Last Thursday the Town Board and a number of concerned citizens and shop owners discussed proposals for beautifying Main Street.
The issue came up when NCDOT announced that its 25-year repaving plan of Main Street from 1st-4th would begin April 1, 2019 instead of the original date of 2020.
Commissioners Eric Pierson and John Dotson who sit on the Street Committee, said people had asked if the look of Main Street could be softened and so the 2009 Main Street plan that was born of the 2009 Parking Study were dusted off as a “starting point.”
“Our concern, is that if we are going to rework Main Street, now is the time,” said Commissioner Dotson. “We only need to tear up Main Street once, that’s for sure.”
What concerned Main Street shop owners was the potential loss of parking spaces.
That 2009 plan included a crosswalk from north to south in the center of the block at Town Square, a 2-foot, a curb and gutter median running down the middle of the street from 3rd to 4th streets with trees planted along the way.
Not only would a crosswalk in that location take up 6-10 parking spaces, but logic suggested people wouldn’t use it – which is one reason the plan was nixed back in 2009 and again Thursday night.
“People walk from their cars to the sidewalk and back anyway, so the crosswalk doesn’t serve any purpose. How do you make someone use a crosswalk when they are parked in the center of the block? They would have to get out into the traffic to get to the crosswalk,” said Commissioner Amy Patterson.
People also suggested the 2-foot median running the length of the street would be a tripping hazard.
Commissioners Dotson and Pierson said the 2009 plan was never on the table; but rather was a starting place.
So, for the next hour the talk began with not doing anything to coming up with a workable, agreeable plan.
Initially, Commissioners Brian Stiehler and Donnie Calloway tried to nix the entire discussion because they thought they were called to the meeting to vote on the 2009 plan. In fact, Calloway made a motion to halt the discussion all together and Stiehler seconded it; the motion failed 3-2.
Finally, it was agreed that installing five or six diamond-shaped planters – like the ones along the sidewalks – in the middle of that many 33-ft.-long parking spaces would keep drivers from pulling through those particular spots to do U-turns while softening the parking lot look of Main Street with trees.
Mary Adair Trumbly suggested the idea which she said would satisfy the desire to green up and cool down the street without losing parking.
Michelle Bears thought it was a good idea, too, saying a few shortened spots – like those along the sidewalks – wasn’t going to hurt anything.
“Putting in planters shouldn’t be an issue for anyone. If they don’t want to use the shorter spots, they can go to the next one. It’s a win-win situation and the street will look fuller as far as green space goes,” she said.
Bob Mills reminded everyone that back in 1989 the trees on Main Street were cut down and Harry Bears said he thought the street was “freaking beautiful” the way it is now.
“Every 75 feet on either side there is a tree. Town Square is gorgeous. Up and down Main Street there are trees. There is so much green on Main Street, now. I wonder if you have taken a walk,” he asked the board.
Commissioner Dotson agreed that the ends of the street and the sides look great, “but down the middle we could soften up the nasty bowling alley feeling you get when you drive into town whether its full and you see cars or if it’s empty and you just see asphalt.”
Commissioner Patterson said she understood people’s concerns but didn’t want to just say no to the whole thing.
“Yes, it’s different and yes, it will present challenges until people get used to it, but I see positives in the plan. It will look better, it will green it up, cool it down, would even help with storm water retention. And it may help with traffic flow because we won’t have both lines of cars waiting to get out or in on both sides all the way up the street,” she said.
In the end the board agreed to have the Land Use Committee go over the plan. A visual will be presented at the October Town Board meeting so the plan can be put into action.
– Kim Lewicki/Highlands Newspaper