The Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted Monday night to ask the state to kill the Balfour Parkway, handing a major victory to hundreds of homeowners who had organized an intensive campaign to stop the project and likely dooming the first major new highway in the county in a generation.
In a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved a motion by Chairman Michael Edney directing the NCDOT to abandon the parkway and some back with "reasonable and realistic alternatives to address legitimate local traffic concerns."
An overflow crowd again packed the meeting room of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners on Monday, calling on commissioners to stop the proposed roundabouts on U.S . 64, block the proposed Balfour Parkway and kill the proposed Macedonia Road law enforcement training center and outdoor shooting range.
Residents whose homes could be removed for the four-lane Balfour Parkway were there in part expecting the county to act on a resolution demanding that the NCDOT drop proposed Balfour Parkway corridors that would take homes in any of nine specific neighborhoods.
Fifty people had signed up to speak — on the shooting range, U.S. 64 roundabouts and Balfour Parkway.
The effect of the county’s resolution would be to remove from state consideration a large number of proposed corridors from Grimesdale to along Stoney Mountain Road and along N.C. 191, likely forcing the proposed bypass to the northern-most corridors. In a meeting last month, board Chairman Michael Edney suggested that a path roughly following Mountain Road would have the least negative impact on neighborhoods.
Commissioner Tommy Thompson made a disclosure of his ownership among five partners in the Westside Village (Dollar General) retail center and then became the first of four commissioners to express opposition to the parkway, which had proposed corridors that caused an uprising of almost 2,500 homeowners.
"I’m also very concerned about these sub but also other the subdivisions and also the farming areas," he said. "Personally, because of what I’ve heard, I would go as far as say maybe we should vote to kill it," he said, to an eruption of applause.
"I agree with Tommy 100 percent," Charlie Messer added. "This is my district. We’ve had a lot of communications with DOT. I’ve talked to a lot of people at length about this project." The resolution protecting specific neighborhoods would not be enough, he added, because "if we remove all these developments there’s other people that’s going to be disturbed." He said the county should "kill the whole project, start over" with new traffic studies "and get something done."
Commissioner Grady Hawkins commented on the NCDOT response to one homeowner that "they didn’t control it, we control it. I want to call their hand on it." If that’s the case, then the Board of Commissioners can and will kill the project, he added. Moments later, it did.
Only Commissioner Bill Lapsley defended the project, saying it had been a highly ranked county priority for 10 years, recommended by the county Transportation Advisory Committee that "believed this was a priority project. For a number of reasons it has moved through the funding cycle of NCDOT."
The DOT has identified some 24 alternative corridors, all 1,000 feet wide, four times the actual width of the proposed northern bypass.
"The potential impact in any of those corridors can snake its way through any of the corridors." By the resolution, the county would have directed the DOT to eliminate any of the named subdivisions and since the resolution was originally drafted the county added language seeking to protect any subdivision. "The process is taking too long because the anx and impact shouldn’t happen," he said. "With all that in mind, it seems to me it comes down to the question is whether we want to stop the project altogether. DOT will listen to what this board dcides to do. How can I say that. I’ve dealt wth DOT for 44 years in my engineering career and I can tell you DOT and the DOT staff work for the state government."
"DOT in Raleigh will say thank you and they will move on," moving the money elsewhere.
"I believe the project should continue. It should be expedited to come to ares of where the final route would be and then at that point if it impacts any of these subdivisions we can kill the project at that point. But if this board decides to kill the project tonight I want to make sure it knows that DOT will hear it loud and clear and they will move on and the project will be dead."
"In my mind what happened with Balfour Parkway," engineers came up "with some octopus looking thing." If they can narrow it down within six months, that would be great."
The commissioners on Friday afternoon released a resolution that says the county "will not support, in fact will oppose any Balfour Parkway proposal that has a direct negative impact on the subdivisions and neighborhoods" — Grimesdale, Carriage Park, Greystone, Foxwood, Stoney Mountain Estates, Dogwood Forest, The Boulders, Hickory Hill and Sycamore Hill.
“I was thrilled that my neighborhood was included but I am skeptical that this resolution will make a difference," said a resident of Carriage Park. Efforts to oppose the project "has been a like a child who wants something and asks his mother," who tells the child to ask his father. "The NCDOT has told me to contact you, you have told me to contact NCDOT." The NCDOT, in a response to a letter her husband wrote, said, "This project was locally conceived, studied and prioritized," she said. "That’s what’s frustrating to those of us who have been trying to be heard."
Here’s the Balfour Parkway resolution:
WHEREAS, The North Carolina Department of Transportation has undertaken the planning process for the “Balfour Parkway” project; and
WHEREAS, The planning process has identified several potential routes with significant negative impacts on established residential subdivisions and neighborhoods within Henderson County; and
WHEREAS, The neighborhoods are identified as Grimesdale, Carriage Park, Greystone, Foxwood, Stoney Mountain Estates, Dogwood Forest, The Boulders, Hickory Hills and Sycamore Hill; and
WHEREAS, The Henderson County Board of Commissioners being the duly elected representatives of the citizens living in these residential neighborhoods and subdivisions have methodically and thoroughly evaluated the proposed routes; and
WHEREAS, The Board of Commissioners desire is to communicate, in no uncertain terms, that the Board will not support, in fact, will oppose any “Balfour Parkway” route that has a direct negative impact on these subdivisions and neighborhoods;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Henderson County Board of Commissioners do hereby resolve that the Board will not support, in fact will oppose any “Balfour Parkway” proposal that has a direct negative impact on the subdivisions and neighborhoods herein identified. In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the County of Henderson to be affixed.
Glen Englram, who lives in a neighborhood just off U.S. 64, submitted a petition with more than 1,200 signatures opposed to the proposed improvements on U.S. 64 that includes three roundabouts. The petition represents hundreds who want "three lanes not a record-setting amount of roundabouts, bike lanes to nowhere and a 17-foot median," he said.
Jim Durfee, who lives off U.S. 64 just west of the Laurel Park town limits, called the improvements "overkill" that are widely opposed by "people who drive here every day, live here every day. … We can save millions of dollars by doing a three-lane" and more limited improvements.
Sarah Bell, owner of the Gorge Zipline and Green River Adventures, urged the board to drop the Saluda shooting range. She recommended that the county leaders communicate with neighbors and understand their concerns.
"I think you’ll find your jobs are easier and you’ll spend a whole lot less money," she said.
The opposition was not a "not in my backyard" movement, another speaker said, but "not at Blue Ridge, not in Green River, not on Pinnacle Mountain, not in Edneyville, not on Macedonia Road. Henderson County citizens have voiced their concerns, loud and clear. We join them and we hope we are the last."