Town of Sylva votes to restrict employee parking downtown

(Editor’s Note: An update of how many people, if any, have been fined since the origination of the below ordinance will be featured in the Sept. 24 edition of the Western Carolinian.)

Employees of businesses in downtown Sylva can now face a $50 fine if they are caught parking on

Main Street, Mill Street and in the Ritz parking lot Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

That’s all thanks to a new downtown parking ordinance, which became effective immediately after Sylva town board members unanimously approved it at their July 15 morning meeting.

To avoid a fine, employees must now park in the Cogdill parking lot, at the east end of Main Street, or the town-owned municipal lot on Railroad Avenue, which is adjacent to Bridge Park.

The parking ordinance, which is based on a similar one in Highlands, gained traction in a May 20 town meeting when Thaddeus Huff of Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute presented leaders with a report compiled earlier in the year which showed that some 65 percent of downtown business owners polled thought there was inadequate parking for patrons and 84 percent said they parked downtown during the day. During the June 17 town meeting, town attorney Eric Ridenour passed out a draft of the now passed parking ordinance, which received praise at the July 15 meeting from the public before being passed.

“It looks good to me,” said Livington Kelley, owner of Livingston Photo on Main Street.

“If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me,” business owner Marion Jones added.

Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody also likes the parking ordinance, thinking it is what is best for the community at large.

“I think the ordinance is going to have a positive effect downtown,” Moody said. “The intent is to create more parking for customers and I think that is what is going to be accomplished. People complain about the parking all the time and have complained about it for years.”

It remains to be seen how the ordinance will be enforced, but town board members discussed the possibility of having one policeman to enforce parking as a full-time job. In practice, enforcement of the ordinance would depend heavily on the compliance of downtown merchants and much “self-policing” between employees, Moody said.

“The motivation would be to provide parking spaces for your customers,” Moody said.

Ridenour expressed the same sentiment in his June 17 report.

“The way I drafted it is to hope that the downtown business people will kind of be our eyes and ears. If they completely disregard it, then we’ll step it up,” said Ridenour.

For the first couple of weeks of the ordinance, Sylva Police Chief Jeff Jamison said there will be a leniency period where downtown employees will only get warnings for parking violations. Jamison also said that the police department will have to rely a lot on the help of business owners.

(Some information in this article was obtained from The Sylva Herald newspaper.)