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Historic Flat Rock pans road widening; drop-in event postponed

Langdon Oppermann urges the Flat Rock Village Council to oppose a proposed Highland Lake Road widening. Langdon Oppermann urges the Flat Rock Village Council to oppose a proposed Highland Lake Road widening.

FLAT ROCK — A proposed widening of Highland Lake Road has triggered an uprising from Historic Flat Rock and caused a rare split on the usually harmonious Village Council.

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The North Carolina Department of Transportation has drawn up plans to widen the roadway and shoulders and straighten curves and add a greenway along the edge of the Park at Flat Rock. Right of way acquisition is scheduled for 2019 with a construction contract letting set for December 2020, according to the NCDOT’s current project schedule.
Flat Rock, which provides itself on its historic character, strict land-use planning and sense of place, has a history of objecting to roadwork that residents regard as over-designed and unnecessary. Over the past several years residents have fought the bridge over Mud Creek on Little River Road and the Crail Farm Road bridge replacement. Residents of Boyd Drive and Haywood Forest are currently battling a proposed new bridge over Memminger Creek on Boyd Drive.
Historic Flat Rock members and other residents say that the DOT’s proposal to widen Highland Lake Road would transform a curving tree-lined gateway into a speedway bereft of trees.
“That road is currently 11 feet wide each lane,” said Anne Coletta, one of two Village Council members who voted last month to oppose the widening project. “That’s what they’re actually proposing on Kanuga to make that safer. I’ve been doing some research and it is a safe width for a road. There are some curves on the road but that’s part of the character of the road. To dampen the curves and to increase the width will actually increase speed on the road. Most traffic studies show that that’s what happens, with the possibility of more accidents because of increased speed.”
Coletta said the project will eliminate 186 trees in the Park at Flat Rock, Pinecrest Presbyterian Church and other land along the road. “I counted them,” she said.


‘That’s overkill, folks’

Rick Merrill, a Historic Flat Rock trustee and past president, said the new Highland Lake Road would be overbuilt.
“Thirty-four feet of roadway, four feet of shoulder, six feet of grass shoulder. 44 feet from ditch to ditch —10 feet wider than Greenville highway,” he said. “That’s overkill folks.”
He urged the council members to keep in mind their obligation to preserve the historic character of the village.
“Part of it is the feel that is created riding down tree-lined curving roads,” he said.
Vice Mayor Nick Weedman said that widening the road by six feet and straightening out the curves won’t make the road safer.
“They’re designing the road for 40 mph and to me that is going to encourage people to speed on the road, making it less safe,” he said. “They will be putting in at least two more curb cuts so there be more opportunity for people to enter the road.”
In addition, taking down to large oak trees at the entrance to Highland Golf Villas “will in my opinion destroy the beauty of the entry at that particular point.” The rough railroad tracks would be fixed, too, eliminating a road bump acts as a speed reducer.
Langdon Oppermann urged the Village Council to call a timeout and work with the DOT to minimize the negative effect on the historic character of the village.
“This is huge project,” she said. “Our roads are being widened bit by bit. Our trees are being cut down bit by bit. … Do we really have a need to get to the grocery store in nine minutes instead of 10?”


‘It’s going to happen’

Mayor Bob Staton said the village, after working with the NCDOT on the project for 18 months, can’t reverse course and reject the plans.
“Right now it’s too late to do that,” he said. “It’s going to happen and we have an opportunity to work with DOT to some extent to determine what goes where.”
“Our council is on board with what DOT is doing because DOT has agreed to do pretty much everything we asked them to do a year ago,” he said in an interview. “It seems more recently that Anne and Nick objected to doing anything with Highland Lake Road. It’s going to happen.” After agreeing to most of the town’s requests, DOT officials are “flabbergasted to hear that the council may have some objection to what they’re doing,” the mayor said.
Councilman John Dockendorf, the board’s liaison to the county Transportation Advisory Committee, tried to ease residents’ concerns.
“Everyone on the council cares about Flat Rock and nobody wants to see a monstrosity coming through,” he told the roomful of opponents. “I personally think there’s some great things about that project like a new entrance to the park at a quarter of the price, an opportunity to fix intersection, the opportunity to make the road safer and an opportunity for pedestrian access to the park.”
“I encourage you to get all your friends and neighbors to come to the meeting on Sept. 12,” he added. “Put in your comments. Your comments are worth exactly as much as mine. If 200 people show up, DOT is compelled to listen to that.”
After years of work funded by Historic Flat Rock Inc., the National Park Service certified the entire village as a historic district.
“Historic places are not just structures,” Coletta wrote in a statement explaining her opposition to the project. “They also include what are called ‘cultural landscapes.’ … Cultural landscapes include scenic highways and rural communities, and are made up of features that individually or collectively contribute to the landscape’s physical appearance as it has evolved over time. In addition to vegetation and topography, cultural landscapes include elements such as pathways and roads.”

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Because of Hurricane Irma, the NCDOT has called off a public meeting on the Highland Lake Road project schedued for Sept. 12. Comments may be sent to the DOT by letter, phone or email until Oct. 3. For additional information, contact Reece Schuler, Vaughn & Melton, at 1318 F. Patton Avenue, Asheville NC, 22806, call (828) 779-1788 or email rmschuler@vaughnmelton.com.