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Laurel Park eyes growth along U.S. 64

Rust-colored area is partly in Laurel Park and partly in unincorporated Henderson County. Red and blue parcels show commercial and office zoning. ETJ designations are in Laurel Park’s extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction. Rust-colored area is partly in Laurel Park and partly in unincorporated Henderson County. Red and blue parcels show commercial and office zoning. ETJ designations are in Laurel Park’s extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction.

LAUREL PARK — Nine years away from its 100th birthday, Laurel Park is reimagining itself in its second century as a town with more retail, a destination for younger families and a mountaintop community connected by greenways — all while preserving its small town character.

“We have a small town and we have a limited commercial district so we need to look at long term how we going to maintain our small town atmosphere but also grow our town,” says Councilman Paul Hansen.
Hansen and Mayor Carey O’Cain are the council liaisons to a steering committee that has been working since last summer on a plan to guide growth through 2025. Change is a delicate topic in a town where 42 percent of the residents are over age 65 and the biggest issues are how soon the snowplows will clear Hebron Road and how efficiently the town will plug water leaks. Aside from that, people in Laurel Park are pretty happy with the town that real estate developers conceived as a summer resort during the land boom of the 1920s.
“We had an event (to accept public input) on Jump Off Rock and we heard very strongly that people want to maintain the residential rural core of what it means to be Laurel Park,” said Town Manager Alison Melnikova.
Even so, planning committee would like to see at least modest growth, more retail and dining opportunities and a bigger tax base.
The countywide property reassessment last year showed that the total taxable real estate value in Laurel Park had inched up by an anemic 1 percent, well below the countywide rate of 5.4 percent. Other towns with more vacant land and industrial and commercial property experienced much more robust growth. Fletcher’s tax base grew by 4.5 percent and Mills River’s shot up by 8.4 percent.

Laurel Park residents and others interested in the 2025 comp plan are invited to review the plan and make comments during open houses on April 7 and April 9.

‘Neighborhood services and gathering places’



2025 Laurel Park
Comprehensive Plan

Community Open House: 4:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7, and 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, April 9, at First Congregational Church.
Residents may drop in when convenient and visit a variety of stations to review maps, read elements of the plan, ask questions and make comments. There will be a kid’s station, too, so families are encouraged to attend.

During a public meeting last summer and from a survey of town residents, the steering committee “heard from the residents that they want to continue to protect the rural residential nature of the Town but have a commercial area that provides neighborhood services and gathering spaces,” Melnikova wrote in a summary of the comp plan recommendations. “The result is a long-range plan for gradual change in a targeted area along US-64/Brevard Road to a mix of business and residential.”
The opportunity for commercial and retail growth lies along a westward frontier that’s partly outside the town’s jurisdiction. Although the proposed 2025 plan identifies the U.S. 64 corridor as a target for mixed-use development, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners has jurisdiction over a stretch of the corridor almost a mile long.
“And we’re limited on expansion due to the Legislature’s restriction on involuntary annexation,” Hansen said.
The town is sensitive to the fears of property owners in unincorporated Henderson County.
“We don’t want our plan to scare the people who live in this area,” Melnikova said of the unincorporated land. “We’re not coming after them. … This is not going to change anybody’s current zoning. It encourages future voluntary changes along U.S. 64.”
In planning sessions, council members often bring up a 90-acre parcel of vacant land on the south side of U.S. 64 and on the westernmost edge of town. Zoned for half-acre residential lots, the land could be prime property for a mix of housing and retail, the steering committee said. The land is currently on the market.
“Basically if you look at the Highway 64 corridor you’ve got a gap from our current town limits to the 90-acre parcel,” Hansen said. “I’m not saying we’d develop the whole corridor as a commercial corridor. I don’t think that’s feasible.”

Attracting families

Committee members also hope that the 2015 plan will encourage development and amenities that would attract families.
“What’s really important for us is that we need to make the town more friendly for the younger generation of folks,” Hansen said. “How do we make the town a destination and a place that the millennials want to have a residence in? A lot of people love being retired here but we also need to bring in the younger generation.”
One way to do that is park and greenway development.
“It’s quite clear that part of bringing in the younger generation and people that would appreciate Laurel Park is to have walking trails, biking trails and more parks,” he said. The town has Laurel Green, Lake Rhododendron and Jump Off Rock. “Connecting the top of the mountain to the bottom of the mountain in walking trails” is a priority, Hansen said. “And we’ve got a plan to do that.” The Town Council is on record in support of the Ecusta Trail.
The town received two grants to help fund studies that dovetail with the 2015 plan. A $12,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission will fund a study of the commercial district and a $40,000 grant from the NCDOT will fund a pedestrian-bikeway plan.
“What we’ve stressed about it from the beginning is that this comp plan contain an action plan and that it’s not a dust collector,” Hansen said.