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Flat Rock rebuts arguments of widening project foes

FLAT ROCK — The Village of Flat Rock Village is defending its past actions in support of the Highland Lake Road widening and rebutting the arguments of the project’s opponents.

 

In a six-page Q&A posted on its website and released to the media on Monday, the village said that Highland Lake Road improvements would be consistent with goals in the village’s comprehensive land-use plan, adopted in 2013. The plan says that village will work closely with the NCDOT to “continually improve area roadways and transportation systems for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians” and to develop sidewalks and multi-use trails that are “cost-effective and harmonious with the natural environment for the enjoyment of residents and tourists.”

The Highland Lake Road improvement goes back to 2011, when the NCDOT first proposed it. The project ranked high enough to win state funding in 2014 based on a point system that measures factors such as safety and traffic volumes.

“While growth in Flat Rock has been slow, Henderson County is growing rapidly,” the village said. “North Highland Lake Road is a major connector road,” moving traffic from one “high use area” to another. The road is too narrow to allow emergency vehicles to pass in the event of an accident, sight lines are poor and it has no shoulder a car or bicycle could use to avoid an accident, the village said. There were 91 crashes on the road from 2011 to 2016, 21 of which resulted in injuries. There were three accidents in the last quarter of 2017 and a hit-and –run last month that left a bicyclist with a broken leg. Thirty-seven percent of the crashes involved left turn movements and 22 percent involved vehicles running off the road or sideswipes.

“The addition of turn lanes, increased storage and improving the width of travel lanes provides more margin of error to help drivers avoid these type of crashes,” the village said.

The council endorsed the plan conceptually in a vote last summer. Last October, when the NCDOT submitted plans for the project to the council and the public, the council asked for revisions. The NCDOT is expected to bring back the revised plan this spring.

Property owners including Pinecrest Presbyterian Church and the Western Carolina Veterinary Hospital, Historic Flat Rock and dozens of residents have been appearing regularly at Village Council meetings to oppose the project on the grounds that it’s unneeded, will take too many trees, will harm the church property and will disrupt the historic nature of Flat Rock.

The village responded to 14 questions about the widening project including these:

  • How much of the road will be straightened? The plan shows the widened road for the most part following its current path except for intersections of Highland Lake Drive and Highland Park Road, where the road is straightened for better sight lines and increased safety.
  • How wide will the road be? Still two lanes, the road would be widened from 11 to 14 feet; left turn lanes at Highland Lake Drive and Highland Park Road would be 12-14 feet wide. The speed limit would remain 35 mph. On the park side, there would be a 4-foot grass buffer and then a 10-foot wide paved bikeway and multi-use path.
  • Why does the council favor the multi-use path? The path would allow bicycles and people to share the park. It could eventually connect to greenways linking the park to the Carl Sandburg home and to Blue Ridge Community College.
  • Does the council favor the road project because it would get a new park entrance? The current park entrance is shared by the 44 homes of Highland Golf Villas, is too narrow to accommodate school buses and emergency vehicles and is unsafe. Although the village will save almost $1 million if the NCDOT constructs the new park entrance as part of the project, “getting a new park entrance was not the driving factor in the council’s decision to let this plan go forward. As planning proceeded, it became apparent that this would be another benefit of the project.”
  • How will the widening affect Pinecrest Presbyterian Church and the Western Carolina Veterinary Hospital? The council asked the NCDOT to minimize the impact on landowners along the road and has emphasized that the church and animal hospital property must be protected.
  • What about trees? The trees that would be removed are along the park’s edge. The NCDOT would replant some of them and the village would agree to plant more.
  • Is this the beginning of a larger plan to widen other main roads in Flat Rock? “No. Any rumors of widening other roads in Flat Rock are simply not true.” There are no plans in 10 years — as far out as NCDOT projections run — for widening Little River Road, Rutledge Drive or Greenville Highway. In fact, the Q&A points out that the Village Council blocked NCDOT’s plan to widen Greenville Highway in the 1990s.
  • Some have said the widening project “will negatively change the character of Flat Rock forever.” “It is hard to see how widening a road a little over a mile long and adding a walking path can ruin a community,” the Village Council said. “This plan is not a gateway to urbanization. This is a plan to improve a road in Flat Rock” to accommodate growth while “providing a way to access the park without using a car.”