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Town of Unicoi BMA hears caboose history, housing needs update

Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum President Mike Tilley addressed the Town of Unicoi BMA. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Town of Unicoi is set to welcome a Clinchfield Caboose to its growing Tourist Information Center.

The Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen learned the history of the Old Clinchfield 1111 Caboose, or the Old Eleven Eleven as it is sometimes called, during a meeting on Tuesday, Jan.21.

Clinchfield Railroad Museum Curator Martha Erwin explained how the caboose, which will be on permanent display at Unicoi visitor’s center in the coming months, will be a benefit to the town.

“It really hurt so much when so many said it was not a Clinchfield, when we had all the facts available proving it was,” Erwin said. “There is no proof that the caboose will cost the town $40,000 as it has been rumored; it simply isn’t true.”

Erwin thanked the BMA for doing their due diligence.

“I want to commend Mayor Johnny Lynch and this board of aldermen and alderwomen for having the foresight to accept this caboose,” Erwin said.

Following Erwin’s presentation, the crowd heard about the restoration process of another train caboose from Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum President Mike Tilley.

“Last year, 6,000 people went through it (the Chuckey Depot in Jonesborough); it’s a tourist attraction,” Tilley said. “I can tell you what restoring a caboose cost – we got $6,256 in that caboose (the caboose at the Chuckey Depot,) we got the track donated to us like you have. We may not know much, but we know how to fix a caboose. There is no maintenance costs in a caboose, you wash it two times a year to keep the mold off.”

According to Town of Unicoi Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton, the cost for the moving and restoration of the Clinchfield Caboose was slated to be an estimated $9,150.

“We have received $4,347 in donation materials and an anonymous donation of $1,000, which leaves currently at $3,803 in costs,” Shelton said. “We are receiving inquiries about donations daily so that cost could come down.”

Following the meeting, Shelton confirmed that work could begin on the caboose in the coming weeks.

“We should begin the foundation work in the coming weeks, weather permitting,” Shelton said.

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The BMA also heard from Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board Executive Director Tyler Engle about a program that would incentivize new housing to Unicoi County.

According to Engle, the Town of Unicoi would benefit from the Infrastructure and Guaranty Fund (I & G Fund) to boost new housing in the county.

“Our main objective is to advance the prosperity of Unicoi County and these housing incentives are a way to do that,” Engle said.

Engle acknowledged that the I & G Fund is an initiative that would offer developers a one-time reimbursement grant equal to two percent of the assessed value of a newly-built home or vastly improved existing residence. For example, for a new home valued at $195,000, the rebate would be for $3,900 to be paid in equal shares by the town and county governments. According to Engle, taxes will net $7,179 over 60 months for the town and county governments.

Bullen inquired about a shortage of available houses in Unicoi County and Engle confirmed that there was a shortage.

“By our count, we are 350 doors short of our projected numbers,” Engle said.

Engle pointed out that the Town of Unicoi currently receives $1.4 million in unencumbered sales tax annually and that number can increase.

“With more housing and more residents we can see that number grow,” Engle said.

According to Engle, the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board is looking at areas in the town that could bring in new business.

“We are always searching Tinker Drive and Unicoi Drive to bring in retail development,” Engle said.

After Engle concluded his presentation the board did not commit to partnering with Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board on the I & G Fund at this time.

The BMA also voted unanimously to rezone property on Clearwater Drive from A-1 agriculture designation to R-2 medium density residential designation with a final and second reading. The motion to rezone the property came from Vice Mayor Doug Hopson and was seconded by Alderwoman Wanda Radford.

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Also during the meeting, the BMA agreed to join the Town of Erwin and Unicoi County in establishing Unicoi County EMS.

The Town of Unicoi BMA voted unanimously to move forward with a plan that would allow the Town of Unicoi to join Unicoi County EMS with an interlocal agreement that could be adjusted after two years and will include a cap of $28,340 annually.

For more details about the Unicoi County EMS, please see page 1-A.