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Top 10: 7, 6, 5

Asphalt plant opponents confront Planning Board members after a public hearing on the plant. Asphalt plant opponents confront Planning Board members after a public hearing on the plant.

By any measure, 2020 goes into the history books as one of the most extraordinary years in our history. A divided nation made its choices in the elections.

A long-running zoning dispute over housing on the Tap Root Dairy property finally came to an end while the land-use fight over an asphalt plant in East Flat Rock fizzled to an uncertain resolution. Downtown could be transformed by hotel and parking deck plans that neared the dirt-turning stage as the year drew to a close. Cloaked over every hour of every day from March 3 on was the coronavirus and its wide-ranging impacts. Covid-19 cases devastated long-term care facilities as the virus swept in. The pandemic claimed the Flat Rock Playhouse and Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra seasons, the North Carolina Apple Festival, prep football and more. Here are number 7, 6, 5 in the Lightning’s annual Top 10 news stories from an unforgettable year.

No. 7: Funeral home trouble

Many people were shocked to learn that state regulators had shut down one of the oldest businesses in Hendersonville in November for violations of state laws and rules governing funeral services. The North Carolina Board of Funeral Service ordered the company to halt its business, including funeral services and cremations, on Nov. 4. The order for summary suspension of the funeral services remained in place after a hearing on Nov. 18. Another hearing was scheduled for a date after Jan. 13, 2021. In a series of regulatory actions dating to 2018, state board inspectors had investigated at least six consumer complaints against the funeral home and its crematory, which are owned by Thomas R. “Tom” Shepherd, the licensed funeral director, and his wife, Melody Shepherd. The origins of Thos. Shepherd & Son dates to 1903, when Thomas, Tom Shepherd’s grandfather, managed a furniture and general merchandise store on Main Street and sold coffins on the side.


No. 6: Asphalt plant

Throughout its modern history, Henderson County has seen protests over disruptive land uses, whether it’s a motor speedway, incinerator, high-tension power lines, a new bypass and large residential developments. The mother of all NIMBY protests in 2020 came in response to a request to allow an asphalt plant on Spartanburg Highway at the U.S. 25 connector. Southeastern Asphalt Co. owner Jeff Shipman and his attorney, Brian Gulden, withdrew the application after the Henderson County Planning Board recommended against the rezoning and before the Board of Commissioners took it up. Shipman said he had spent more $85,000 on the application, including engineering, consultants and attorneys’ fees. “I think it’s absurd,” Shipman said after the Planning Board vote. “I disagree with everyone that voted against it unequivocally. We’re trying to expand business, create jobs.” Thousands of opponents signed a petition opposing the plant and the Flat Rock Village Council, Historic Flat Rock and the summer camp industry also urged the county to reject a rezoning that would permit it.


No. 5: New industry

Henderson County’s industry hounds continued to bag their quarry as job-creating greenhouse operations, factories and distribution facilities opened or announced plans to open. Amazon opened a $21 million distribution center on N.C. 280 at Fanning Fields Road, Mainetti Retail Solutions built a 300,000-square-foot factory to make hangers and packaging, Lakeside Produce Co. built a 15-acre greenhouse on Ladson Road in Mills River and salad greens maker Bright Farms broke ground in June on a greenhouse with seven acres under roof on the old Seven Falls property near the French Broad River. As the year closed, news of new plants accelerated, including one of the biggest catches in recent history in Western North Carolina. Although in South Buncombe, the announcement that Pratt & Whitney would build a plant in the new Biltmore West industrial park won praise from Henderson County officials, who predicted many of the 800 workers would come from Henderson County. Company officials said the plant would pay workers an average of $68,000 a year and offer competitive benefits. In November, the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development announced that Jabil Healthcare, the medical products division of global manufacturing giant Jabil Inc., would invest $38 million in a factory that would employ 150 people. The 19-acre site for the Jabil plant is one of three parcels in a new industrial park between Upward and Crest roads the partnership created with help from the city of Hendersonville and the Henderson County Board of Commissioners. Industrial recruiters are courting one more manufacturing company, code-named Project Helios, which is considering investing $5.15 million in land and equipment for a plant that would employ 60 people making $65,000 a year.