Sunday, February 15, 2004

Allen Trivette's Talking Points

For those of you who missed it, and because the Mountain Times does not put their letters to the editor up on-line, we're reproducing verbatim here the letter that County Commissioner L. Allen Trivette published over his name in last Thursday's Mountain Times:


Dear Editor:

At a time when we should all be working together to bring higher paying jobs and affordable housing to our country, a small special interest group continues to harp on scenic byways. The NCDOT appears to have conspired with these people to force land use controls when clearly the majority of residents do not want or need zoning. The NCDOT seems to have taken control of what have always been local issues. I have always tried to represent all the people of our county and to see that their interests are protected. I don't believe Governor Martin intended the Scenic Byway program to intrude into county government or to take businesses and land away from local residents.

I have addressed many questions to Mr. Charles Tomlinson of NCDOT. These include, how did NC 194 N become a scenic highway? Who requested the designation? When was the hearing held? How was this done without informing local residents? Have traffic accidents, serious injuries and death increased on this road after the designation? How do we request "Scenic Byway" designation be removed? What is being done about the Billboard regulations and under whose jurisdiction does non-compliance reside? What is the definition of a "Scenic Byway"? Why is the new US 421 a "Scenic Byway" and old US 421 not? What is the death toll on new US 421 and how many speeding tickets have been issued on that road since it opened? It is time that these questions were answered, so we can move on to solving the problems that have been created by this interference.

We have an even bigger question that needs answering: Who makes decisions for Watauga County, the citizens through elections or the appointees at NCDOT? It is time for the NCDOT to answer questions and to operate in good faith and with respect for all citizens of our county and state.

L. Allen Trivette


While we don't know who's doing Mr. Trivette's composition for him, several points are crystal clear:

1. Notice the words "special interest group ... have conspired" in the first paragraph. People who supported the Scenic Byway -- including many moderate Republicans in the Chamber of Commerce, the elected town councils of Boone, Blowing Rock, Seven Devils, and Beech Mountain -- are in Trivette's universe a "special interest group" that "conspired" to

a. import "zoning" into Watauga County under cover of scenic beauty;
b. deprive honest citizens of affordable housing and good jobs, which we would be closer to having were it not for those special interests who conspired to get a scenic byway instead.

2. Notice the locutions "we should all" ... "the majority of residents" ... "I ... represent all the people" ... "local residents." It's an interesting habit of mind that defines "we," "the majority," "all the people," and "local residents" as only those who agree with Mr. Trivette. What are the rest of us? Clearly, something akin to cockroaches.

3. The real assault in this Mountain Times letter is on the "Scenic Byway" designation for Hwy 194 and on the NCDOT. Mr. Trivette put this issue on the agenda for the County Commission meeting on January 5th, over a month ago, and we're taking the liberty of republishing here what we wrote at that time, since it's still germane:

Signs of the Times: Commissioners Vent Over Scenic Hwy (first posted Jan. 5, 2004)

At Monday morning's Commissioners meeting (Jan. 5th, 9 a.m., County Courthouse), the words "Sign Ordinance Discussion" appeared on the printed Agenda, and everyone braced for impact.

All the commissioners have been hopping mad since the State Board of Transportation overturned their wishes and declared the new Doc & Merle Watson Hwy a "state scenic byway" (all documented in an earlier posting, "Government by, of, & for Land-Owners" [Dec. 16, 2003]). The stated purpose of Allen Trivette was to de-designate the existing scenic status on Hwy 194, or demand that the state de-designate it, because "the people don't want it." So we figgered something might come up for a vote today.

It was crystal clear this morning, if not painfully, 4-Advil clear, that the commissioners have been victimized by their own propaganda against the scenic road, with that Saint of Longsuffering, County Planning Director Joe Furman, beating his head against the weathered rocks of their willful ignorance as to what the state scenic designation does and does not do.

First, just so's we're all clear, here are the facts: Scenic byway designation regulates off-premise signs only. Every landowner along the new road who requested it got direct driveway access onto the new road. You'll see those "driveway cuts" out there along the road, if you look, where the curbing clearly cuts in to allow for a driveway. There are many of these driveway cuts. All of them imply and in fact assure future business or housing development. In fact, some of that development has already started on some parcels (also plainly evident if you just look). Any businesses establishing at any of those driveway connections would be allowed by right to put up on-premise signage to advertize their businesses. The only signs prohibited on the new road are off-premise signs, i.e., billboards.

But the Commissioners, some of them anyway, persisted this morning in their public preference for alleging that a massive plot has been foisted on poor people by educated "outsiders." At one point, Trivette angrily asked Furman, "If they want a mobile home park that can be seen from the new road, would that affect that?" and Furman wearily responded, "No, a mobile home park is not a billboard." What Commissioner Trivette meant, what he was getting at, is that according to Trivette, those good people of Watauga County needing or wanting a cheap, safe, and comfortable mobile home would be inevitably subjected to the unfair prejudices of the wealthy "outsiders," who seem to always fight mobile homes and very often in a snooty, condescending way. This is the "Company Line" among the Commissioners -- all of them -- that those "outsiders" have used the government intrusion of a scenic highway as backdoor zoning, so that a bunch of uppity, over-educated elites won't have to see any unpleasant mountain reality, i.e., poor folks living in mobile homes. This is called stereotyping and is reprehensible, both when it's employed by uppity, over-educated elites (about people who live in mobile home parks) and when it's employed by County Commissioners (about people who ain't from around here).

Digression on Mobile Home Parks: I've lived in them, visited friends and family who lived in them -- my father died in Texas while living in a mobile home. I understand the economic relief they represent. I also recognize that some developers seem to be willing to subject the dwellers in mobile home "parks," as well as the neighboring landowners to those "parks," to land-use abuses that benefit precisely no one but the developer. I’m talking about cramming umpteen mobile homes as close together as possible on a bare hill where there's not a tree beyond the sappling stage for shade, with no playground for children, no common area, and where there's also no access to city sewer, leading to questionable or outright illegal sewerage systems that present problems or hazards to neighboring properties or to the health and welfare of the people living in the mobile home "park." That's what I'm talking about.

But Trivette thinks he understands something different about me, that I disdain mobile homes and the people who live in them, while what I disdain is the greed of rich men that makes them dangerous to other life.

The truly fascinating footnote to history that emerged at this morning's meeting: Apparently, back in the mid-1980s, the state mandated, because the federal government mandated, that North Carolina had to control off-premise signage in order to continue receiving federal funding for highways. The state informed Watauga County in 1985 (? we've asked for the document to pin down the date), along with many other backward-looking counties, that since this county wasn't zoned (duh), the state had the right to impose its own permitting process on billboards. (You see what a lack of zoning leads to, boys?) So even if he wanted to, Joe Furman would have no power to issue a sign permit for a billboard, even if the commissioners, in their rage, decided to rescind the county's own "scenic" designation for Doc & Merle Watson.

But the commissioners would not let go of their willful misinformation. Joe Furman kept repeating, "This applies only to billboards." At the end of the meeting, commissioners Coffey and Blust still seemed clueless about off-premise vs. on-premise signage. So there was no vote taken on the issue. The discussion rambled off into a general frustration that the commissioners could think of no clear way to stick it to the people who stuck them with this scenic byway.

One of those people, evidently, is John Cooper, whose Mast Store got mentioned twice in what can be legitimately labeled spitefulness. "Well, couldn't the Mast Store put up a sign?" "No," came the answer. But that didn't change attitudes among the commissioners. And thus the manifest good deeds of one private citizen earns the emnity (and reprisal?) of public officials.

Exasperated, Trivette snapped at one point: "How many people have driven on that road since it opened? How many speeding tickets have been issued?" Naturally, Joe Furman didn't know the answers to those questions, which were asked to satisfy Mr. Trivette's theory that too many cars traveling too fast equals a major superhighway, which logically therefore cannot be "scenic," since "scenic" attracts slow-moving rubberneckers from big cities who couldn't find their ass with both hands and a head start. (Part of which we agree with.)

Running county government and setting public policy when motivated by revenge, spite, anger based on misinformation, WHAT HAVE YOU ... seems like a crazy way to run a government. And basing your entire political philosophy, let along your public and private life, on a rabid fear that somewhere, sometime, in this galaxy or in the next, someone is going to use "zoning" to prevent anything -- ANYTHING -- well, that's evidently just a risk that some men are willing to tie themselves, and their fellow citizens, into knots to avoid.

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