Berry, Hay tackle Black Mountain resident concerns in town hall

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
Black Mountain council members Doug Hay and Alice Berry hosted a town hall meeting at the Black Mountain Library March 28.

More than a dozen Black Mountain residents joined Town Council members Alice Berry and Doug Hay March 28 for a town hall at the Black Mountain Library.

The biggest topics of conversation focused on town communication, short-term rentals, the stormwater utility fee and what to do with the land that has been donated to the town. Other topics included a conversation on the town leasing the library building to the county, building an event space in the community garden and making the town safer for pedestrians.

A resident expressed her frustrations with not being able to have an open dialogue with council members during the regular monthly meetings. She said there is “no opportunity for dialogue” and hoped there would be more opportunity for residents to comment on agenda items where new information is presented.

“I understand completely that it’s awfully frustrating to get up, get the courage to come speak, speak your mind and then have blank stares basically back at you,” Hay said. “The current structure that we have doesn’t allow for that back-and-forth, and I’m actually not sure what the justification is behind that.”

Hay said he would look into the issue.

Another resident referenced Montreat Board of Commissioners meetings where there is a public comment period before each meeting that allows for residents to have a conversation with the board. This is unlike Black Mountain’s Town Council structure that limits public comments to three minutes with no opportunity for the council to respond.

Two Black Mountain residents spoke out about their homes they are renting being sold to be converted to short-term rentals. One resident asked Berry and Hay what their thoughts are on the issue and what they have been hearing from others.

More:'Mission (nearly) Impossible': Long-term rental availability scarce in Black Mountain

Berry said short-term rentals are something she has been hearing about since her campaign last fall and has been doing her research. She said there are specific laws in North Carolina that make it harder to regulate short-terms rentals than it may be in other states.

She said it is important to make sure the town is doing things legally to avoid any lawsuits.

“Y’all, Black Mountain is a small town and if we go to court, it could be really expensive,” Berry said. “We’re learning a lot about what other places are doing.”

Alice Berry and Doug Hay fielded questions from residents ranging from short-term rentals to the town's park safety.

Berry said there will be many groups of people involved in the discussion around short-term rentals, including those who are being displaced by them and those who rely on tourists to come into town to make their livelihood.

She said the topic “pulls at (her) heartstrings” as she has known several people who have been pushed out of the town because they could no longer afford to live in the town.

Hay agreed that Black Mountain is a “tourist community” and that the discussion around short-term rentals will not be a straightforward one. He said it is time to have the discussion.

He also said, in full transparency, that his family rents out their renovated garage as a short-term rental, but they still live on the property full-time.

More:Town Council lists parks & rec study as top priority for upcoming year

Sharon Tabor, executive director of the Black Mountain Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce was also in attendance. She said, based on her research and knowledge, there should be a “huge shift” in the rental market in the next year because short-term rentals are now often costing more than hotels, driving visitors to turn back to hotels.

“This is where it’s so complex,” Berry said. “We’ve got national trends, we’ve got state laws and trends, we’ve got regional components, and we’re all feeling this acutely in our own town.”

A local business owner inquired about having to pay a large stormwater utility fee, one for her business and one for her home. Hay said he does not think it is fair some downtown business owners are asked to pay just as much in stormwater utility fees as larger corporations such as Ingles, but he said there will be a new phase that can help mitigate these fees as well as an option to pay monthly rather than a lump sum yearly.

More:Black Mountain receives 'transformative' stormwater funding

Also in attendance was Town Manager Josh Harrold who said, after necessary payments are made from the utility fee, including a salary, the town nets around $80,000 each year for the town to use.

In a discussion on what to do with the parcels of land that have been donated to the town, several residents advocated for workforce housing rather than affordable housing.

Berry said the town has “space to play with” in regards to what can be done with the land.

Other suggestions included making more paths and greenways throughout town.

Several residents questioned the process when it comes to how it is decided what is done with land donated to the town. Harrold responded that studies, that included public input, are done by the town before findings are presented to council for final decision.

A resident asked how the council is working to create a town that will last and be the kind of town residents want it to be.

Berry and Hay said these things fall under the Elevate Black Mountain Comprehensive Plan that Hay said should guide everything the town does.

Doug Hay and Alice Berry fielded questions from residents ranging from short-term rentals to the town's park safety.

Hay said he understands frustration that things may not be getting done as quickly as residents may like.

“I thought we’d have done a hell of a lot more than we’ve actually been able to accomplish,” Hay said. “Things just take a long time and bureaucracy is difficult.”

Berry said this frustration points to her that she and the council need to be more transparent on what is in the works.