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Wednesday, 09 June 2010 13:47

Downtown Sylva to get more free parking

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Years of complaining by Sylva merchants that there isn’t enough parking downtown has spurred the Sylva town board to lease a private parking lot near the intersection of Mill and Main Streets.

The board voted 4 to 1 to lease the Sammy Cogdill parking lot for $400 per month in order to alleviate a perceived parking crunch and to address concerns about the safety of oversized vehicles parking in diagonal spots.

The ongoing debate over parking in downtown Sylva resurfaced in May when Western Carolina University student Thaddeus Huff published the findings of a downtown parking study he conducted as part of his graduate research. His conclusion contested the idea that there was a parking shortage in Sylva. Huff’s study found there were plenty of spaces in the greater downtown area — people just weren’t willing to walk more than a block to their destinations.

Huff’s study did identify the south end of Main Street as the area most in need of parking, and he suggested encouraging people to park in other parts of town as a solution.

Many local merchants, however, believed that Huff’s study — which was conducted in March — didn’t take into account congestion during the most heavily trafficked time of year or during festival weekends. They cited anecdotal evidence that customers routinely struggle to find parking at key times of day.

The town board’s vote to rent the Cogdill lot for a year should put the discussion to rest.

“It’s an opportunity for us to see if it makes an impact,” said Town Commissioner Chris Matheson.

Matheson said her vote was based as much on safety concerns as on the lack of available parking spaces downtown. Matheson said oversized vehicles parking in diagonal spots make Main Street dangerous.

“If you’re on the right side of one of those vehicles, you’re backing into an abyss,” Matheson said.

Board Member Ray Lewis was the only dissenting vote. Lewis objected to the notion of the town committing more money to downtown Sylva and suggested the money to lease the Cogdill lot should come out of the town’s annual $12,000 allocation to the Downtown Sylva Association.

Lewis’s stance on the subject may foreshadow a point of contention in the upcoming budget discussions. Town financial support of DSA has been controversial each of the past four years during budget time.

Mayor Maurice Moody said parking and DSA funding were separate issues, however.

“I think those are two separate issues and the majority of the board wants to leave DSA funding at $12,000 where its has been for the past few years,” Moody said.

The board also discussed other ways to alleviate the parking shortage in Sylva, including the option of adopting a parking ordinance similar to one in the town of Highlands that prohibits merchants and their employees from parking on the Main Street during business hours. Another alternative would see the town rent some of the spaces in the Cogdill lot to businesses that wanted to reserve spaces for their employees.

All of those discussions were informal. Moody confirmed that the Cogdill lot would be open to the public July 1 and that the bulk of the spots would be used for additional free parking.

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