The town of Sylva plans to impose a new parking law to stop shop owners and employees from taking up customer parking on Main Street.
While most towns in the region face the same challenge — what to do about downtown workers monopolizing coveted parking spaces — only Highlands has tried to legislate a solution so far.
Highlands has an ordinance barring employees from parking on Main Street, a model Sylva now wants to emulate.
The new ordinance comes as part of a larger attempt to fix the parking pinch in downtown Sylva, which has shop owners on Mill and Main streets infuriated by the lack of available customer parking during peak business hours.
To help alleviate the problem, the town board recently decided to rent a commercial lot near the intersection of Mill and Main and designate it for free public parking.
It will provide between 30 and 40 additional parking spaces downtown, but the board felt it needed to go a step further.
Last week, the town’s attorney Eric Ridenour offered the board a first draft of the ordinance, which would bar employees of downtown businesses from on-street parking along the one-way portions of Mill and Main streets.
Ridenour told the board that Highlands’ version of the ordinance includes an exception for service-oriented businesses like real estate offices, which need to keep their vehicles close to serve customers.
Board Member Sarah Graham said she didn’t see the need to make exceptions, particularly given the town’s investment in leasing an additional lot.
“We should free up as many spaces downtown as possible,” said Graham.
Board Member Danny Allen agreed.
“The town (now) has three parking lots, and they’re all in close proximity to one end of town,” Allen said. “It’s not going to require but a hop and a skip for them.”
The board considered a provision that would reserve spots in the newly leased lot for businesses willing to pay a rental fee.
That suggestion didn’t thrill Sylva Police Chief Jeff Jamison, who said it would be difficult to enforce.
“We’re going to be policing that lot as well as Main Street. Is that what I’m hearing?” Jamison asked. “That’s going to be difficult folks.”
The board ultimately struck the idea from the draft ordinance.
Enforcement a challenge
Ridenour said the ordinance would rely heavily on the cooperation of business owners to report violations to the Sylva police, since the department doesn’t have any staff dedicated to parking enforcement.
“The way I drafted it is in the hope that our downtown business owners will work as our eyes and ears,” said Ridenour.
The town not only lacks a dedicated parking cop, but enforcement would hinge on police officers’ ability to visually recognize the vehicles of downtown workers. If a worker’s car is indeed spotted in a parking space that’s off-limits to them, another challenge is determining whether that employee is on their shift — or happens to be shopping downtown on their day off. The board plans to hold a public hearing on the ordinance at its second meeting in July.
Sylva is not alone in confronting the issue of employees and business owners parking in spots that were meant for their customers. Waynesville’s Town Manager Lee Galloway said the problem is ubiquitous.
“I’ve worked in six towns, and I don’t think there’s one that didn’t have the same issue,” Galloway said.
Galloway recalled a running joke in Rockingham about a jeweler named Fox.
“Why does Mr. Fox park right in front of his business? Because he can’t get his car inside,” Galloway said.
Galloway said Waynesville has addressed the issue by adding more public parking –– in particular a large parking deck a block off Main Street –– and by enforcing three-hour parking limits on Main Street.
In addition, the Downtown Waynesville Association has taken on the responsibility of communicating with business owners about the need to keep customer parking free.
“We’ve tried to handle it amongst ourselves,” said Buffy Messer, the downtown association’s director. “I think the merchants try to communicate with their neighbors. We don’t mind if someone parks all day as long as they’re spending money.”
Bryson City has the same problem, especially during the high season, but Town Manager Larry Callicutt said thus far no one has suggested drafting an ordinance to confront it.
“I’m not sure there’s a town where that doesn’t happen,” said Callicutt. “They’ve always complained about it, but it’s not gotten to the point that anyone’s taken action on it.”
Galloway said he understands merchants’ anger over the issue.
“You have to turn those spots over to protect your merchants,” Galloway said. “I understand their frustration.”