Bridge project suspended indefinitely
The Montreat town board on March 10 announced it was indefinitely suspending construction of a new bridge on Texas Road.
And after emerging from a closed session during its meeting that day, it also said there would be no town hall building on the vacant lot on Florida Terrace.
Both projects have been hugely controversial in this small town and were significant issues in the November Montreat elections in which residents overwhelmingly voted for candidates that opposed the two projects.
The location of the new town hall has been contested since the town nearly two years ago announced it was seeking a company to design the building on .8-acre parcel between Arkansas Trail and Florida Terrace.
A group of residents immediately opposed the idea, creating a petition asking the town postpone the project and allow public input as to where the building should go. The board, as it was constituted then, decided to proceed with the disputed site.
Five Montreat residents filed suit in December 2014 to prevent the town board from moving ahead with its plans. A Buncombe County Superior Court judge ordered a temporary injunction against the town, halting the project. The case lingered through the November elections, and voters ultimately selected two commissioner candidates who campaigned together on finding alternatives to the controversial site.
Those two candidates — Bill Gilliland and Kitty Fouche — beat incumbent Martha Campbell and filled the open seat created when commissioner Tim Helms filed and ran unopposed for town mayor. Just minutes after he was sworn in the December town council meeting, Helms said he was sure the building would not be built on Florida Terrace.
In a statement released March 17, the town board said commissioners voted unanimously not to build on the site. Commissioners declined, however, to pay more than $40,000 of the attorney fees incurred by the residents who sued the town. The plaintiffs declined the town’s offer, according to the statement.
The Texas Road bridge, closed in 2008 after an engineering report indicated widespread timber decay, also generated considerable debate in town.
Montreat was accepted into the N.C. Department of Transportation’s municipal bridge program, making it eligible for state and federal money that would pay 80 percent of the bridge project costs (the town would pay the other 20 percent). But residents criticized the submitted design that met federal emergency management requirements as being too big and expensive.
Commissioners voted not only to suspend the project but also to ask the mayor to appoint a committee to investigate the type of bridge best suited to the location and whether the existing bridge should be replaced at all.
The committee will also research other potential bridge sites and report back to the in June.