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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: What to watch in 2019

Elections in the cities, development in downtown Hendersonville, the next steps in the pursuit of high-speed internet service, the new sheriff’s policy changes and popular uprisings against road improvements and development highlight the forecast for 2019.

Municipal elections in Henderson County are generally ho-hum affairs, especially when Hendersonville has no mayor’s race. With the already announced retirement of Flat Rock Mayor Bob Staton, the question becomes whether Historic Flat Rock and the activist organization Cultural Landscape Group Flat Rock field a candidate for that three Village Council seats. Historic Flat Rock and CLG organized strong and persistent opposition to the Highland Lake Road widening project. They could recruit candidates to run against Ginger Brown and John Dockendorf in their push for openness and neighborhood inclusion as the council looks at future road projects and greenways. There’s no point in targeting Nick Weedman, whose seat is also up and who is expected to run for mayor. Weedman was the only Village Council member to vote no on the Highland Lake project. If Weedman files for mayor, that will create an open seat in the village’s southern-most district, including Kenmure, Claremont and Kingwood.
Laurel Park Mayor Carey O’Cain plans to run for election. O’Cain has been an activist leader in pushing for park and greenway development and a dedicated property tax for the upkeep of roads. He and his wife, Lutrelle, just bought Wild Birds Unlimited, so he’ll win the avian vote, too. Not much drama expected there.
Though there’s no mayor’s race, veteran Hendersonville City Council members Steve Caraker and Ron Stephens are up for election. Also up this year are seats currently held by Hugh Clark and Bob Davy in Fletcher, George Banta and Robert Vickery in Laurel Park, Wayne Carland and Roger Snyder, the last two remaining members from the Mills River’s founding Town Council; and Stanley Walker, Lynn Cass, Karen Bultman and Leon Morgan in Saluda.
Instead of election excitement, we’re likely to see at least a little fireworks erupt as the consequence of an election. There’s a new sheriff in town, and the Tea Party is spoiling for a fight with him over a campaign promise. During his primary election campaign against Charlie McDonald, Griffin refused to commit to keeping the 287(g) program, which greases deportation of undocumented persons charged with a crime. The night Griffin was taking the oath of office across town, Tea Party members and other conservatives pleaded with the Board of Commissioners to persuade Griffin to keep the ICE partnership. Griffin says he’s evaluating 287(g) to determine whether it’s a good deal for county taxpayers.
The points to watch in downtown Hendersonville in 2019 form a triangle: the Historic Seventh Avenue District, the historic Grey Hosiery Mill and the corner of Church Street and Fourth Avenue. Look for the City Council to continue its focus on ways to stimulate redevelopment along Seventh Avenue, starting with the new police station on Ashe Street. This may be the year that reveals once and for all whether the Grey mill becomes an adaptive re-use — apartments are the latest plan — or gets bulldozed for a parking lot. And, finally, all eyes turn to the Dogwood parking lot, which the city has offered to sell to a developer who would erect a hotel in that block.
Despite making a lot of noise, the anti-growth anti-road widening forces had a mixed record in 2018. While killing the Balfour Parkway gave NIMY leaders a big trophy, scaled back projects to widen Kanuga Road, Highland Lake Road and N.C. 191 and a plan to install roundabouts on U.S. 64 in Laurel Park crept forward. The citizen army remains committed to stopping those and other projects — in the form of wider roads or higher density housing. Whether the NIMBY movement is ascendant or waning is the question.
The impressive turnout for public meetings to hear about new high-speed internet service seemed to manifest an appetite for fiber optic speed. Hendersonville, Laurel Park and Fletcher formed WestNGN, which stands for Next Generation Network. If it determines there is a big market in the most densely populated areas, RiverStreet, a Wilkes County-based company, could announce plans to run fiber optic line here.
And, of course, there’s Hendersonville High School. If the stars align, the Board of Commissioners and School Board this year could find the will and comity to a new construction/renovation plan that pleases the Bearcat nation, meets budget targets and resolves the issue at last.
All the intriguing storylines are ready to unfold in the new year.