Sylva considers loosened alcohol ordinance

sylvaAlcohol could start showing up at some downtown Sylva events if town commissioners approve an ordinance slated for public comment on April 7.


“A majority of the board wanted staff to look into the possibility of allowing alcohol at certain special events,” said Paige Dowling, Sylva town manager. “We’ve always had requests to have alcohol at special events or weddings at Bridge Park, but it seems like there have been more in the last year.”

In response, commissioners asked Dowling to draft an ordinance amendment that would allow alcohol consumption on town property — pending specific, case-by-case approval from the board. 

To get approval — whether it be for a private event at Bridge Park or a large festival like Greening up the Mountains — the person seeking permission from the board would first have to get the OK from the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, present proof of insurance and hire security personnel to cover the event. 

The draft ordinance states that commissioners would have the option to draft a resolution allowing for alcohol consumption within a specific timeframe and geographical area, with the particular type of alcohol to be specified as well. The ordinance does not specify the criteria commissioners should use to decide whether to pass a resolution or guidelines to determine how many security personnel should be required for a specific event. According to Dowling, those provisions were not present in the similar ordinances of other towns on which she based her draft. 

Town commissioners seem to be largely in favor of the idea. Passage would give a boost to the downtown economy, they say, and make for a more vibrant and engaging community. 

“I think that alcohol downtown and the bars downtown are becoming a more and more viable force for the economy,” said Commissioner Greg McPherson. 

“I’ve seen many other towns decide to do these things, and it’s beneficial to the town’s economy and the way it brings the tourists,” agreed Mayor Lynda Sossamon. 

Commissioner David Nestler also voiced his support, though with the caveat that he could change his mind depending on what’s said at Thursday’s public hearing. Passing the ordinance would help get the younger generation engaged in community life, he said. 

“This is something that the younger generation wants to see in their town, and this is what keeps young kids engaged in their community and living in a small town,” he said. 

Support is not unanimous, however. Commissioner Harold Hensley, who’s served on the board since 2005, sees the change as a threat to Sylva’s family-friendly atmosphere. 

“I don’t care if they drink beer or have a home brew or not, but I don’t think it ought to be done at the park when you’re having family affairs,” he said. “There’s other places to do that.” 

Nestler countered that alcohol consumption doesn’t carry the connotation that it once did. 

“The culture around alcohol consumption has drastically changed in not even one generation,” he said. “You can have a community environment and a family-friendly environment and have well-regulated consumption as well.” 

For an example, he pointed to Innovation Brewery, where it’s not uncommon to see parents stopping by for a craft brew with kids in tow. 

While Hensley acknowledges others may not share his view, he stands by it. 

“Right now they’ve been able to sell beer at the McGuire Garden during Greening of the Mountains, but I think it ought to stay there,” he said. “I don’t think anybody has any business with it anywhere else.”

After the public hearing, commissioners will vote the ordinance up or down.


Be heard

Sylva’s commissioners will hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7, at Town Hall on 83 Allen Street to take input on an ordinance that would allow them to give case-by-case permission for alcohol to be consumed on town property during special events. 

Anyone with an opinion is welcome to come and speak.

“The whole point of the public hearing is for us to get public input, and that could definitely sway my opinion,” said Commissioner David Nestler. 

Commissioners will vote on the ordinance during their regularly scheduled meeting immediately following the public hearing. 

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