By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper
Town Board deliberations began an hour earlier Thurs., Sept. 21 with a one-hour workshop prior to the 7 p.m. Town Board meeting.
This format will be tried for one year because the committee meetings which were broken into specific subjects – Rec Park, Safety, Financial, etc. and attended by three designated commissioners – were dissolved at the recommendation of Town Attorney Bob Hagemann.
Hagemann suggested committee meeting discussions should be held more regularly and be easier to attend by citizens as well as the commissioners not assigned to the committees.
Subjects discussed at the workshop meetings will not be voted on nor will they be discussed at that day’s Town Board meeting.
Instead, they will be put on the agenda for the next monthly Town Board meeting.
Not all the commissioners like the workshop idea. The vote to try the format for one year at Thursday’s meeting was 2-2 with Mayor Pat Taylor breaking the tie. Commissioner Amy Patterson was absent, and Commissioners John Dotson and Eric Pierson voted against dissolving the committees in lieu of workshops. The mayor said he likes the format.
A digital sign request from Highlands School, town installed streetlights on private streets and the resurfacing of Arnold Road were issues discussed at the first workshop. They will likely be on the October Town Board agenda.
Chamber of Commerce Lease
A year-lease was approved for the Chamber of Commerce until the chamber and the town learn definitively if room tax money can be used to pay rent which the town will then use to maintain the bathrooms in Town Square. The lease is the same as it’s always been; the chamber will pay $1 a year.
Hwy 106 Sidewalk Discussion
An anonymous donation for a sidewalk extension down NC 106 got the ball rolling last year for the project.
Since then, property owners from where the current sidewalk ends at the Highlands Plaza entrance down to Highlands Country Club have said they are for the project. The only snag is engineering issues due to where the sidewalk leaves the right-of-way along the Shelby Place property.
The embankment along that part of the road falls straight off which means the “sidewalk” would have to descend down onto Shelby Place property, cross over the creek and then travel back up to the roadway.
Shelby Place property owners were OK with the plan as long as the “sidewalk” wasn’t visible, wasn’t lighted and any foliage displaced during construction was replaced.
In addition to the donation for the project, the town wants to tap The Carbon Reduction Act Grant but to be eligible the “sidewalk” must be ADA compliant.
Town Engineer Lamar Nix, Town Manager Josh Ward and engineer Alec Stillwell recently met with Mitchell Bishop, NCDOT Division Construction Engineer and Aaron Powell, NCDOT Area Construction Engineer to review the sidewalk proposal and conduct a site visit along Hwy 106.
After the review, both NCDOT representatives explained the requirements for the section of sidewalk along the Shelby Place property that leaves the right-of-way. According to NCDOT specifications, when a sidewalk leaves the right-of-way it is treated as a ramp, which would require a number of landings as it switches back and forth down the incline. In addition, an environmental impact study would be required due to the close proximity to the stream, which the town anticipated.
Concerns arose about maintenance and liability in the wooded area, the lack of lighting in the wooded area, the fact that the town’s water line runs down the left-hand side of the road, the fact that the sidewalk would have to be constructed over the water line, and that several utility poles would have to be moved.
Consequently, the recommendation was to construct the sidewalk down the right-side of the road which has fewer issues.
Commissioner Dotson has long said he would only consider the project if the sidewalk went down the left-side as that is the side most people are walking coming into town and because there are properties which could still be developed along that side of the corridor versus the right side which is built out.
A boardwalk scenario was suggested which wouldn’t require a descent but merely a pass over the area.
Since it might be visible from the Shelby Place property side, the board agreed to go back to Shelby Place homeowners to see if they would be agreeable if the “boardwalk” along their property could be hidden with foliage.
The grant is available through 2026 and very few entities have applied for any of those monies.
Sanctuary on 1st
The Sanctuary on 1st Phase 1 & 2 final plat was approved with a 3-1 vote. Commissioner Dotson voted no because the sidewalk that ends half-way down Oak Street isn’t required to be extended.
When construction began on Sanctuary on 1st, the town’s Master Sidewalk Plan didn’t include Oak Street. By the time the project was expanded to phase 2 the Master Sidewalk Plan was amended to include Oak Street. Consequently, the developer was required to construct a sidewalk along the new part of the subdivision that ran along Oak Street.
Subdivisions within the confines of the Master Sidewalk Plan are required to construct sidewalks.
The topography of the section of Oak Street bordering the first part of the subdivision would require the removal of 10 mature trees and numerous other plantings, as well as the construction of a concrete retaining wall 5-7 feet high along that portion of the street.
The developer has agreed to discuss options with the town but so far the planning board nor most members of the Town Board want to see the land and foliage decimated for the sidewalk extension.
The September closed session was in regard to the Huff vs. Highlands court case which was stayed until Aug. 27, 2023. Though that date has come and gone, both sides agreed to keep everything as it now stands regarding Short-term Rentals until the NC legislature discusses two bills that will likely be finalized during the short session beginning Jan. 2024.