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Rep. Whitmire favors rail over trail

State Rep. Chris Whitmire State Rep. Chris Whitmire

BREVARD — An $11 million connector road could jumpstart the dormant Davidson River Village project at the old Ecusta mill site in Brevard.

The development, which a state legislator said could create 2,800 jobs and be worth up to $450 million, has been on hold for seven years. Announced in 2008, the development has the potential to transform the old paper mill property from an abandoned industrial strip into a vibrant mini-city with hundreds of homes within walking distance of shops, offices and park-like amenities.
Renova Partners, which specializes in the redevelopment of environmentally contaminated property, bought the land in January 2008 for $16 million and announced plans for the mixed-use development of residential units, retail, office space and possibly light industrial. Renova officials have met with Transylvania County leaders as recently as a few weeks ago.
"They're very optimistic that they would see some activity out there very soon," Transylvania County Manager Jaime Laughter said. "From what we can tell, it's an active and viable project."
Whether redevelopment of the 527-acre Ecusta property for homes, shops and offices would help or hurt prospects for the Ecusta Trail is very much in the eye of the beholder.
The Friends of Ecusta Trail says the pedestrian oriented development, featuring a riverside greenway, 50 acres of open space and a sidewalks connecting homes, shops and businesses, would fit perfectly with the proposed rail trail.
Transylvania County officials are holding out hope that the Davidson River Village could become a rail customer and state Rep. Chris Whitmire took an unsubtle swipe at the Ecusta Trail when he praised the road project last week.
"Our children will have a means of prosperous employment and key road and rail infrastructure will serve more than just seasonal tourism," he said.
The Transylvania County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the trail, in part because board members consider the decision a matter for the railroad owner Watco to decide, Laughter said. "A lot of it depends on the company's vision for the future of the line," she said. "They have to decide what to do."
The highway project is a positive sign that Davidson River Village could be stirring back to life.
"A critical catalyst for this desperately needed job-providing project is a 0.79 mile connector road," Whitmire said in a legislative update to constituents. "The connector is an absolute requirement between U.S. 276 and U.S. 64 for safety and traffic congestion reasons to prevent further strain on existing failing intersections in the vicinity."
Whitmire helped accelerate $10.7 million in funding for the connector road by seven years, to fiscal year 2015-16, "meaning that it may begin as soon as this summer," he said. "While this is not a guarantee of instant jobs, it is incredible news in that the DRV developer and interested job providers now have a reliable timeline and certainty."