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In Flat Rock, drama shifts from stage to campaign trail

Two slates are battling for control of the Flat Rock Village Council in a rancorous election campaign. Two slates are battling for control of the Flat Rock Village Council in a rancorous election campaign.

FLAT ROCK — Both sides say they are fighting rumors and disinformation as a lively campaign for control of the Flat Rock Village Council reaches the home stretch.

 

Mayor Bob Staton, who is retiring after serving eight years as mayor, lamented at a recent public meeting that “there’s much rancor and unhappiness right now” in the village, known more for drama on the Playhouse stage than the campaign trail.
Incumbent Ginger Brown and candidates Barbara Platz and Hilton Swing are battling an opposing slate led by former council member Anne Coletta and newcomers Tom Carpenter and David Dethero.
Backed by strong fundraising, especially by Coletta and the organization she founded, the Cultural Landscape Group, the CLG slate if it wins would swing the balance of the power, 4-3. Nick Weedman, who is running unopposed for mayor, agrees with the CLG that the Highland Lake Road project should be dropped.
While battle lines on the road project are clear, Brown and her supporters say the CLG slate has spread rumors about other road projects and greenways.
“Flat Rock has not even approved at this moment a greenway plan and in the draft of that plan we took a greenway off Little River Road just because we knew there would be so much opposition,” John Dockendorf, a Brown supporter who is leaving the council. As the transportation liaison, Dockendorf serves on the greenway planning committee, the county Transportation Advisory Committee and the French Broad MPO.
“There is not an approved plan and a draft tentative plan does not have a greenway on Little River Road,” he said. There are no plans, either, for widening of Little River Road, Erkwood Drive, West Blue Ridge Road or Greenville Highway.
In an earlier draft of “what roads would need attention in 2040, Little River was marked as road to be considered and I asked (the MPO) to take Little River off that plan,” Dockendorf said. “As a council we have probably killed more road projects than any other council.”
A mailer funded by the CLG political action committee promises that Upward Road “will not be the model for Flat Rock’s roads” and warns that Flat Rock “must not become ‘South Hendersonville.’”
“No, it will look nothing like Upward Road,” Dockendorf said of Highland Lake Road. “It remains two lanes. The lane width remains the same. There will not be a center lane, there will not be four lanes. The properties being affected are really a church and a park.”
“They certainly gave the impression that as soon as we’re done with Highland Lake, they’re going to start on Greenville Highway,” Brown added. “I can tell you that is not going to happen. The current council, including myself, we don’t have a plan to redo every road in Flat Rock.”

The NCDOT revised the Highland Lake Road, she said, plan because the council insisted on changes.
“We said this is not acceptable to us. If the NCDOT cannot come up with a better plan, we’re going to walk away,” Brown said. The revised plan “saved the septic field (at the church), parking was saved and the radius was saved. NCDOT will replace those trees or give money to the church to replace those trees.”
She said she urges voters to check out the official Village Council website to read an extensive timeline of the Highland Lake Road project. “There’s a history of how this came about, all the meetings that were held to support this project,” she said. “It was all done in the open.”
The NCDOT told the council several years ago that Highland Lake Road “is currently unsafe and as traffic increases in the future it will become even more unsafe and we wanted to do it before it gets worse,” Brown said. “Once this project is done, we’re not going out looking for things to do. It’s just not true when this completed, that Greenville Highway is next or Rutledge is next.”
“We’ve have never said that,” Coletta responded. “We have said that if you look at DOT plans and county plans, all of those projects are potential projects but we have never said that the current council members would consider them.”


Battle over tax increase

 

The two slates are also battling over a 2-cent property tax increase and whether Coletta’s lawsuit over the village’s yard sign ordinance caused it.
Everyone agrees that half the increase is attributable to increased cost for fire protection, which is provided by three different rural departments. Brown, Platz and Swing blame Coletta for the other half, saying a $25,000 appropriation in legal expenses was needed to fight her lawsuit.
“If the council knows an expense is coming, we have to plan for that, we have to budget for that,” Brown said. “Right now we’re up over $15,000, and we’re still not done.”
The Village Council and Coletta, who has been represented for free by a national public interest law firm, are in negotiations to resolve the dispute but have not resolved it yet.
“I would say that it’s absolutely false” that the lawsuit accounts for the tax increase, Coletta said. “Half of that was because the three fire departments have increased their contract rates.” The next biggest cost increase was for park maintenance, she said. And the increase for legal work was mainly because Mayor Bob Staton, a lawyer who does free legal work for the village, is retiring from the council. “As far as the lawsuit, that is a cost that the mayor and Village Council caused by ignoring our request that they have the sign ordinance looked at and amended so it would be constitutional,” she said.
Weedman said there’s no question the lawsuit cost the village money. He voted in favor of the sign ordinance that the village has now admitted was unconstitutional but said he and other council members thought at the time the sign law was legally sound.
“The fact that we passed an unconstitutional ordinance and the fact that it was challenged in federal court has cost us money,” he said.