“I think it’s wonderful,” said Waynesville Alderman Jon Feichter. “I think it’s going to be a real benefit to Hazelwood. I think it’s needed and it’s going to be beneficial.”
Preserving the identity of Hazelwood — at one time a separate town but now part of Waynesville — hasn’t exactly been a top priority for Waynesville since a financial collapse prompted the annexation in 1995.
But as Waynesville looks to diversify itself beyond the bustling downtown Main Street tourist corridor, development in Hazelwood has taken on a new urgency.
Key to that development is parking.
“I think it’s a pretty big problem,” Feichter said. “I’ve talked to a couple of business owners down there, and one of the guys said it would be a big boon to his business. I can really see this jump-starting development.”
A small lot on Hazelwood Avenue containing around 31 spaces currently serves as the only off-street parking available in that area; anecdotal evidence from shoppers consistently mentions the difficulty in parking that leads some to avoid the strip altogether.
Last fall, the Waynesville Board of Aldermen voted to re-lease the lot from the property owner, the Viola N. Forga Living Trust, at $850 per month for five years. The town has the option to renew the lease four more times in five-year increments, with a 9-percent lease payment increase at each renewal.
The town and will be responsible for the perpetual upkeep of the lot, including cleaning, repairing and disposing of the trash, but Waynesville’s stewardship of the lot doesn’t end there.
Work has already begun on the site, which includes demolishing two structures, the Olde Time Insurance building off Hazelwood Avenue — ignited in a controlled burn for the purpose of training local firefighters last month — and Bill’s Barber Shop on Brown Avenue.
Repaving and restriping the lot will the expand capacity by 50 cars, for a total of 81 parking spots.
On March 28, Waynesville aldermen approved final design standards for the lot, which will include an area for public art, decorative lighting, charging stations for electric vehicles and, notably, public restrooms.
The placement of those restrooms — in the center of the lot, for best visibility — also opens up the possibility of small street fairs or festivals taking place on the block; they’ll appear similar to existing city public restrooms in the parking lot on Miller Street.
“Hazelwood Village has a really nice thing going on,” Feichter said. “You’ve got the soap company, the restaurant, the REACH store and the pharmacy — I think that has the potential to add to the momentum I think is occurring down there.”
The makeover is expected to cost about $175,000, and Public Services Director David Foster said construction would begin possibly as early as this week, once permits are approved.
Foster added that construction should take about 10 weeks, and that the town is shooting for completion before tourism season hits in earnest this summer.
Feichter is optimistic about how increased economic activity away from the area served by the Downtown Waynesville Association could make Waynesville a more vibrant community, and hints that the town may not stop at the revamped Hazelwood lot.
“You could include Frog Level in that — there are defined areas here. You’ve got downtown, Hazelwood Village and Frog Level,” Feichter said. “From my perspective as a board member, I think we need to lend a hand in those other areas when we can, because all of Waynesville benefits when it’s not just downtown thriving. I think that parking lot is going to help Hazelwood thrive.”