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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Village can make park work

Some people said yippee and others said oh no when the Flat Rock Village Council voted last week to buy the Highland Lake golf course and develop it as a park.

We believe it was the right call.
As the Lightning has said in this space before, the Village Council exhibited a model of openness and transparency in its study of whether to buy the 66-acre tract, which is on the market for $1.3 million.
The Highland Lake Park Exploratory Committee covered an amazing amount of ground in just over three months, producing a 41-page report that recommended walking trails, a playground, picnic shelters and other passive features phased in over a number of years.
The council has some time, assuming it reaches agreement with the property owner to buy the land, to make plans. Mayor Bob Staton said the council has already notified course owners Jim Sparks and Tom Davis that they may go ahead and sell season memberships through September. Under that time frame, the village would take possession of the property in October. That's when the council will squarely confront the big question — now what?
"I was just talking to Dr. (John) Strickland (the county soccer association president) and he said as long as you have flat ground people are going to go in there and play," Staton said. "It's a very inviting space."
Does that mean people can use it? Staton said the council really doesn't have an answer to that yet. It is in the process of forming a park advisory committee, which fortunately will include several volunteers from the exploratory committee.
Council members said last week a critical factor that nudged them to say yes was an analysis by vice mayor Nick Weedman showing the village could buy and develop the park without raising taxes. Councilman Ron Davis was right to raise a caution flag about that.
"Notwithstanding Councilman Weedman's excellent work, I don't personally want to and I don't think that the council wants to promise that there will not be a tax increase," Davis said.
Anyone who has watched the Mills River Town Council's work on its Town Park knows that costs tend to rise with public demand for new park amenities.
Does that make higher taxes a certainty? No. It means it's possible, based on what townspeople say they want, that improvements, unexpected hurdles and operating costs could trigger a tax increase.
The fair-minded Flat Rock taxpayer should grant that the Village Council has earned a degree of trust on the issue. Since last September its members have shown an open mind and fiscal caution on the park proposal, and there is no reason to believe they won't continue to hold both ideas in their heads at once as they move forward. A vocal majority has come out in support of the park. The council can make it happen now with good planning, a judicious pace of spending and its usual conscientious attention to detail.