We did something a real estate agent just isn’t allowed to do, which is to slip away on vacation for a few weeks. We returned to a very different Blue Ridge. The Wal-Mart has been open since June 6, and is already doing a good business. It’s about the size of the Blairsville store. There is a lot of talk about the businesses that may come to locate near it already.
Perhaps bigger news is that the City of Blue Ridge’s voters approved Sunday sales of alcohol. This was something that I thought was really too close to call, but in the end it wasn’t even close. I don’t have the exact totals with me, but I believe the vote was something like 91 against, and 131 for Sunday sales. I’ll credit the “pro” forces for running a good campaign, although I’ll admit that I thought they erred by advertising in the newspaper read most frequently by the locals, the News Observer. This is huge for our restaurant owners, of course, may of whom will now open on Sunday. That’s nice from my point of view, because it is has always a little discouraging to bring buyers back to the office on a Sunday afternoon and have to tell them that their choices for dinner in Blue Ridge were extremely limited.This vote should change all that. To my knowledge, the timetable for the change has not been established yet.
Speaking of newspapers, there is a new print and online newspaper starting up in Blue Ridge, the Fannin Focus. The publisher is a young man who grew up here locally, Mark Thomason. I’ve had some good conversations with him about his plans, and I think he is going to produce a quality product that will make a real contribution toward moving Blue Ridge forward. No doubt there will be some growing pains, but I believe he has good instincts and some very good ideas. The first issue is scheduled to be published online on the 26th, with the print edition to follow in a few weeks.
Whether the news from My Mountain is good or bad depends a little on your perspective, and a lot on whether you live in Phase I or Phase II. The water project is well underway in Phase I, with the water main laid about 3/4 the length of Katydid Road. There have been some delays and detours in travel, but the contractors are making the road minimally passable before they quit each night. Unfortunately, the sides of the road are already occupied by other utilities, so the main is mostly being laid right in the middle of the road.
The Phase II news, on the other hand, is very discouraging. As you may know, the lawsuit against developer Roy Quintrell resulted in an unequivocal victory for the Quintrell Estate in our local court, with Phase II property owners who did not explicitly opt out of the class action lawsuit being saddled with a judgment of $327,415.12. That’s for damages ($10,130) and attorney fees and costs of litigation ($317,285.12). A lien has been placed against these properties, which of course means that they usually cannot be sold. There is some opinion that the issues on appeal look very good for the Phase II people, but they are being required to post a bond in the amount of the judgment prior to appeal, and this has so far not been done. I have been told that the Quintrell Estate has so far been unwilling to release property owners on an individual basis (by paying their pro-rata share of the judgment). As the only motive a property owner would have to settle would be if he or she wanted to sell his or her property, this situation may drag on for some time.
In downtown news, Angie Arp, a newly elected City Councilperson, has proposed to install parking meters in downtown Blue Ridge to solve our parking problem. It’s difficult to see how you can solve a parking problem just by charging for the parking you already have, but Ms. Arp’s full page advertisement in the News Observer pitching the idea made it clear that what she is really after is revenue, which she proposes to use to lower residential property taxes and do other things that directly benefit local citizens, like building a gym. (There’s some opinion that revenue from parking meters cannot legally be used the ways she proposed, but Ms. Arp says that she checked with the city attorney.) In a hearing last Tuesday at City Hall, nearly everyone who spoke made it clear that this would seriously harm downtown Blue Ridge, and that a parking deck is a much better idea. A number of good, alternative ideas were presented. Jan Hackett, the President of the Chamber of Commerce, went so far as to say flatly that it would kill downtown Blue Ridge, and that if it happened, she’d have to go back to promoting the great outdoors, not Blue Ridge and the great ourdoors. I saw no evidence that this discussion affected Ms. Arp in the slightest, as she made it clear at the end of public comment that she had not heard a viable alternative to her proposal. I’m not sure what the outcome will be, but I would not bet the ranch that at tonight’s meeting, the Council will not move forward with this plan. As her advertisement was the sort of thing you usually see in a political campaign, it might best be interpreted as the opening shot in a forthcoming populist campaign for mayor that will pit the “citizens of Blue Ridge” against the downtown merchants, most of whom cannot vote in city elections.