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Campaign kickoff highlights battle lines in Flat Rock election

Hilton Swing addresses crowd at a campaign kickoff. Hilton Swing addresses crowd at a campaign kickoff.

FLAT ROCK — Three candidates for Flat Rock Village Council pushed back last week against charges that their opponents have made about the Highland Lake Road project and other village matters, putting the issues in the fall campaign in stark relief.


In a campaign kickoff at Highland Lake Inn last Tuesday, incumbent Ginger Brown and challengers Barbara Platz and Hilton Swing plunged into the controversies that are fueling the Village Council campaign, including charges made in a mailer about the road widening project, a sidewalk and greenway and the council’s transparency.
The group of activists organized Cultural Landscape Group: Flat Rock to oppose the Highland Lake Road project and to call attention to what it regards as a threat to the historic nature of the village. Led by former Village Council member and current candidate Anne Coletta, the CLG has formed a political action committee and endorsed Nick Weedman, who is running unopposed for mayor; Tom Carpenter, a “proponent of transparency in village government, opponent of North Highland Lake Road project,” Coletta, who favors “respecting and protecting Flat Rock’s historic character” and opposes North Highland Lake Road project, and David Dethero, a “proponent of reasonable growth and responsiveness to the voters.”
Eighty people turned out for the campaign kickoff of the three candidates on the ballot against the CLG slate. While they rebutted many of the charges the CLG has made, Brown, Platz and Swing also pledged to work with Historic Flat Rock, the CLG and other stakeholders in any future land-use or transportation plans.

‘The road will not be straight’

Brown chaired the village’s park exploratory committee before she was on the council and has guided management, rules and regulations and planning for the facility since she was elected to the council four years ago.
DSC 0003Ginger Brown and Barbara Platz greeted supporters at a campaign kickoff last week.“In my spare time, I mowed grass, I painted, I planted, I watered I even cleaned up after dogs,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a job at the park that I haven’t done.” While opponents have called the bike-pedestrian path through the park a “road to nowhere,” Brown said the trail could be a link in a 70-mile greenway network sketched out in the county’s master plan.
“My opponent, Anne Coletta, and the Cultural Landscape Group, want you to believe that the (Highland Lake) road improvements will destroy the soul of the village and ruin the park,” she said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. After all the work many of us have given to the park, do you think I would let anything ruin it?”
Noting that she and council members had “worked to reduce the impact of the original project, which was not in keeping with the village,” Brown said she now supports the job, which is scheduled to get under way in 2021.
“The road project will improve road safety and convenience,” she said. “It will allow us to build a new entrance to the park, removing park traffic from Highland Golf Villas. It will give us a multiuse path through that can be used by bikers and walkers to safely travel down Highland Lake Road and also provide connectivity to future trails. It will provide a crosswalk for residents living around Highland Lake to enter the park on foot. And it will improve the difficult and dangerous turn radius at Greenville Highway.”
Brown also rebutted the assertion that the design will straighten curves in the road.
“The lanes will be 11 feet wide, just as they are now,” she said. “The speed limit is and will remain 35 mph. The only widening will be in areas where turn lanes will be added. The road will follow the same winding curve configuration as it does now. It will not be straightened. It will not be anything like Upward Road and more importantly it will not cost the village taxpayers anything.”
Brown also criticized her opponent for suing the village when it cited property owners for leaving anti-road project yard signs up after the council had decided the question.
“They’ve mailed out false information that used scare tactics to shape public opinion against the road,” she said. “They’ve littered our beautiful village with signs claiming doom and gloom if the project was allowed.”
While a law firm is handling the CLG’s case for free, “the village has no such luxury,” Brown said. “We are spending money on this. Taxpayer money. Your money. The bottom line is this. Anne Coletta is suing the Village of Flat Rock and costing us all money and at the same time she is running for a seat on the council. I don’t know how this is working. It’s difficult for me to understand. That just doesn’t seem right. I don’t believe that’s the kind of leadership that’s best for Flat Rock.”
Brown also said she wants to keep taxes low, work with Sheriff Lowell Griffin on animal control in the village and work on regulations of short-term rentals such as Airbnbs.
“I will work with Historic Flat Rock to maintain the special historic aspect of the village,” she said. “But I also believe that the future should be considered. I will support beneficial and appropriate change that improves our village and keeps our heritage and tradition intact.”
She concluded with two promises: “I will never sue the village and the road will not be straight.”

CLG charges ‘intended to inflame public opinion’

Platz, retired as vice president for professional services at Pardee Hospital, said she had never considered running for office until the past months of conflict.
“I believe this particular race is of critical importance to the future of the village,” she said. “The more I listened to the opposition, the more I realized we need help create a positive and hopeful future for our wonderful village. This race is not about a single issue. It is not about Highland Lake Road. It’s about finding ways to work collaboratively across a variety of issues versus an unfortunately negative view of village life.”
At Pardee, Platz helped shepherd the agreement between the Hendersonville Hospital and Mission Health to create a joint medical campus on the county line in Fletcher.
“This was a multi-year process — very, very challenging but also very collaborative,” she said.

Like Brown, she also pledged to “ensure that taxes remain low and to be a careful steward in how your tax dollars are spent.” One appropriation “I enthusiastically endorse,” she added, “is continued support for the wonderful Flat Rock Playhouse. It’s an invaluable cultural asset and it’s important to remember that the Playhouse is an economic engine for Henderson County, providing $14 million in revenue annually.”
The Planning Board she serves on “has been very careful to engage all stakeholders,” she said. “Both CLG and Historic Flat Rock were included in the entire process” of drafting a survey of village residents scheduled to go out soon. “You can understand why we were very disappointed when our hard work may have been compromised by the mailing merely intended to inflame public opinion. It’s important to note that neither of the widening projects listed in this mailer has been approved by the Flat Rock Village Council or any other municipality nor by Henderson County.” (The mailer said that “more road widenings being considered” included Erkwood Drive and West Blue Ridge Road.)
“If we do not plan for the inevitable increase in the number of visitors to our beautiful village then we are failing our responsibility as leaders,” Platz said. Increasing traffic can’t be addressed “by wishing things would stay the way they were. We can manage the necessary changes if we agree to look forward and be open to constructive and collaborative solutions. … I pledge to you I will keep an open mind and remember that compromise is not surrender but often the best way to reach the best possible outcome for all concerned.”


Signs for Swing’s attention


A native of Hendersonville, Swing said running for the Village Council “wasn’t high on my list of priorities,” given responsibilities to his family and his career in real estate. “But then something changed,” he said. “I kept seeing these signs around town, talking about big rigs that are going to be running through our town all the time, and preserving the heritage and cultural landscape of our community, whatever that exactly means, and all this other stuff we witnessed over the last year or so.”
All his life, he said, he’s seen the village progress.
“I also know it’s changed over the years. Some of those changes have been good, some of them have been wonderful, some of them, not so much,” he said. “But change is inevitable.”
A member and past senior warden of St. John in the Wilderness, he’s a lifetime member of Historic Flat Rock.
As a resident of the village and a real estate agent, he said he has worked with the Village Council members and village personnel on numerous occasions.
“The village has always been in all my interactions helpful, transparent, functional and useful,” he said. “That’s what you want out of municipal government.”