The January meeting of the Highlands Town Board of is tonight at Community Center next to the ball field. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. with public comment. The agenda is short, but the item on planting trees on Main Street will be a primary item.
Last August a special board meeting was held to discuss the planting of trees and curbing down the center parking area on Main Street. The hospital sale and conversion were also discussed.
The curbing and tree plan was dropped at this meeting. There had been a sense of immediacy in deciding about Main Street improvements because the town had been informed that DOT would repave Main Street this coming spring.
Staff members had a follow-up meeting with NCDOT to determine what was permitted in regard to trees and the streetscape. At that meeting DOT officials suggested creating parallel parking in the center of the streets and adding a straight line of trees. This parking configuration would have added about a dozen more parking spaces to downtown. When this plan was presented to the board and the public, there was substantial pushback to the parking design. The board rejected this plan and requested a new DOT meeting.
DOT officials attended another Land Use committee meeting where they approved a configuration where trees could be planted at the end of the center parking spaces. It included street level grates and tree guards. The trees were required to be located five feet away from travel lanes. Parking spaces where trees would be located would be reduced from 33 feet to around 25 feet, a length that is about equal to a parallel parking space. With this design no parking spaces would be lost. The Land Use Committee, working with Highlands Chamber of Commerce representatives, developed a plan where 4 trees would be located on Main between 3rd and 5th Streets.
At the last town board meeting Commissioner Pierson introduced a proposal to add three more trees to the plan to where 7 trees would be planted. This proposal generated controversy and the board sent the issue back to the Land Use Committee for a second review.
The board will hear from the committee tonight and consider three possible plans. First, the board could approve the plan for planting four trees. Second, they may consider the plan for calling for seven trees, or they may decide to put no additional trees on Main Street. In any case, I see this issue being decided at tomorrow’s meeting.
At that special meeting in August the board also discussed the sale of the hospital by Mission to HCA. The board passed a resolution of concerns that I forwarded to the North Carolina Attorney General. It has been a contentious issue, but one that needed careful review.
I suspect the Attorney General will approve the sale and conversion very soon. I hope he will have improved certain parts of the agreement (APA) that helps assure continued healthcare access for folks in Highlands and Cashiers.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor