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Commissioners balk at greenway extension

Taking a first look at adding a half-mile segment to the popular 3.6-mile Oklawaha Greenway, Henderson County commissioners on Tuesday got sidetracked by concerns over parking and questions about whether the county could land a $1.9 million NCDOT grant or force the city of Hendersonville to pay for the project.

In the end, commissioners directed county planners to get more information about a state grant and to map a route through Jackson Park that takes no parking spaces.
County planner Kyle Guie presented a plan for a six-tenths mile extension of the Oklawaha Greenway through Jackson Park in two phases at a cost of $336,000. A 878-foot segment would connect to the current trail and go up a hill toward a picnic area. The next segment, about a half-mile long, would require road and sidewalk improvements. It would loop around the park on a road that’s now reserved for emergency vehicles. Trail users would be separated from traffic by a physical divider.
Tommy Thompson, the chair of the board, stopped Guie as soon as he got to the part about eliminating parking in a picnic area on top of the hill above the tennis courts.
“If you kill parking in the picnic area you’ve killed the picnic area,” Thompson said. “I cannot go along with eliminating parking in the picnic area. It kills a great facility that we have. Something has to be worked out there. I couldn’t go along with that.”
Commissioner Charlie Messer agreed. A longtime advocate for Jackson Park and improvements to its ballfields and facilities, he said the county park needs more parking, not less.
“I’ve heard no discussion about this,” Messer said. “I don’t think that’s right. I wouldn’t vote to eliminate one space.”
Commissioners moved on to talk about a separate proposal to extend the greenway to Blue Ridge Community College, partly along a sewer line. Commissioners were more receptive to that but had questions about whether the county would have to come up with a $400,000 match. Part of a regional bike and pedestrian plan developed by the transportation planning agency known as the French Broad MPO, the extension to Blue Ridge Community College is supported by the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club and the newly formed Friends of the Oklawaha Greenway. Both organizations have been working with property owners to gauge their interest in selling land for the greenway extension.
“The French Broad MPO in their program for 2016 through 2025 has $1.9 million for extending the Oklawaha Greenway to Blue Ridge Community College,” Commissioner Grady Hawkins said. “We’ve got some correspondence from the MPO folks that to leverage that money we’d have to have a 20 percent match.”
Hawkins said the county needed to know whether funding the Jackson Park segment, at a cost of $336,000, would be enough to draw down the MPO grant.
“I would ask staff to find out if we did that would that amount of money be enough to leverage the full $1.9 million,” he said.
If the Jackson Park to BRCC leg starts at the Glover Street edge of Jackson Park, as the French MPO plan says, then the county may not be able to count the interior Jackson Park leg expenditure as a match, planners said.
“This hole in the donut is totally on the county at the moment,” Commissioner Bill Lapsley said of the Jackson Park link.
Commissioner Michael Edney said that when Henderson County granted the city of Hendersonville an easement through Jackson Park for a sewer line three years ago, the city had committed to making the path greenway ready. That hasn’t happened, he added.
The discussion ended with no decision.
The board ordered county planners to draw a greenway route that eliminates no parking and to explore funding options, including the French Broad MPO, which administers state and federal transportation money, and the city of Hendersonville.