February’s Town Board meeting touched on a number of topics – Dogwood Trust Foundation, Highlands Motoring Festival request, Coalition for non-native invasive plants request, an update from the Greenway Trail committee, the request to schedule public hearings for UDO amendments, the Comprehensive Plan RFP, and the hiring of the construction manager for the new fire department.
First up was Sam Lupas with the Dogwood Trust Foundation, previously on the HC Hospital Board, about his new role at Dogwood as well as an update about its mission. Prior to his Dogwood role, Lupas helped navigate the sale of Mission to Hospital Corporation of America (HCA).
Now he is on Dogwood’s 14-memberboard that is preparing to oversee the granting of the $1.5 billion the foundation will soon have for agencies in the 18-county area of Western Carolina as well as the Cherokee Nation.
As with the Highlands Health Foundation, which also distributes money to programs and agencies concerned with social deterrents of health, Dogwood’s criteria for funding involves access to health care, education, food insecurities, and more.
Wrapping up his discussion, he suggested the community support HCA “because it is the largest health provider in North Carolina now.”
Lupas said he was aware of the press HCA was getting but suggested it inherited a lot of problems when it acquired Mission and requested patience from citizens.
Highlands Motoring Festival
Steve Ham with the Highlands Motoring Festival (HMF) requested a two-day event Saturday and Sunday, June 13-14, in K-H Founders Park. For the Saturday event, Fifth Street will used as it was last year. It would be closed with barricades at Carolina Way and Oak Street 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 13. For the past three years, HMF has had a second less formal car show at various places in town – Main Street and also in Wright Square.
This year, the second show will be in the park only on Sunday, 7am to 2pm. Ham said having an extra day will help bolster the show in case there is inclement weather like last year. This year the Bank of America isn’t allowing the motoring festival to use the parking lot which accounted for 33 of the 123 car spots. So due to both increased interest and a smaller show field, HMF is now an invitational show with the goal of increasing quality with fewer cars, said Ham.
Over the past years 13 years, HMF has donated money to area nonprofits. In 2018 it was $40,000 and in 2019 it was $43,00 – despite five inches of rain. Recipients this year will be the same as last year – R.E.A.C.H., the MC Community Care Clinic and the Literacy Council of Highlands. Expected are 3,500 spectators which Ham said would positively impact the local economy. The Town Board granted the requests.
Coalition for Non-Native Invasive Plants
Representatives from the coalition requested $2,000 to match a grant from the Laurel Garden Club. The money will be used to continue its 3-year eradication plan of Japanese Knotweed growing in the town’s rights-of-way. Commissioner agreed to match the grant for $2,000.
Greenway Trail Committee
Sonya Carpenter of the Greenway Trail Committee updated the board on the work being done on the trail on Oak Street across from the First Baptist Church. The trail was started last year to entice people to enter the Greenway at that spot rather than walking to the gazebo along Oak Street that doesn’t have a sidewalk. Carpenter said the entrance to the new trail spur will include numerous native plants, a walkway and signage.
Michael Mathis, assistant planning director, requested three amendments to the UDO be scheduled for a public hearing at the March 19 Town Board meeting – subdivision street paving; internally illuminated signs; and citation issuance. In the past months, commissioner suggested requiring street paving in private subdivision for any grade over 5%.
However, they recently changed their minds saying all streets be paved with a hard surface regardless of grade. Commissioners agreed that this would eliminate requests from homeowners to later grade and fix their streets when rain events erode them away onto adjoining property and public streets.
Except for restaurant message boards and real estate listings in commercial windows, the Planning Board has recommended that the UDO be amended to disallow internally illuminated signs in the future. As the ordinance is now written, such signage is allowed.
In the past staff could only cite offenders for sign standards and tree protection – any other zoning violation had to go to the Town Board to be discussed in closed session which usually took at least 30 days to wrap up.
The recommended amendment to the UDO would give the Planning Department the right to issue citations for all zoning infractions, except soil erosion. This decreases the time the issue is put to bed and doesn’t encumber the Town Board with the task. Any offender who feels the Planning Department’s judgement was incorrect could still appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustment Mathis also recommended commissioners approve the RFP needed to request quotes from planning firms to assist with the completion of a Comprehensive Plan.
Recently, the state ruled that local governments must have a comprehensive plan as a condition of adopting and applying zoning regulations. This must be completed by July 1, 2022. Though a comprehensive plan was started in Highlands voluntarily some years ago, it was never completed. Now it is a requirement and administration believes it will be expedited with the help of a professional planning firm.
The RFP was drafted using examples from other towns. Commissioners approved the RFP.
The architect for the new fire department, Randy Baker, advertised for qualifications for a construction manager to oversee the project.
Three large North Carolina construction companies applied Staff and the pubic safety committee reviewed the submittals and compared their recent experience with fire department construction. One of the three hadn’t built a fire department since 2008. The other two had constructed fire department within the last three years.
However, D.R. Reynolds stood out because it had built several fire department within the three years and their final pricing was lower than the other company. In addition, D.R. Reynolds came recommended by two other fire chiefs.
By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper