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State Rep. Chuck McGrady said the ongoing fight over HHS construction might force him to abandon his practice of staying out of intergovernmental warfare.
“The problem there is the city appears to be poised to block plans for Hendersonville High vis a vis their authority to not close that street or their zoning powers,” he said after a meeting of the Board of Commissioners earlier this month. “Last I looked, Hendersonville doesn’t have any responsibility for education or education funding. The two local bodies that have responsibility for education or education funding, albeit not unanimously, have decided what they were going to do. It’s awkward.”
The first test vote on the HHS plan could come on Feb. 9, when the City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to close Ninth Avenue West between Oakland Street and U.S. 25.
“What I said to (City Manager) John Connet was usually when these sorts of things happen, local government comes to the legislative delegation and says, ‘How can we fix it?’ I just want you to know that if Henderson County and the Board of Education together comes to me and says this isn’t right,” he would listen.
“I usually don’t get into these things. But it is bothersome that Hendersonville is using its other powers to intervene in a decision that the state has delegated to other people. I’m trying to stay out of it. Both Chuck Edwards and I would prefer not to get into these things. I have gone six years without getting into fights between municipalities here and I would like to complete my term without having to weigh into one.”
Commissioner Bill Lapsley and McGrady both said they believe Mayor Barbara Volk and council members Ron Stephens and Jerry Smith are no votes. Three no votes would defeat the closing of Ninth Avenue between Oakland Street and Asheville Highway or would block the rezoning needed for the school project. Volk and Stephens have both told the Hendersonville Lightning that their statements about the construction option would not prevent them from objectively considering a development permit request.
County Manager Steve Wyatt said he sees no reason why a legislative override of council action would be needed.
“We’ve proceed in good faith to spend one heckuva lot of money,” he said. “We have invested a lot of money based upon the city saying OK, we don’t have a problem, makes sense.
“We’re working with architects and engineers and planners to present a plan to the City Council that will not only meet but will exceed their requirements,” he said.
A revised site plan has addressed the question of parking, which opponents of the new-construction have said is inadequate.
“Having kids walk across Highway 25 ain’t going to happen. It was never going to happen,” he said. “Somebody threw that out as one of those scare tactics but that’s just not going to happen.”
“The tradeoff,” he said, was sacrificing a grassy courtyard between the Stillwell building and the new HHS. “That’s gone because that’s a parking lot now.”
County commissioners vowed during a Jan. 17 meeting to shelve the HHS construction if the Hendersonville City Council used its zoning authority to block the project.
During a budget workshop, Lapsley repeated a warning he had made in early December — this time with a new target. Lapsley made a public statement before an up-or-down vote of the School Board that a no vote would kill the project for the foreseeable future. This time, Lapsley and other board members were reacting to reports that Mayor Barbara Volk and two Hendersonville City Council members are prepared to vote on no a street closing or on a special-use permit needed for construction.
Lapsley said that commissioners had received plenty of phone calls and emails from HHS parents who favor the new state-of-the-art building commissioners have authorized. Now that both the Board of Commissioners and the School Board have endorsed the county’s plan, the City Council should fairly consider the application based on the zoning code, not the wishes of the Alumni Association, commissioners say.
“The decision rests clearly on the shoulders of the City Council and we will all be very disappointed in the outcome but there should be no doubt where the responsibility lies,” Lapsley said. “If they vote no on the plan as presented, that will kill the project. It will be shelved indefinitely and there will be no new school.”