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HHS zoning request cruises despite traffic concerns

Architect Maggie Carnevale points out traffic flow in the plan for a new HHS campus. Architect Maggie Carnevale points out traffic flow in the plan for a new HHS campus.

More than two years after it last took up a rezoning application for Hendersonville High School construction, the city Planning Board endorsed the change in a unanimous vote.

The climate was starkly different than it had been in April 2017, when the advisory board voted 5-2 to recommend that the City Council deny a rezoning for an HHS plan that would have replaced the historic core classroom building with all-new construction. That Planning Board vote came amid a pitched political battle among HHS students, faculty and alumni, the county Board of Commissioners, the School Board and the City Council that involved emotional public hearings, threats and counter-threats and charges of improper back-channel lobbying.

The new plan, which saves not only the Stillwell core building but the auditorium that is the scene of the school’s most hallowed traditions, won enthusiastic praise from HHS principal Bobby Wilkins.
“I just wanna say what a great deal this is,” he said. “The architects and the School Board and all of the central office and the county — they’ve really done a lot of work and gotten behind this. It’s the same culture, same tradition we’ve always had and it’s adding to it and making it better for the kids, which is what it’s all about it.”
Noting that he had been part of visioning, planning and negotiation “from the beginning” more than four years ago, Wilkins said the new plan “meets all our needs. This is what Hendersonville High School needs to be and hopefully what it will be.”
As they had during an initial public meeting last month, neighbors expressed concerns about the traffic flow and pedestrian safety and insisted that the NCDOT officials should be directed to respond.
“I had hoped I would not have to say a word today, that NCDOT would be here and answer all our questions but they’re not here,” said Ken Fitch, who lives in Hyman Heights, across Asheville Highway from the campus.
Fitch and Chris Casey, the father of two HHS students and also a resident of Hyman Heights, say engineers’ plans for a right-turn-in, right-turn-out access from Church Street into the student and faculty parking lot will create congestion and traffic hazards.
“I’m here to ask for help at this intersection” of Asheville Highway and Oakland Street, said Casey, adding that he has brought his concerns to city planners, the School Board and DOT engineers. “It’s just going to in my opinion add more traffic to Oakland Street.” The plan “does not adequately address student and pedestrian safety. If something happens, some responsibility will lie with one of the entities I’ve been seeking help from for the past three years.”
The architects say a traffic impact analysis has taken into account safety and traffic. Engineers could not design a second access way to the parking lot on Oakland Street because the grade there is too steep, architect Amy Dowty said last month.
Planning Board member Steve Johnson, who led the charge against approval of the all-new-construction plan two years ago, made the motion to recommend the rezoning request. Among the conditions was NCDOT engineers address the safety concerns the public has brought up. The application for a Planned Institutional Development Conditional Zoning District is expected to go to the City Council on Aug. 1. Barring unforeseen delays, bids on the major construction contracts are expected to be granted in early 2020. The new campus, including a new classroom building, new gym and enclosed courtyard and a completely renovated Stillwell building, is expected to be done by August 2023.