Town Board discusses Main Street aesthetics and bear problem at latest meeting

Things got a bit unorthodox in terms of procedure at the recent Board of Commissioners meeting on Oct. 18. It began when improving the aesthetics on Main Street was under discussion. Commissioner Eric Pierson said he had been receiving comments that something needs to be done along Main Street to help improve the overall look, possibly by adding some planters with trees to help breakup the line-of-sight. Pierson looked into the issue and feels he has come up with the beginnings of a solution.

“We can get more green in the middle of downtown so it doesn’t look like a Walmart parking lot,” he said. He added that if something was going to be done, action would need to be taken soon.

With the addition of planters in the middle of downtown Main Street, Pierson said no parking will be lost or affected. He presented two plans, the difference being three planters and the planter’s locations. The trees would be slightly mature with high canopies to not interfere with truck traffic. Pierson proposed putting in 15-18 planters staggered from 3rd to 5th Streets. Each planter costs approximately $1,000 and each tree is approximately $600. Pierson said using granite instead of concrete would improve the look and cost approximately $250-more each planter.


The Town of Highlands Board of Commissioners discussed adding tree planters along the middle of Main Street from 3rd to 5th Streets to add greenery and break up the line-of-sight.

“I like the idea of granite,” said Commissioner Brian Stiehler. “It will look better and last forever.”

Pierson estimated the planters would cost approximately $40,000.

It was then that Bob Mills voiced his opinion from the audience and said cars would be hitting the planters while trying to park.

“These things are going to be destroyed and all we’re going to do is fix them, fix them, fix them, constantly,” said Mills. “It’s Ludacris.”

Mills added that for the past couple of weeks town has been busy, and that has been good for business, but by adding planters it will eliminate parking spaces by not being able to open the rear car door.

“25 percent of cars aren’t even parking between the lines,” said Mills. “Seriously consider the potential catastrophic events that could happen with these planters. Just watch the people.”

Commissioner Amy Patterson said she supports the idea of adding some green to Main Street.

“I personally like it,” she said. “It breaks up the line-of-sight, cools a section of downtown, and makes you feel like you’re outdoors. I think it will look good.”

Commissioners Donnie Calloway and Stiehler voiced their objections.

“I drove up and down Main Street and I just don’t see a problem,” said Calloway. “Planting these trees is a mistake.”

The Board voted to send the plan to the NC Department of Transportation for approval. If approved, the board will discuss it further.

“Let’s ask to see if the state approves,” said Stiehler. “If they say no, it’s a moot point.”

Bear and trash in downtown

Not far from the theme of beautifying Main Street, the Board discussed bears knocking down garbage cans along Highlands’ main thoroughfare. Pierson presented a plan of changing out the current public waste cans with animal-resistant receptacles.

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Bears knock down garbage cans along Main Street in Highlands, N.C. looking for food.

Each garbage unit costs about $1,300 and the town would need approximately 40 units. Pierson showed diagrams of the animal-resistant cans and said they were made of steel and bolted to the ground. Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor said he has spoken with town garbage crews who told him the bears getting into garbage are a huge problem. They’re even ripping the tops off of dumpsters located on Oak Street.

Highlands resident Nancy Greenfield chimed in on the discussion and said the bear problem is a higher priority over planters on Main Street.

“It’s a simple solution,” said Greenfield. “This is great, forget the trees and buy cans. Done.”

The board directed town staff to investigate the specific cost and locations for all units planned for Main Street, Fourth Street and Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park.

Taylor will discuss the bear issue with multiple experts at Community Coffee at 11 a.m. at the Hudson Library. The discussion is open to the public and experts include representatives from Highlands Biological Station, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, Bear Task Force, Highlands Police Department, and N.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Editor’s Note: The photo of the bear at the top of the article was taken in Kelsey-Hutchinson Park on Oct. 14.

Other business

  • The Town Board entered into closed session and reconvened in open session and passed the following motion. Town Manager Josh Ward was directed to separate the current position that is the town planner and code enforcement officer. There will now be two positions, the town planner and another position for code enforcement. The new code enforcement officer will be a certified law enforcement officer and will work from the Highlands Police Department. The job description and requirements for this position are under review and development by Ward and the personnel director. Ward will conduct a final review for the town planner position and fill the position as soon as possible.
  • The Town Board passed a resolution proclaiming Oct. 27 as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day.
  • Town of Highlands Director of Finance Rebecca Shuler received approval to release a request for proposal to find a new local bank to consult with investment questions.
  • The board approved the rezoning of a property owned by TRI Real Estate N.C. (Old Edwards Inn) located on N. 4th Street across from the Community Building. The front portion of the property is zoned B-4 and the rear of the property is zoned R-2. The board approved rezoning the entire parcel R-2 for a future residential development.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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