Flat Rock residents make final plea to stop road project

More than 100 community members attended what could be the last chance to make their opinions heard before council members vote on a proposal to improve North Highland Lake Road. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Cars were strewn across the grass outside Village Hall in Flat Rock while residents spilled out of council chambers Thursday morning.

More than 100 community members attended what could be the last chance to make their opinions heard before council members vote on a proposal to improve North Highland Lake Road.

The proposal has been gaining attention for the last year and, after considerable opposition, was revised by the North Carolina Department of Transportation to include "the fewest impacts possible while still maintaining a viable project."

According to the NCDOT, the purpse of the project is to “improve safety along the corridor, at the intersection of Greenville Highway and to add bicycle and pedestrian facilities.”

A few turn lanes are proposed, along with the straightening of several sections of road and adding sidewalk or a multi-use path along the north side of the road.

Several properties along the north side of the road, including Pinecrest Presbyterian and Western Carolina Regional Animal Hospital, could be effected by eminent domain seizure in summer 2019.

A pastor from the church joined an overwhelming majority of residents who asked for the council’s no vote at Thursday’s meeting.

The residents who spoke in opposition of the plan also cited a need to keep Flat Rock the way it is, the cost of the project and the lack of a need to add pedestrian improvements.

“You can’t please everybody all the time, I understand that, but the majority of these citizens moved here to embrace it, not to change it,” longtime resident Stephanie Dunn said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. This place is not broken. We don’t need bigger roads, more bike paths, more people.”

Mayor Bob Staton said although the majority of people attending meetings have voiced opposition to the project, there are many who are in favor of safety improvements the project could bring.

“One big problem there is on the intersection of Greenville Highway and North Highland Lake Road is there’s a drop off, a ditch, that buses have a problem maneuvering, fire engines have a problem maneuvering, trucks have a problem maneuvering,” Staton said. "That needs to be taken care of. That is included in this project, whether that would be done if the rest of the project is dropped, we don’t know.”

Some community members at the meeting did raise their hand when asked how many were in favor of the project. One resident cited the need for improved safety for bicyclists and pedestrians around the Park at Flat Rock.

A spokesperson from the NCDOT said a “no build” on the project is always an option, which some residents are pushing for.

Several residents told News 13 they believe a no vote by village council would immediately end the project but, according to a spokesperson from the NCDOT, while the council decision will be a major factor, other planning boards from the county or NCDOT may have influence over the final decision, as well.

The final vote is expected to take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 19, at St. John of the Wilderness Church.

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