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Planning Board recommends City Council deny HHS plan

Ken Fitch, an opponent of a new HHS, speaks to the Planning Board. Ken Fitch, an opponent of a new HHS, speaks to the Planning Board.

The Hendersonville Planning Board in a split vote on Monday recommended that the City Council deny a rezoning for a new Hendersonville High School, saying that the plans raised safety and traffic concerns and were incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood.
The Planning Board also recommended denial of a special-use permit in a 5-3 vote.
The board took the action, which is not binding, after the county’s architect of record and engineers explained the $54 million new school, which has been strongly opposed by HHS students, faculty and alumni.

Architect Chad Roberson said after the meeting that as far as he knows the county plans to go forward with the application before the City Council on May 4.

The meeting seemed for the first hour to be the watched pot that failed to boil. The county made a straightforward presentation of the rezoning and special-use permit application, going into detail about traffic, parking and security. Opponents raised the same objections they had been making for nearly two years — on traffic, failing to use the historic Stillwell building and neighborhood concerns.

After the public hearing was closed, Planning Board members had only four questions for Roberson.

But then, when it came time to discuss the application, Steve Johnson asked to have his three minutes, as the public had been given, “to air some things that may not sound relevant.”

He recounted that his hometown in Tennessee spent five years to site and build a new school, reaching an agreement on the "perfect spot" after much public discussion.

“But the situation here is a little bit different,” he said. “We’re talking about building a new high school that’s larger than the one we have now on top of it, I know it’s not literally on top of it.”

Among his concerns were areas the Planning Board is allowed to consider — “namely safety, traffic, neighborhood compatibility and just acreage,” he said. “It’s a beautiful looking concept if it were in the right place. I have a hard time going along with it with all the consternation that has been drummed up about it.”

Given the concerns, "I’m not sure it’s time to make this decision,” he said. “I don’t why the city and county can’t get together on this and come up with something that’s suitable.”

John Coker seconded Johnson’s motion to recommend the City Council deny the development applications. Supporting the motion were Jay Thorndike, Aaron Black and Jon Blatt. Ray Mundy, Peter Hanley and Ben Pace voted no. Planning Board Chair Steve Orr does not vote.

When it came to the concerns about the acreage, Mundy said the Planning Board had raised the same issue when Ingles applied for a permit to build a new store on Spartanburg Highway.

“They put a large building on a postage stamp,” he said. He was dubious, but “it looks really good.”

“Somewhere along the line it comes to the point where it’s time to proceed or put it to bed,” Mundy said of the long HHS debate.

Now the future of HHS is anything but put to bed. The Planning Board’s no vote revived the spirits of HHS alumni and other supporters who want the county to maintain original Stillwell building as an integral part of the school and it set up a big decision for the City Council on May 4.

HHS Alumni Association President Bill Orr said the Planning Board decision was the first time he'd seen an attempt to stop "a wagon running downhill without brakes."

"We don't need something crammed down our throats like a law enforcement center," he said. "I've told City Council members, 'Don't let county commissioners kill your elected body like they did the Board of Education."