Dec. 8.

The board voted unanimously to put up the no parking signs on Appalachian Way. Otto and Commissioner Jane Alexander agreed to Helms’ ask to work with Arrant on finding solutions for Lookout Road by the February meeting.

All other presentations for the meeting were given by Kayla DiCristina, the town’s zoning administrator. Her first two presentations were on updates to text amendments, one for the subdivision ordinance and the other for the wireless communication ordinance.

DiCristina said both text amendments were made so the ordinances would be in compliance with state law. This included adding and updating definitions as well as clarifying matters within the ordinances. Blake described the work as “housekeeping” to the board and both passed unanimously.

The final item on the agenda, also presented by DiCristina, involved a potential transportation study for the one-mile stretch of Assembly Drive that goes from the Montreat gate to Assembly Circle.

Helms said he asked DiCristina to look at a grant from the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Unified Planning Work program for a transportation study that would be limited to examining traffic calming in the one-mile stretch.

DiCristina said she did research and, based on a similar study in Biltmore Forest, the cost of the study would be $25,000. The town, should they be selected for the grant, would pay 20% of that.

Commissioner Kitty Fouche questioned the price for only a mile of study material.

Blake said he agreed that it is a lot of money, but he values the public input it would bring and said he was leaning to vote for it.

Commissioner Mason Blake was sworn in for a new term on Dec. 8 and was voted mayor pro tem.

“The public process of deciding what goes in there will get a public consensus that can only be done with a process like this,” Blake said. “Without public consensus we could put some speed bumps that will be torn out six months later.”

Otto said he would have an “extremely hard time” approving the project because of the cost and said community involvement could be gotten for free.

He said he has seen what similar measures have done in Raleigh and Cary and thinks it would be a “disaster.”

DiCristina said the board could opt for a lower amount for the project grant, but she stands by her estimate.

Blake was the sole vote for applying for the grant, with all other commissioners voting no.

Otto ended the meeting by saying he was grateful for the opportunity to serve on the board as well as the relationships the town has with entities inside and outside of Montreat.

“We as commissioners sometimes butt heads in a respectful way and that’s part of our job,” Otto said. “I’m reminded of the beauty of this valley here.”