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Flat Rock council hears from residents at first town hall

Flat Rock resident John Gerni questions members of the Village of Flat Rock Council about how a COVID relief grant might be used in the village. Gerni spoke during a town hall Thursday night. Flat Rock resident John Gerni questions members of the Village of Flat Rock Council about how a COVID relief grant might be used in the village. Gerni spoke during a town hall Thursday night.

FLAT ROCK – The North Highland Lake Road widening project and how the village might spend $1 million in Covid relief money were among the topics Flat Rock residents discussed Thursday evening during a town hall with elected leaders.

“Let’s have a conversation. Let’s see what’s on your mind,” Flat Rock Mayor Nick Weedman said as he opened the meeting at Pinecrest Presbyterian Church.
About 25 residents attended the meeting, the first in a series of town halls the Village Council plans to hold in coming months.
The widening project on North Highland Lake Road was on the minds of several residents who questioned Weedman and council members. They wanted to know when construction will likely begin, how long it will take, how many lanes will be added to the two-lane road and if the road will impact the Park at Flat Rock.
A few residents said they were concerned about plans to close a portion of the road to replace a culvert near a dam just off the roadway.
Addison Brown, who lives near where the closure will likely take place, said he was concerned about gaining access to his home, emergency medical service access and a wedding that is planned on his property in September.
Anne Coletta, the village’s vice mayor, said she would try to get more information from the North Carolina Department of Transportation about how residents will access their property during the closure and a timetable for when the road will be closed for the culvert replacement.
Most of the work to move utilities for the project is complete and construction is expected to begin in the fall. The work to widen the road is expected to take two years, Coletta said.
Once complete, it will include three left turn lanes and a less severe curve near the park. The speed limit will remain at 35 mph.
“They are taking most of the property they need from the park,” Coletta said. “We tried to mitigate some of the negative impact on the park. They will be taking the edge of the park right around.”
Coletta said she was also concerned about speeding once the road is widened because it will be easier for drivers to feel comfortable going faster than 35 mph once the road is wider and the curve is less sharp.
Other residents asked about the whether the village expects to receive money from a government Covid relief grant, how much it will receive and how the money will be spent.
The village is expected to receive $1,078,153.45 from the American Rescue Plan grant, Weedman said. But the money must be spent on “Covid-related” projects and is subject to audit, he said.
“The more we learn about it, the more narrow it gets,” he said.
John Gerni, who moved to Flat Rock from Brevard a few weeks ago, asked Weedman if the definition of Covid-related was made clear.
Flat Rock does not have its own police department, fire department or public works department, which means much of what could be covered by the grant does not apply to the village, Weedman said.
“We’re getting more information,” he said.
One resident asked if some of the grant could go to the Flat Rock Playhouse. The theater closed in response to the pandemic. It did not hold a season in 2020 and remains closed this summer.
“The Playhouse has been severely impacted. We are looking into that,” Weedman said. “That seems to me it might qualify, but time will tell.”
Weedman and others on the council also fielded questions about improvements to the park, nuisance animals, taxes and the possibility that homeless people might be occupying some open land in the town.
Council members said most of the responsibility for homeless people staying on land is up to the property owner but that the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department is also available to respond to problems. Henderson County representatives are also available to respond to animal concerns, members said. The council is also considering building raised boardwalks at the park, they said.
The town is not planning a tax increase this year, Weedman said. But property values in the village are likely to increase, he said.
Flat Rock decided to hold a series of town hall meetings as a way to give residents a chance to get involved and speak directly with their elected leaders.
Residents who attended Thursday’s meeting gave council members a round of applause at the conclusion.
The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 12 with the location to be announced.