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Meeting on fate of Highland Lake project called off

Designers of Highland Lake Road project are trying to squeeze in improvements that don't harm Pinecrest Presbyterian Church, on left, or encroach on the Flat Rock Historic District, on right. Designers of Highland Lake Road project are trying to squeeze in improvements that don't harm Pinecrest Presbyterian Church, on left, or encroach on the Flat Rock Historic District, on right.

FLAT ROCK — An anxiously awaited vote on the fate of the Highland Lake Road improvement project won't happen Friday as scheduled.

The Flat Rock Village Council on Monday called off the meeting because of a conflict with a funeral and because council members came up with new questions after seeing revised roadwork plans on April 13. The council has moved the Highland Lake meetings to the parish hall of St. John in the Wilderness because crowds interested in the issue overwhelmed Village Hall.

“The main reason we canceled is there is a burial service at 10 o’clock on Friday morning and it’s a private family service and the funeral is in early afternoon," Mayor Bob Staton said. "When we met before, we took every bit of parking we had on the parish hall side and much of what was in the church. It also would delay setting up for the reception to follow the funeral, plus the fact I don’t think we’re ready to move on it.”
The council scheduled the meeting on Friday because that was the last day all seven council members would be in town until late June. Now it looks as if the council won’t take up a crucial yay-or-no vote on the controversial project until late June “or even later,” Staton said.
That may be for the best, he added, because the council still has questions about some pieces of the project.
“This will give the council more time to get some answers from the DOT about things we’re not happy with,” he said. “One proposal by DOT is to bring the multi-use path into the park so it coincides with our soft surface perimeter trail. Whatever DOT puts in has to be paved and we want to keep that soft surface trail. People really enjoy the use of the trail. It’s a lot easier on the knees and other joints especially for joggers.”
Council members also were surprised to see the DOT’s plan for a new park entrance. It would close the existing entrance — saving two majestic oak trees — and replace that with a shared entrance to the park and to Highland Golf Villas.
“We’re not sure we like that idea,” the mayor said. “Then there’s some question about a box culvert running under the road. What the heck is that going to look like, and how long is it going to take? We hope to learn more in the interim.”
Two organizations strongly opposed to the project have called on the Village Council to reject the project, even though the revisions included concessions like saving the parking and septic field of Pinecrest Presbyterian Church and minimizing encroachment on the Flat Rock Historic District on the south side of Highland Lake Road.
A group of project opponents called Cultural Landscape Group on Friday urged the Village Council to kill the project.
“There are so many unknowns and negative impacts that will happen if this project continues,” said Annie Coletta, a Flat Rock resident and CLG member. “NCDOT has acknowledged that they did not initiate this project—it is unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money. Pinecrest Presbyterian is losing all of their tree buffer, historic properties are being significantly damaged, and I can’t even imagine how much harm and visual devastation will occur around King Creek and the Highland Lake dam as the roadway is expanded, walls are constructed, and a box culvert is added.”

Historic Flat Rock Inc. also wants the Village Council to pull the plug.
NCDOT Division Engineer Brian Burch on Monday assured Village Councilman John Dockendorf that the transportation agency remains “committed to continuing to work with the Village Council to deliver a project that will be conducive to your vision for the Village.”
The council’s liaison for transportation issues, Dockendorf has been trying to steer compromise on the plans.