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Politics heats up in once tranquil Flat Rock

Map shows right of way, construction easements, drainage easement and utility easements associated with the Highland Lake Road project. Map shows right of way, construction easements, drainage easement and utility easements associated with the Highland Lake Road project.

FLAT ROCK — Flat Rock Village Council members responded during their regular meeting last week to numerous assertions contained in a mailer from the Cultural Landscape Group, calling the mailer’s points inaccurate or misleading.

The organization formed by former Council member Anne Coletta and others led an aggressive campaign to stop the widening of Highland Lake Road and raise questions about other potential road projects and greenways in the village. The mailer, which arrived in Flat Rock voters homes last week, warns that “MORE ROAD ‘WIDENINGS’ (ARE) BEING CONSIDERED,” trails will be reconfigured at the Park at Flat Rock and “unknown” costs remain for the village’s share of a greenway and sidewalk through or near the park.
Indignant at the mailer's assertions, council members challenged several of the points. The scene was just the latest signal that the once sedate Village Council meetings have become far more contentious and that the upcoming election is influencing the council’s work. Three council seats are up in the Nov. 5 election and each race has a candidate who questions the need for the Highland Lake Road improvement facing one who endorses it. Coletta is running against Ginger Brown to get her old seat back.
The CLG flier said that it’s unknown how much Village taxpayers would have to pay for a paved greenway and sidewalk and to maintain the  amenities or how much it would have to reimburse the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, which awarded the village a grant to help acquire the land.
“We do know,” Brown said. “We have known since April.”
The village will pay $33,992 as its 20% share of the cost of a sidewalk leading to the park and a greenway through the park. The state would pay the village $35,000 for the land in the park; the village must give 41% of that to PARTF. The state would pay the village $50,000 to cover trail relocation, tree replacement and drainage work. The village keeps that amount. All that equals a net of $36,658 for the village, although Brown points out that the right-of-way acquisition and park impact figures remain an estimate because both the village and the NCDOT are waiting on appraisals.
“As you can see, we’re not going to be out any money on this project,” Brown told the council.
Coletta said in an interview that the figures could change.
“I would say if you listen to what the council members were saying, none of those figures were final figures,” she said. “The most precise figure they seemed to have was the 20 percent match for the sidewalk but even that figure from what they said in the meeting could change based on what material they use for that path, whether it’s concrete or asphalt.”
Later, council members also said they oppose widening of either Erkwood Drive or West Blue Ridge. The projects have been proposed as possible improvements the county would request in a new round of state transportation planning.
Coletta said it was important to notify Flat Rock voters of the potential Erkwood Drive and Blue Ridge Road widening projects “because it does not appear on the community website or their Facebook page,” she said. “Part of our goal with the flier was we wanted to inform the public because that information does not readily appear on the village website or their Facebook page.”
She said the flier was produced and distributed by CLG, not her campaign, and that she did not plan to report it as a campaign expenditure.
“It’s not funded by and has nothing to do with my campaign,” she said. “CLG is an advocacy group that has their own right to say things.”
In one more response to a comment Highland Lake Road project opponents have made, Council member John Dockendorf defended plans for the paved bike-ped path through the park. “It’s not a road to nowhere,” he said. “We aren’t building a road to nowhere but to connect Carl Sandburg to the Flat Rock Park and then (under the county’s greenway master plan) Flat Rock Park to Jackson Park and then Jackson Park to Berkeley Park.”
A link from the Park at Flat Rock to the Carl Sandburg Home would be a natural path through the woods, he said, not a paved greenway. He pledged to work with Historic Flat Rock to get its support for the location and style of greenways the village would include in a master plan.
After the meeting, Council member Paige Posey pointed out that Highland Lake Road would remain on the same path it is now and that the park would lose a total of .54-acre when the DOT takes the road right of way. Once the road is done, the park acreage would drop from 65.85 to 65.31 acres, according to a survey.