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Village Council seeks 15 conditions on road project

FLAT ROCK — Flat Rock Mayor Nick Weedman’s goal to end the conflict over Highland Lake Road will have to wait a little longer.


The Flat Rock Village Council after a long discussion last week voted to demand 15 changes to the $3 million construction project in exchange for an agreement to negotiate the sale of right-of-way and pay a 20 percent match for sidewalks and walking trails. The unanimous vote appeared to offer the prospect of peace in the long war over the road project, the driving issue in the Nov. 5 election that switched the balance of power on the council from favoring to opposing the project.
“The actions we’ve taken today with one exception puts everything chiefly behind us,” Weedman said. “NCDOT will move along with the road project. Hopefully, we can get this behind us and move on.”
Not yet.
Three members who voted in favor of the motion on the 15 changes now say that the road opponents misrepresented the DOT’s position on the modifications. Council members Sheryl Jamerson, Paige Posey and Albert Gooch said in a letter to the county Transportation Advisory Board that they spoke with Division 14 Engineer Brian Burch, the top DOT executive for 10 southwestern N.C. counties, and got a different picture.
“Since that vote, we have come to learn directly from Mr. Burch the information presented by Council members Coletta, Carpenter and Mayor Weedman, prior to the vote, were not all acceptable changes to the project design, and had not been agreed to by Mr. Burch, NCDOT, or the TAC,” Jamerson, Posey and Gooch said in a letter to the county Transportation Advisory Committee. “Knowing what we now know, this vote would not have been unanimous.”
Coletta responded that the motion would have passed even had there been three no votes.
“I had a very long conversation with Mr. Burch from DOT this morning and because I was concerned about some things in this email.” She said she is satisfied that, “given support by the MPO and the TAC, DOT supports these.” She added, however, that she does not think the changes need to be vetted by other boards. “This is really between the village of Flat Rock and DOT.”

After the council voted 4-3 in December to cancel the project, the TAC, Henderson County Board of Commissioners and Hendersonville City Council all voted to restate their support for the job and the French Broad MPO rejected the village’s request to kill the project. In their letter, Jamerson, Posey and Gooch asked the TAC to “refrain from prematurely voting to adopt Ms. Coletta’s suggested changes to the project” until the full council could meet with Burch.

‘Trying to mitigate damage’

“The council voted to ask the DOT to abandon the project,” Coletta, the leader of the slate of candidates that opposed the road, said during the council meeting. “The people that want the road are getting the road. What we’re trying to do is mitigate the damage not only to the esthetics but to property owners.” She said DOT engineers had reviewed the changes in two meetings. “They feel comfortable that we’re not changing anything that would take away their purpose for this project.”
Council member Sheryl Jamerson strongly objected.
“These are very very major changes,” she said. “You had two private meetings with NCDOT. We had no input, we had no report, we didn’t even know about the second meeting. … You haven’t been transparent.”
The changes would replace a 10-foot asphalt greenway through the Park at Flat Rock with a natural berm or crushed granite pathways (as the trails currently are), remove a sidewalk between Highland Lake Drive and Highland Park Road and crosswalk in that area to the park, and remove concrete islands at three left turn lanes and replace them with painted markings. The council also asks the DOT to look into erecting an electronic sign on westbound Highland Lake Road warning drivers of cars exiting Highland Golf Drive, which is also the park exit.
The council devoted its longest discussion last week to whether the road project would include a curb cut for a new park entrance. Among the changes the council majority sought was to eliminate the opening. That set off an uproar from Highland Golf Villas, the subdivision adjacent to the park. Residents there have been asking for an entrance that takes traffic off their road since the park opened.
Resident Barbara Coladarci presented a long report on adopted and updated park master plans and past discussions that showed the council’s commitment to build a new park entrance. From the start of the park planning process in 2012 through a 2018 master plan, she said, the new entrance off Highland Lake Road was always considered a part of the plan.
“We have waited almost eight years for a new entrance,” she said. “Hopefully, I have demonstrated that it was always the intention of previous councils to provide a new entrance to what has become a premier park and the gateway to Flat Rock.”
After Coladarci’s appeal, the council agreed to hold off on the request to kill the curb cut. Coletta said she is open to discussion on that point later.
Inn wants crosswalk

Some residents who learned that the council had voted to kill the crosswalk complained to Coletta.
“We have learned that the council has removed the crosswalk across Highland Lake Road and the sidewalk between Highland Lake Drive and Highland Park Drive that would allow a pedestrian to access the crosswalk,” Highland Lake Inn owners Jack and Linda Grup wrote in an email to Coletta and the Village Council and the TAC. “This means that my wife and I, our guests and our employees at Highland Lake Inn & Resort and Season’s at Highland Lake, will not be able to safely cross Highland Lake Road and enter the park on foot as had been originally planned.”
Coletta told the Grups that the sidewalk on the south side of the road and the crosswalk to the park are add-ons not “vetted” by the council.
“The addition of a sidewalk/crosswalk between Highland Lake Drive and Highland Park Drive is an example of what I would call ‘feature creep,’” she said in an email. “It was not part of NCDOT’s original plan and is not necessary for NCDOT to achieve its purpose with this project. This feature was also not mentioned in the village’s FAQ document released in March 2018 and updated in September 2018, and it does not appear to have been discussed or vetted during public council meetings.
She added: “The implementation of this road project will not satisfy everyone—a majority of residents support cancelling the entire project as unnecessary based on the data and damaging to the environment and character of the village, and others think the project is needed for future growth and would like more features added. With the MPO vote, the North Highland Lake Road project will continue. The Council is committed to working with NCDOT to fulfill their purpose for the project, but we are also aware that there were additions to the project that negatively impact the road’s rural and scenic character as well as its safety and can be removed without interfering with NCDOT’s requirements.”
“Nobody’s getting everything they want in this,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “I am representing my constituents and the majority of my constituents don’t even want the project and doing best we can to mitigate some of that damage.”