Montreat cites cost of MRA litigation, discusses BearWise best practices

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
The Montreat Board of Commissioners met Feb. 9 for the monthly meeting.

The Feb. 9 Montreat Board of Commissioners meeting began with a public comment period where resident Martha Campbell asked the board questions regarding the proposed Mountain Retreat Association lodge.

Campbell asked the board the cost of the ongoing litigation against the town by opponents of the lodge.

Mayor Tim Helms said the town has a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation, but because what Campbell was asking was public record, he was able to answer. He also noted that because she submitted her questions ahead of time, the board was able to provide exact numbers.

According to Helms, as of Dec. 31, the town has spent $87,138.63 on attorney fees and a $14,792 for staff fees. This brings the total spent on the litigation to $101,930.63.

"When you're talking about $101,930, that's at least three police cars, fully equipped," Helms said. "That's probably a new backhoe. ... A lot of money has gone out on that that could have been spent on other things."

In the first item of new business, Zoning Administrator Kayla DiCristina presented a consideration of a new wayfinding sign request from the MRA.

DiCristina said the existing sign does not comply with the town's ordinance because it was put up before the ordinance was in place. The new sign will comply with the ordinance, which states that no wayfinding sign that is not government agency-owned can be placed in the town's right-of-ways unless approved by the Board of Commissioners and receive a variance from the Board of Adjustment.

Tanner Pickett, vice president for sales, marketing and communications of the MRA, was in attendance and said he nor his team knew where the original sign came from but wanted to update it to be more informative and be visually more in-line with town aesthetics.

Commissioner Kent Otto asked who would bear the cost of the new sign, and Pickett said the MRA and Montreat College would split all costs associated with putting up the new wayfinding sign.

The board, excluding commissioners Jane Alexander and Tom Widmer, who were absent from the meeting, voted unanimously to approve the request. The sign will be in the town's right-of-way between Community Center Circle and Lookout Road.

Following a presentation from Town Clerk Angie Murphy, the board voted to support local control of school calendars. The request came from new Buncombe County Superintendent Rob Jackson.

The board voted to approve granting an easement across Little Piney Branch that would provide access to a lot east of Harmony Lane. This easement was moved from the October meeting in order for the landowner to gather requested documents for the board. DiCristina said the landowner had gathered all documents.

Otto presented a consideration for a parking plan on Lookout Road. He said under the proposed plan, approximately 15 parking spots will be lost in order to make the roads safer for pedestrians and to make it easier for emergency and larger vehicles to access the road more safely.

Chief of Police David Arrant agreed with Otto's recommendations and said previous efforts to make Montreat's roads safer have been successful.

"I appreciate what y'all do, but we are adding more to your plate," Otto said. "This will take some tough enforcement."

Arrant agreed, but said he and his team were up for the task.

The board approved the parking plan unanimously.

The final item under new business on the agenda was a consideration for ordinance revisions for qualifications for the town being named a BearWise community.

Mayor Pro Tem Mason Blake presented and said the town has been working diligently to become a BearWise community, but a few changes needed to be made to the existing ordinance.

First, solid waste must not only be placed in bags, but also in a standard solid waste container at the minimum. If placed in a standard solid waste container, the container cannot be put out until the morning of collection. If a resident is using a bear-resistant container, it may stay out. Purchasing a bear-resistant container is not mandatory. The new rule states that if waste escapes from the containers, it is the responsibility of the owner to pick up if town staff cannot get to it.

Second, if Montreat police ask a resident to stop practicing feeding bears, intentional or not, the resident must stop.

The board voted to approve these revisions.

To close the meeting, the Board of Commissioners entered into a closed session to discuss a personnel matter. `