The three Republicans on the Watauga County Commission carried through on their threat last night to change sales tax allocation from a population-based system to a property-valuation system, thus giving a windfall to three resort towns in the county while depriving Boone of approximately $2 million annually. Boone contains about one-third of the county’s population and raises the lion’s share of those sales taxes (though the Republicans showed themselves both ignorant of and uninterested in the actual figures).
As the three Republicans made abundantly clear last night, their motive was pure revenge for Boone’s perceived failure to do everything that mega-developer Phil Templeton wanted done to pave the way for putting high-density “quad-style” student housing on the old high school site.
Many of the things that the three Republicans alleged last night about both Mr. Templeton and the Town of Boone do not jibe with a letter written just last Friday by Mr. Templeton’s lawyer and sent to all the commissioners and members of the town council. I’m looking at that letter right now.
1. Mr. Templeton says (via his lawyer) that his intention was always to develop the south portion of that property as a student housing project. In fact, one of his (new) demands, included in the letter, is that the property now be rezoned to R3 (multi-family). The property had already been rezoned at County Commission request to B3 (general business) by the Town of Boone, presumably to make it more attractive to Mr. Templeton. Last night, Nathan Miller alleged that Mr. Templeton’s plan all along was “mixed use.” Not according to Friday’s letter.
2. Mr. Templeton has already been in negotiations to sell the south portion (presumably the most buildable) to another developer. Mr. Templeton has been trying to sell something that he doesn’t even own yet and thus needed many concessions from the town of Boone to make the resale more attractive. No one mentioned this fairly salient fact last night.
3. Mr. Templeton in his letter objected to any written guarantee to actually build out the commercial portion of a “mixed-use” development, a requirement that was in place for B3 properties when Mr. Templeton made his original offer on the property. And anyway, he isn’t interested in building mixed-use but in selling the property to someone else for development as student-housing alone.
4. Mr. Templeton wants the property exempted from all town of Boone building regs, particularly steep-slope requirements.
5. “In addition to the 150,000 gallons of water per day of water set aside for this project [by the town of Boone], an additional 100,000 gallons will need to be set aside for use by 2015 or 2016.”
The above intentions and demands of Mr. Templeton were not a part of what the three Republicans alleged against the town of Boone last night. In their version, Mr. Templeton is a put-upon victim of personal animus. And the town of Boone is the personification of personal animus.
The Republicans Have a Plan
The ulterior motive behind the reallocation of sales taxes became clear when Mr. Perry Yates, a commission member and Mr. Templeton’s son-in-law, said – twice – that his town taxes were going to go up because of the vote he was taking but that he didn’t care because he was serving a higher purpose.
The Republicans intend to force Boone to raise its property taxes. That will in their fantasy lead to a voter backlash. Thus the hated Democratic members of the Town Council will be voted out of power. Pop the champagne corks!
These geniuses actually think that punishing Boone is going to make them – and Republican candidates in general -- more attractive to Boone voters.
Perhaps. But I wouldn’t be holding my breath.
A Footnote on Conflicts of Interest
Mr. Yates directed the commission’s attorney to read aloud a lengthy legal opinion last night on how Mr. Yates was not in violation of any ethical standards because of his close personal relationship to Mr. Templeton.
Lengthy legal opinions are fig leaves that merely call attention to what they’re hiding.
Another Footnote on What Can Go Wrong with Best-Laid Plans
It also came out last night that the resolutions passed by the resort towns of Blowing Rock, Seven Devils, and Beech Mountain – the “kick-back resolutions,” wherein those towns promised to pay back to the County 60% of their new windfalls – are not legally binding.