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'Save Boyd Park,' speakers tell city

City Manager John Connet talks to citizens at a public meeting on Thursday. City Manager John Connet talks to citizens at a public meeting on Thursday.

Hendersonville City Council member Jerry Smith on Thursday night hosted a public meeting on all the city's big projects in the near-term and medium term: a proposed parking deck and downtown hotel, new police station on Ashe Street in the Historic Seventh Avenue District, Seventh Avenue streetscape, replacing Fire Station 1, moving the Laura E. Corn Mini-Golf course from Boyd Park and building new tennis courts to replace the two courts there.

A point of passion and emotion for local people is the city putt putt course. A "Save Boyd Park" group has formed, gathering more than 1,100 names on a petition to stop the City Council from relocating the city miniature golf course in order to build a new Fire Station 1. Corn's daughter and daughter-in-law also attended and although they did not speak publicly, they said afterwards that they hope the community remembers their mother and the love and caring for children she showed during her decades running the attraction.

City administrators and the council are negotiating an agreement to sell the Dogwood parking lot to a Fletcher-based hotel developer for a SpringHill Suites by Marriott on the site. The proposed parking deck in the 100 block of Fifth Avenue West would supply some parking spaces for the hotel, some for current Dogwood lot leaseholders and the rest for shoppers, diners, employees and visitors. A study of Fire Station 1 identified problems with the space and functionality of the existing station and projected renovation cost would be almost as high as bulldozing the building and starting over. A new station would require the removal of the Putt Putt course and tennis courts, according to plans the council endorsed. The two big projects designed to boost economic development on Seventh Avenue are the new $11.5 million police station — expected to open in late 2021 — and a $1.3 million streetscape upgrade, slated to start this fall.

All the City Council members attended, although they did not meet formally or offer any comments. Here are key points about the projects (the comments are Smith's):

Parking deck

  • The city will have a population of around 20,000 in 2045 and the county will grow to 155,000, projections show.
  • The council tries to act according to this mission: "Maintain quality of life in Hendersonville while planning for a future that includes population growth, higher population density and greater demand for services."
  • The five-story parking deck would replace 157 Dogwood spaces, adding a total of 325 for a gain of 168 new spaces. If it's four stories instead of 5, cost would be $6.9 million. It will be served by kiosk, not an attendant. No one has proposed raising property tax to pay for it; parking fees in the deck and downtown. Current lease holder of Dogwood spaces will have opportunity to get a space in the deck, at around $30-80/month.
  • Parking deck charge under consideration: Free 1-2 hours, next hour $2.50 and $1.50 after that for a max of $10.
  • As it is now you could get a $25 ticket for overparking downtown.
  • Cost downtown would be $1.50 an hour potentially.

Fire Station 1

  • New station would cost $7.5 million.
  • The current station has multiple problems that make renovation impractical. The council has tentatively committed to a new station.
  • Moving mini-golf would cost $250,000; new tennis courts $100,000.
  • Currently, plans are to pay for construction cost with long-term borrowing. That would require a 1-cent property tax increase to cover the debt, for the new fire station and the mini-golf and tennis.

Seventh Avenue streetscape

  • A goal of the council had been to connect Main Street and Seventh Avenue. "We like to think of it as all being part of our downtown."
  • A major stormwater upgrade is needed. It also needs more trees.
  • Seventh Avenue provides expands business space downtown.
  • The streetscape work is scheduled for the fall, at a cost of $1.3 million.
  • Can Duke Energy put power lines underground? Probably not. "We would like to do that but it is highly prohibitive as far as cost to do that," Smith said.

Police headquarters

  • "We're about to build a new police headquarters. We have outgrown that space" in City Hall.
  • Parking is limited at City Hall.
  • Why Ashe Street? "We see that as sort of an anchor for Seventh Avenue."
  • Building is 24,000 square feet, with lots of community meeting and training space and sustainability features in energy costs, stormwater management, etc.
  • Cost is $11.5 million, with construction starting soon and completed by December 2021.
  • The construction cost would be financed. The current tax rate would cover the debt service.
  • One reason it's needed: storing evidence where police work. Now evidence is stored in City Operations Center.

Downtown hotel

  • "The city is not building a hotel." Discussions about a downtown hotel have been going on for years. The hotel would go on the Dogwood lot property, the city would sell to the developer. 
  • The current proposal is a SpringHill Suites by Marriott, a glass and brick structure, at a cost of $18 million, with 100 rooms, 65 parking spaces and a banquet room seating 200-250 people. Average room rate is projected to be $150/night.

Public comment

After the 45-minute presentation, Smith opened the floor to public comment. Here are some of the comments:

  • Ralph Hammond-Green, Hyman Heights: With new projects on the drawing board, the city should consider environmental friendly "dark sky compliant" street ligting and outdoor lighting. "Most of the street lights in our city light the sky as much as they light streets and sidewalks."
  • Larry Phillips. A Henderson County native, Phillips says "it is detrimental that we lose our downtown Boyd Park." Go ahead and buy a piece of property and move (the fire station) somewhere else." He has gathered 1,132 names on a petition, 122 of whom provided comments. He grew up in a fire service family and supports the fire service. "I realize it's not an easy fix but it's one of the things we have to look at and save our park." With the historic stone gym being removed at Hendersonville High School, now "would be a perfect opportunity to ask for some of those rocks to be made part of the northside corridor to come into Hendersonville the same as it is on the southside." The contractor will demolish the 1930s gym after graduation, Smith said.
  • Indian Jackson: Fire station is a good idea. "Parking deck? That works. We definitely need more parking downtown. Hotel. I like it. I thought it was a good idea. It's a great investment for us. ... The police department? Is there any room in the budget to have some sort of affordable apartment complex in the downtown community? The city can't function" without the lowly paid workers "little people" who serve business.
  • Ken Fitch: Do these projects protect the city's small town character? "The central component on Main Street is the small business community. So a primary question we must consider is whether the parking facility plans support these small businesses or pose a threat? The economy here is vital but also fragile. ... Will the plan actually work in Hendersonville, historic Hendersonville, with its small town character?"
  • Linda Harley: "Small town feel of Hendersonville needs to be maintained." The hotel does not do that. "It's Asheville or Greenville, it's not Hendersonville. We are a small town, we want a small town feel. Yes, it's growing but we need to keep the small town feel. We do not want to be an Asheville or a Greenville."

The city also posted a survey on line that asked people's opinions. Here are some of the comments from the survey:

  • Ella Surrette: "I am in favor of a parking garage, but not in favor of parking meters on Main Street. I feel it would discourage quick trips downtown for the locals, whose support the Main Street merchants need - specifically, running into McFarlan's for bread and donuts! I just probably would not make a quick trip downtown to pick up a quick gift and have to deal with the parking meters/kiosks."
  • Victor Weisbeker: "A good way to decrease business is to put parking meters on Main Street."
  • Ken Gordon: "Please consider keeping park as is. Remodel station 1 as needed. Add offices to station 3 as it has to be built anyway. It should not matter which station has administration offices."
  • Bruce Macdonald: "If quality of life is a paramount concern to the council, Boyd Park will be saved and improved, and Fire Station 1 will be relocated. Boyd Park is the entryway to our city and should not be destroyed. The old station should be renovated as a new Teenage Canteen."
  • Joey Prince: "This (fire station) is a complete waste of taxpayer money! I'm a full-time firefighter in Henderson County and resident in the city! This proposal for a new main fire station is absolutely unjustified! The main station is not that old and to seek 7 million plus dollars to build a new one is outrageous!"