Voters in the Village of Flat Rock spoke loudly and clearly that they want the state to undo a controversial plan to widen North Highland Lake Road. Now it’s up to the state to listen.
It was the first race in the village’s history in which every council seat that was up for election was contested. It was also the county’s most high-interest race, due to strong feelings of residents for and against the N.C. Department of Transportation’s plan to widen the village’s main eastern entryway.
Opponents had their say, electing a slate of candidates who all ran against the road widening that they say is overly disruptive of the village’s historic character.
Thomas Carpenter, Anne Coletta and David Dethero won the District 1, 2 and 3 races. The trio ran as a team on a platform of fiscal conservancy, preserving Flat Rock’s character and undoing NCDOT’s plan for North Highland Lake Road.
Current Councilman Nick Weedman was elected as the village’s next mayor of in an unopposed race. Weedman was the only council member to oppose the road plan when the council approved it in 2018.
Carpenter will take the council seat currently held by Weedman, while Coletta replaces Ginger Brown, the only council incumbent who chose to run. Dethero replaces John Dockendorf, the village’s representative on the county Transportation Advisory Committee who chose not to run again.
The remaining three incumbents, Albert Gooch, Sheryl Jamerson and Paige Posey, all approved of the state’s plan to widen North Highland Lake Road. The election outcome means that opponents now hold a majority.
Times-News staff writer Andrew Mundhenk asked NCDOT Division 14 Engineer Brian Burch what that means for the future of the project. The division was recently given the go-ahead to proceed with planning on the project after it was temporarily halted among hundreds of projects statewide affected by a budget crunch.
Burch responded that “as of today, nothing has changed in our commitment to deliver a project that Flat Rock and the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization has asked NCDOT to deliver.”
But he added a caveat: “NCDOT Division 14 will continue working with the Village of Flat Rock and the French Broad River MPO in the delivery of the project unless a process starting with the Village of Flat Rock, the planning organization and the Board of Transportation directs Division 14 to do otherwise.”
The state has acquired 65 percent of the property required for the expansion and spent almost $1 million in taxpayer dollars after Flat Rock and the NPO gave the go-ahead for the design, Burch said.
It will be interesting to see what the Flat Rock election outcome may mean for other controversial road projects, such as the plan to widen N.C. 191 between Hendersonville and Mills River, should the newly elected village council succeed in getting the state to undo or significantly downsize the North Highland Lake Road project.