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At 30, Fletcher strives to create a sense of place

Pedestrian level street lights are one of the amenities Fletcher has added to create a Main Street feeling on U.S. 25. Pedestrian level street lights are one of the amenities Fletcher has added to create a Main Street feeling on U.S. 25.

The Town of Fletcher marks a milestone this summer. Thirty years ago in June, the community voted to incorporate as a separate government entity, embracing all the opportunities and challenges that went with that.

 

Since that vote in 1989, Fletcher has seen remarkable growth in population, housing construction and business development. Its early leaders had a vision of a family-friendly community that would to establish an identity distinct from hip Asheville to its north and retiree-rich Hendersonville to the south. Now, as it enters middle age, that challenge remains. Town leaders would like to create a “hometown feel” while managing the robust growth that its convenient location has invited.
“Asheville is a younger set with their artists and all that energy,” observed Myriam Gonzalez, a longtime resident of the sprawling Southchase subdivision. “Hendersonville is older. But Fletcher is right in the middle.”
“It’s peaceful,” added Myriam’s husband, Jose, a retired engineer who once served on a Fletcher planning committee. “It’s a clean town and it’s convenient to everything. But we could use more sidewalks.”
That desire for sidewalks and other amenities to make Fletcher feel more like home is what the town’s leaders are focused on next.
Mayor Rod Whiteside, elected in November 2017, welcomes the rapid growth that has been more visible in Fletcher than in the rest of Henderson County. He said that some Fletcher residents are reluctant to embrace growth, but it can be beneficial if properly handled.

“If we shut our doors to growth, we shut the doors on the future of Fletcher,” he said. “More people means more members of this great Fletcher family.”

Off to a flying start


The sleepy community of Fletcher, named for physician and landowner George Washington Fletcher, had existed for more than 150 years as a wide spot along Hendersonville Road in northern Henderson County.
According to the Town of Fletcher website, the area was first settled in 1795 by Samuel Murray of South Carolina, who decided to move his family to the mountains. They traveled up the old Howard Gap Road and chose to live near where Bill Moore Community Park is located today. By the early 1800s the area had become an important stop for travelers headed to Asheville and other points north.

In the 1920s, the Asheville business community looked south toward Fletcher for a commercial airport. It took a three-way government deal to get the Asheville-Hendersonville Airport accomplished (Henderson County was the third party). During World War II, when the federal government ran the airport, major runway and control tower improvements were made.

By the early 1960s, officials decided that a new airport was needed farther away from hazardous mountain ridges. The Asheville Regional Airport opened in 1961. Because the new site was in Buncombe County, “Hendersonville” was dropped from the airport’s name. The old airport site became the Fletcher Business Park. 

Around 1970, the first Fletcher incorporation effort was launched. Fletcher native and attorney Ken Youngblood recalled that state Sen. Carroll Wilkie, also from Fletcher, pushed a bill through the General Assembly. “The incorporation failed because the charter was defective,” Youngblood said. “Some of the proposed land for the town fell in neighboring Buncombe County.” Fletcher would wait two decades to be reborn.


Voters overwhelmingly support incorporation 



During the 1980s, Asheville had swallowed parts of Skyland and Arden and the big city was expanding toward the Fletcher community. At that time, the law allowed a city to annex into another county. Fletcher had some prime industries such as Steelcase, Eaton and Wilsonart, all of which had built on the site of the old airport. Those and other properties could be grabbed by the City of Asheville unless something could be done.

In 1989, a group organized to incorporate Fletcher — for a second time. Asheville promptly resisted. The city had grounds to do so because under state law two municipalities cannot be in close proximity. Eventually an agreement was reached whereby Fletcher could not annex into Buncombe County. In June 1989 Fletcher’s residents voted 692 to 40 for incorporation.

One of the key players in this successful incorporation effort was Sara Waechter. The wife of a banker, Waechter was passionate about Fletcher’s future and good at rallying residents. She became mayor by appointment in 1989 but later that year lost a close election to Robert Parrish.


‘One chance to start out right’

“The Town had one chance to start out right,” recalled Craig Honeycutt, the town’s first manager, who was hired in 1993. “Through leadership from our Town Council and Planning Board we laid a great foundation.”

Now county manager in Wayne County, in Eastern North Carolina, Honeycutt singled out Mayor Parrish, who he described as “the father of Fletcher.” As town manager, Honeycutt oversaw the police department, garbage collection, parks and recreation and other services. “Twelve years was a long time for a first job but having such a great board and staff made it tough to leave.” 

Five-term Henderson County Commissioner Charlie Messer, Fletcher’s first planning board chairman, credits Parrish for urging him to run for Fletcher Town Council in 1997.

“Bob was a pioneer,” Messer said. “He knew what buttons to push and knew the people in Raleigh that could get things done.” Parrish served 11 years as mayor, dying in office in 2000.

Parks are part of vision

Upon Parrish’s death, Mayor pro tem Bill Moore, who was Parrish’s brother-in-law, took over as mayor. Moore was a hands-on leader. Looking back on his 18 years in office, 75-year old Moore said he was proud of the town’s accomplishments. Under his watch, Ingles opened a large grocery store on U.S. 25, Pardee-Mission built a medical campus next door on the county line and later added a state-of-the-art YMCA.

“I had good people around me,” said Moore, referring to his council and town staff. “We didn’t really have an agenda. We had a vision and the community park was part of that vision.”

The first Fletcher town park was Kate’s Park, which is located next to the library on land donated by the Youngblood family. In 1996, the town acquired 60 acres on Howard Gap Road for another park. Its baseball and soccer fields are clearly visible from the highway. Parks and Recreation Director Greg Walker says the park is used by a thousand people daily.

“It’s a place where a dog can be a dog,” said Cindy Gaffney who walks rescue dogs from nearby Charlie’s Angels. “I like the big open space.”

“We love the family friendly atmosphere and that it’s safe and well-managed,” said Brian Gerheardstein who was pushing his eight-month-old daughter Penelope in a stroller. “We live in Hoopers Creek and it’s close by.” Brian’s wife Alice had just finished a five-mile run. She likes the flat terrain and said the only downside to the park is that there are no swings.

Jim Williams, a retired VA hospital administrator, was at the park preparing for a 25-mile bike ride. “If I’m not cycling, I like to walk the back trail past the cornfield,” Williams said. “The park is beautiful and it’s safe.”

Mark Pletcher, of Blue Sky Café, has operated a restaurant not far from the park on U.S. 25 since 1997. “I was skeptical when they sank a lot of money into the park, but it’s been used a lot,” he said. “We do benefit from park activity, particularly if the ball games get rained out.”

Moore, the former mayor, says the park has unified the town.
“Newcomers and long-time Fletcher residents didn’t always get along at first, but after we opened the community park in 1999 there was a big change. Folks walked together, talked with each other, played sports together. It was good for the town.” Moore even welcomed non-residents. “They don’t have a park in south Asheville and they use ours.” In 2018, when Moore was leaving office, the town council named the park after him.

Fletcher is pursuing a new park venture on 94 acres donated to the town by Meritor, the truck axle maker. It may host tennis courts, a playground, a splash-pad and an event area with a performance stage. The build-out cost is estimated at $3 million.


Plans for a downtown

Fletcher never had a traditional downtown. The idea of building one from scratch surfaced in 2001 during community brainstorming sessions. Two years later the first schematic was rolled out. The concept, called “Heart of Fletcher,” would be a mixed development of residential, commercial and civic uses.

The scope of the project changed over the years. In 2015, it was rebranded “Fletcher Town Center” and marketed as a place “where neighbors can shop, learn, dine and socialize.” The anchor tenant, a town hall and public safety building, was built in 2014 on a 49-acre tract the town acquired. Five years later, that’s all that’s been built. Yet to materialize are the restaurants, retail businesses, offices, housing, a perimeter greenway and a performing arts venue.

“We are moving forward and are actively pursuing clients for the property,” Mayor Whiteside said. He said Fletcher is also trying to redevelop the area between Town Hall west to U.S. 25 near a new clock tower that’s under construction. Town Manager Mark Biberdorf said that Commercial Carolina, a Charlotte marketing firm, has been retained to find investors to further develop the property.


The booming 1990s

In the 1990s Fletcher’s the population grew from 3,150 to 4,279 and today it’s more than 8,000. Housing development and the name Windsor Aughtry, the Greenville, S.C. company, became synonymous. Windsor Forest, Southchase, St. Johns Commons and Livingston Farms are all Windsor Aughtry developments. They fit the needs of residents who travel the Asheville-Hendersonville corridor.

The housing boom continues today but the trend is toward apartment communities. The Groves at Town Center will add 168 units when it opens this month and a yet unnamed housing complex on Old Cane Creek Road will add 311 more.

Exit 40, the airport exit on Interstate 26, is a cluster of mostly new development containing among other businesses seven hotels with more than 500 rooms, all of which contribute to Fletcher’s tax base. Fletcher’s ABC store is on nearby Rockwood Road. Around the corner on Underwood Road is Apple Tree Honda’s showroom, which opened two years ago. Just down the street from Honda is Blue Ghost Brewing Company, Fletcher’s first brewery.

A large part of Fletcher’s industry is hidden from anyone traveling U.S. 25. Most of it is on the east side of town, an area with good topography, ample water and sewer service and a good road network. Blue Ridge Metals arrived in 1989 joining Borg Warner (engine thermal systems). Newcomers are Microtech Knives, Smartrack (radio ID devices) and BIG Adventures (kayaks).

“Fletcher has the perfect combination of advantages working to support its future,” said Brittany Brady, CEO of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development. It offers “a supportive local government, excellent accessibility and transportation, new residential inventory and years of unbroken population growth of people under the age of 35.” Fletcher’s property tax rate is 15 cents lower than Hendersonville’s.


Creating ‘downtown’

After years of trying to put a pleasing face on a five-lane commercial highway, Fletcher has turned the corner. A $2.1 million U.S. 25 facelift project is expected to be finished this summer, adding a mile and a half of sidewalks bordered by brick pavers, antique streetlights, crosswalks and shade trees. The town put up 20% of the cost and NCDOT covered the rest. The clock tower, paid for entirely by the town, on the corner of Fanning Bridge Road at the entrance to the Town Hall complex, is almost done.

U.S. 25 went from two lanes to five in 1999, and Allen Gurley, owner of Foam and Fabrics Outlet, one of Fletcher’s oldest retailers, liked the result. “Things didn’t happen in Fletcher until they widened the road,” he said. “That was good for us even though they took some of our road frontage.”
Biberdorf, the current town manager, said Fletcher is running out of space for development. “The town is approximately 6.1 square miles and there is only so much land that can be developed,” he said.

Biberdorf cited two pressing needs for the Town Center: a community college satellite facility and a new library. Both projects require support from the Henderson County Board of Commissioners.

Doug Agor heads the nonprofit New Fletcher Library Partners. Its mission is to raise $4 million to pay for construction of a 15,000-square-foot facility on five acres of town property. “We need to have a specific library site mapped out in the Town Center,” Agor said. “Until the town commits, we can’t recruit major donors.”