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Village at odds over park priorities

FLAT ROCK — One day before the Flat Rock takes possession of its new 67-acre park land, the Village Council decided that it needed to hold a workshop to order priorities for park development.

The council has been talking about acquiring the former Highland Lake Golf Club property for 14 months. It closed on the $1.1 million purchase in July and allocated $832,000 last spring for park development in the current budget year. It adopted a master plan for development and set out a phase 1 of improvements. Part of that seem to unravel Thursday when council members debated what exactly should happen first.
Before the council started discussing plans for the 67 acres along Highland Lake Road, CPA Carl Shaw suggested that the council segregate park spending in a capital project ordinance.
"The park is going to be the elephant in the room for a while," said Shaw, who was reporting on the town's 2012-13 audit. "A capital project ordinance is designed to extend through the life of the project ... When you're done, you have to look in only one place to see what was funded and how you spent it."
The "elephant in the room" did not remain uncommented upon for long.
"I think we need to go into this with our eyes wide open," said vice mayor Nick Weedman, "and make sure the things we put in there are what we really want in there."
Weedman's comments drew the council into a few minutes of friction, a rarity in Flat Rock, where political accord and smooth operations are the usual order. Weedman suggested that the council still needed to set its priorities. Mayor Bob Staton and Councilman Dave Bucher countered that the council had already done that. It adopted a master plan in a special meeting earlier this month and decided that the first phase would include a new entrance, a perimeter walking trail and restroom and pavilion.
Weedman said he is not sure a new entrance, reconfigured parking lot or lighting are needed. The village might be better off, he said, waiting to see how much the park is used.
Bucher said restrooms would be a necessity.
"I don't think anybody's going to say restrooms and a shelter are not a first priority," he said. "Let me remind you there are no toilet facilities in the park."
Weedman was unpersuaded.
Walking the mile-and-a-half perimeter, even at the slow pace of 2 mph, would not take long. "You're talking about 35 or 40 minutes," he said. "If they can't hold it ..."
Bucher responded: "I think you're going to have complaints."
"I've had complaints already," Weedman said. "After six years on this council, I've got a thick skin."
Council members hope to open the park for walkers by some time in December, though they have not set a date.
"It's very important to have the trail development," Mayor Bob Staton said. "I think we all agree on that."
The council agreed to hold a workshop or special meeting to set the priorities. The meeting will take place with the new council, which will be sworn in next month. Albert S. Gooch Jr., Anne Guerard Coletta and Sheryl A. Jamerson are replacing retiring council members Bucher, Ron Davis and Jim Wert.