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FLAT ROCK — The Flat Rock Village Council voted unanimously Thursday morning to move forward with negotiations to buy Highland Lake Golf Course and develop it as a passive park.

The vote was unanimous after all seven council members expressed support for the plans. They said an analysis by vice mayor Nick Weedman suggesting there would be no need for a tax increase was one factor.

“I think we all realize that this is a paradigm shift in village policy and over the next two or three years, the torch is going to pass to a new generation of Village leadership and I’m encouraged by the fact that that generation has had a part in the planning for this park,” said Councilman Ron Davis.

“It’s clear to me,” said Councilman Jim Wert, “that a majority of the folks favor pursuing the park idea. I think a key point for me was the analysis Councilman Weedman did on the taxes, (showing that) we should be able to support the development and maintenance of this park without the consideration of a tax increase for several years.”

“A lot of people have said we need to protect the character of the Village,” said Councilman Jimmy Chandler. “I do not think that means that we stand still. Things have to move on. Things change and we have to manage change. We have done a lot of things over the years — we’ve done the Village Hall, we’ve done sidewalks, we’ve done sewer. Every step of the way they said you shouldn’t do this you shouldn’t do that. I think years later we will look back and say that was the right thing. The key is going to be that we manage it financially.”

Council members credited Mayor Bob Staton and Highland Lake Park Exploratory Committee chair Ginger Brown for having conducted the process openly.

“I hope that everybody in Henderson County appreciates the openness that this whole process has had,” said Ed Joran, an exploratory committee member who lives in Staton Woods. “Everyone certainly in Flat Rock that was interested had an opportunity to stay abreast of the process as it moved along.”

During Monday evening's meeting on the park, Weedman presented an analysis showing that buying the land, developing walking trails, parking, a playground and other improvements and budgeting for maintenance could be done without a tax increase. The financial outlay would spend down Flat Rock's fund balance from $4.9 million to about $3.6 million, Weedman said.

Even so, Weedman and other council members cautioned that they could not guarantee the park would never cause a tax increase.

"Notwithstanding Councilman Weedman’s excellent work I don’t personally want to and I don’t think that the council wants to promosie that there will not be a tax increase," Davis said.

Weedman agreed, saying this council cannot bind future councils to any action.

"I am in favor," Weedman said, though "not without some trepidation, because we are opening a door to the unknown. Who knows how this thing is going to go in the future."

Weedman also said he had already received a call from an adjoining property owner who had offered to donate land to expand the park. "I have a lady that would like to see an addition to the park and she would pay for it," he said.

Council members also said that developing the golf course as a park could increase property values in the immediate vicinity and said they hoped having a 67-acre park at the village gateway would attract more young people to village.
The council went into a closed session to discuss a price the village would offer to owners of the property, Jim Sparks and Tom Davis and their company, Course Doctors. The land has been on the market for $1.3 million but council members have said they thought they could pay less than that. The Henderson County Board of Commissioners had tentatively agreed in the fall of 2011 to buy the land for $1.1 million before the county scrapped that deal.

Exploratory committee member Doug Johnson, who lives in Highland Golf Villas, urged the council to negotiate wisely.

“Just as you have faith in our committee we have faith in the council’s wisdom to do a fine negotiation and not give the farm away so to speak,” he said. “I don’t want to see the enthusiasm and unanimity to be a blind effort to purchase it at any price.”

Staton was quick to respond. “We won’t do that,” he said.