The one-way stretch of Main Street running through the heart of downtown Sylva has a new traffic pattern. The left lane now sports turn arrows and solid white lines.
Over the past half-century, traffic patterns in downtown Sylva have prompted a repeated cycle of complaint, remedy and return to the status quo. Now, the town is at the crest of another wave of request for change. The Sylva Board of Commissioners is considering looking into a request from some local businesses that they restore Main Street to a two-way traffic pattern.
Free parking has its drawbacks, at least for the Country Music and Dance Parlor in downtown Canton.
Business owner Marion Jones claims to sit on Sylva’s Main Street watching traffic more than any other person in town.
The Waynesville Board of Aldermen approved a revitalization plan for South Main Street last week despite a dispute over one aspect of the proposed design scheme.
The town hired Rodney Porter, a consultant with LaQuatra Bonci in Asheville, last year to study South Main Street. The area has grown increasingly run-down and unattractive. Town leaders hoped new street scheme would promote more economic development along that stretch of road, prompting a year-long public process to develop a new vision for the corridor.
Porter’s report assessing South Main peppered with less-than-flattering language describing South Main: deteriorated condition; not economically healthy; dilapidated structures; no distinct image; scrubby patches of overgrown and unattractive weeds; seldom pedestrian traffic.
Porter addressed the board again last week to show-off his plan to make South Main Street more attractive to developers. His plan includes bike lanes, a continuous sidewalk, a roundabout where Main and Riverbend streets and Ninevah Road intersect, and a four-lane road from Allens Creek Road to Hyatt Creek Road.
The plan received overall positive feedback from the public, but two aldermen and the mayor expressed apprehension about one aspect that seemed to open an old can of worms. Rearing its head again was the ongoing debate over parking lots — namely should parking lots go in front of buildings or be scooted to the side and rear?
Porter felt strongly that parking lots should be to the side and rear, allowing building facades to define the street’s character rather than asphalt and parked cars.
The town of Waynesville had once been in Porter’s camp. Its development standards once required parking lots to sit to the side or rear of buildings, and for facades to flank the street front.
But in response to complaints from developers, the town board recanted and began allowing small, limited parking areas in front of buildings in certain commercial districts, including South Main Street.
In contrast, the consultant wanted the town to go back to its old requirement of storefronts and not parking lots abutting the street — creating a quandary for some of the aldermen.
“Is there a way of modifying this report?” said Mayor Gavin Brown. “I don’t want to have my name on a document that is contrary to another document that I signed less than a year ago.”
Porter stood his ground and fought for the plan to stay as is.
Placing parking lots to the side or back of buildings gives South Main a distinct identity and makes it pedestrian friendly, Porter said. What is the point of creating a plan otherwise, he asked.
“If we pull those buildings back (farther off the street), I really don’t know what we are doing more than putting trees in the sidewalk,” Porter said. “That really sort of strays away from the ‘complete streets’ movement that we have.”
The so-called “complete streets” concept focuses on making a street user friendly for everyone — motorists, cyclists and pedestrians — rather than purely auto-centric.
“It’s not in keeping with complete streets, and you are separating the pedestrian atmosphere with another row of parking,” Porter said. “You would not have the opportunity for any significant street frontage, and depending on how the traffic is laid out, you would quite possibly end up with more curb cuts.”
Curb cuts increase the likelihood of an accident.
Aldermen Gary Caldwell and Julia Freeman sided with Brown, saying they felt uncomfortable approving a plan that runs counter to current land development standards.
“To contradict what we currently have as a land development standard, it’s troublesome to me,” Freeman said.
Paul Black, director of French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization, voiced his approval of the plan and its commitment to complete streets concept. A parking lot would split the sidewalk and storefronts making it more hazardous for pedestrians, Black said.
“It would be very difficult to have a sidewalk café if the waiter’s got to walk across the parking lot,” Black said. “I don’t know if there is a way to reconcile your development code with the plan.”
Alderman Wells Greeley did not openly express an opinion about the plan, while Alderman LeRoy Roberson endorsed the plan as laid out by the consultant.
After more than an hour of comments and discussion, new Town Manager Marcy Onieal found the plan’s golden ticket to passage — a sentence on page 19 of the report that says all proposed development must meet the town’s land development standards. That means that the town’s ordinances would override any contradictory language proposed in the plan.
The board ultimately passed the South Main Street master plan as is.
“I can live with it,” Brown said.
None of the disagreements will matter, however, once the N.C. Department of Transportation gets its hands on the project. The plan is merely a guideline for DOT, detailing what Waynesville would like to see happen to South Main. But, it is by no means set in stone. DOT could decide to scrap the town’s plan altogether or only incorporate parts of the layout when it revamps the street.“We’re going to have a big comedown with reality when DOT gets ahold of this and starts designing the road,” said Town Planner Paul Benson. “We are going to get a definite reality check as the program proceeds forward. But, I think at this point I don’t see any problem personally with having sort of an idealized plan out there.”
Check out the South Main Street revitalization plan for yourself at www.townofwaynesville.org.
The parking crunch at Jackson County’s new library in Sylva has largely eased, thanks to a new sidewalk that allows employees and exercise-minded readers to park farther away and walk safely.
The library opened earlier this summer. It is housed in a large addition to the newly renovated historic courthouse that dominates Sylva from its strategic position on a hill above town. The new library has been the toast of the town, generally lauded except for a spate of complaints about a shortage of parking spaces within the cramped footprint where it was built.
Also helping the parking cause are library and county workers, who are now officially doing what many were opting to do previously out of courtesy alone — parking away from the library to free-up as many parking spaces for patrons as possible.
“No one has complained directly to me lately about how there is ‘no parking’ at the library,” head Librarian Dottie Brunette said late last week.
The library employees are stashing their cars at Bicentennial Park below the building, and hoofing it up Keener Street via a new sidewalk the town helped build. The county also has worked to improve the access from the nearby 10-acre Mark Watson Park, located on west Main Street, where library parking is available to those willing to walk up a set of stairs.
“I didn’t have any trouble finding a parking space,” said Laura Wright, a visitor from Virginia who drove to the library as a scenic destination at the behest of local tourism officials. “And, the courthouse is lovely.”
Electric car owners rejoice. Haywood County may soon be home to two electric car charging stations for the sustainably inclined.
The idea is still in its infancy, but the town of Waynesville hopes to house two of 25 charging stations being set up in the five-county Asheville metro area, a project partially funded through a grant from the state Energy Office. Clean Vehicles Coalition and Advanced Energy are coordinating the grant and are in the process of deciding which locations in the region will get the public charging stations.
If approved, the grant would offer 50 percent of costs for the new technology, up to $6,000 per charging station.
The public parking deck in downtown Waynesville would be an ideal spot for electric car charging stations, according to Waynesville’s Assistant Town Manager Alison Melnikova.
Drivers would be able to charge their cars free of charge — helpful both to tourists traveling in electric vehicles or commuters who want to juice up. The stations also would be available for local governments, should they decide to go electric with fleets in the future.
The N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles expects nearly 12,000 electric vehicles to be on the state’s roads by 2015, with 10 percent of those in the Asheville metro area.
The idea to house charging stations in the parking deck still faces a couple of hurdles.
County commissioners, as the owners of the parking deck, must agree to the location. The town plans to approach commissioners at their meeting next week.
Waynesville and the county have already agreed to share the local portion of the project, including the cost of the match, with each government pitching in half, according to information presented to the Waynesville Town Board last week.
Advance Energy said that decisions on applications would be made by Sept. 9, and if approved, the new stations could be up as early as December.
Melnikova said that final prices haven’t yet been worked out, so just how much the town and county would have to lay down is unclear.
The stations will power cars such as the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. They’re not inexpensive — the Volt will set you back between $33,000 and $41,000, while the Leaf has a price tag of around $37,000 — but their makers tout the significant fuel savings the cars could provide.
The Leaf takes about $1.50 a day to run, says Nissan. And with complimentary charging stations, that cost could decrease.
There are already charging stations at the Biltmore Town Square in south Asheville, built by Eaton Corp., a company in Arden that produces the stations.
It’s a typical late afternoon weekday in Hollifield Jewelers on Main Street in Sylva, with four or five customers in the store at one time.
Busy — just the way owner Steve Dennis likes it. But that busyness, the marks of lifeblood in both a store and any downtown district, is posing some problems in Jackson County’s largest town.
Parking — and as difficult an issue as that can be anywhere in any Western North Carolina municipality, there’s an added element of danger to Sylva’s Main Street that is missing in neighboring Waynesville, Bryson City and Franklin.
The diagonal parking on Main Street, with its two lanes of one-way traffic, requires a leap of faith, especially when driving a small car parked beside, say, an SUV for example.
When it’s time to leave, that’s when the fun begins: Back out blindly and hope another vehicle in the process doesn’t smash you in the rear. Or ask a passenger to risk their physical wellbeing by standing in the road to ensure your safety — but not theirs — while backing the car.
Police Chief Davis Woodard doesn’t like the lay-out one little bit. He figures there’s a smashup about once every two weeks. Given the situation, the chief said it’s somewhat inexplicable why there aren’t fender-benders, or worse, 50 or more times a day.
“If you just stand there and watch, it’s amazing there aren’t more,” Woodard said.
The problem isn’t a simple one to solve, though town leaders are trying to sort out what best to do. Commissioner Ray Lewis has suggested angling the parking spaces more deeply, as is done in Franklin. That means, however, losing some 20 to 25 percent of parking on Main Street, according to what Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower has learned from the state Department of Transportation.
“We can’t afford that,” said Holly Hooper, co-owner of Black Rock Outdoor Company. “It is hard to back out, but we just can’t lose any more spaces.”
Besides, both business owners — Hollifield and Hooper — believe the problem needs to first be sorted out at a different starting point: by slowing down speeders on Main Street.
“It’s unbelievable,” Hooper said.
“It’s like they are on I-40,” Hollifield said.
Combine those speeders with motorists jostling for position, shifting from right lane to left, and shoppers backing cars out into traffic or circling endlessly around town looking for parking … oh yes, don’t forget the jaywalkers, and delivery trucks stopping to unload — that’s downtown Sylva in a nutshell these days.
But there’s also a vibrancy to the downtown, a special quality that Sylva needs to be careful not to lose, said visitors Madeline Crawford and Marti MacMillan, who both live near Clayton, Ga. The two women were returning to their vehicle after an afternoon of shopping in Sylva, their arms burdened with shopping bags.
Take away downtown parking and force people to walk any distance to shop, and you can kill a downtown and kiss much of the business goodbye, MacMillan said.
“It really hurts a town if you take away the quaintness. Then you might as well go to a mall,” the Rabun Gap resident said, emphasizing that she, for one, wouldn’t hike from a distant parking lot to shop the downtown area.
One other, quicker fix the town is leaning toward implementing: marking off the parking spaces at the back ends, as well as the sides, to eliminate vehicles longer than about 19 feet.
Tom Rodgers of the Caney Fork community drives a big Ford F-250, exactly 20 feet long (he knows that because, being a careful man, he measured before building a garage). He elected one day this week to park in a nearby parking lot and walk across Main Street to Vance Hardware — both because he knows his truck would be difficult for motorists in smaller cars to see around if he used a street space, and because the back few feet of his truck would jut into traffic. Rodgers wasn’t eager to have a passing car clip the back end.
But not everyone is as thoughtful, or self-considerate of the back end of their vehicles, as Rodgers, so the size-marking of parking spaces on Main Street looks to become a certainty, based on recent meetings of the town’s commission board.
Chief Woodard is also getting ready to interview, then hire, a foot-patrol officer for the downtown, something Sylva has lacked since the late Officer Joe Frigo (fondly dubbed “Officer Friendly” by Sylva residents) retired in December 2003.
The new Officer Friendly will be tasked with enforcing Sylva’s relatively recent rule forbidding merchants and their workers from parking in the prime spaces downtown, and generally providing an official reminder for motoring civility in the downtown area.
In the do-you-remember, they-were-right-after-all category, the enormous popularity of Jackson County’s new library has meant finding parking at the renovated courthouse and library addition can sometimes prove a real pain.
So much so, Assistant Librarian Liz Gregg has taken to parking off the hill and walking to work, even while wearing dress shoes and slogging through wet grass. A minor inconvenience for her, she said, that frees up one additional parking space nearer the building for library patrons.
“Besides, I’m here for eight-plus hours. I need that exercise,” Gregg reasoned.
The only real problem for Gregg and others who are willing to walk to the library? The stairs from Mark Watson Park, one of the major sources of extra parking that is located below the courthouse on the backside of the hill, are not in very good shape.
“The steps are kind of crumbly,” Gregg said.
Enter the board of county commissioners, which is now considering what best it should do. County Manager Chuck Wooten told commissioners last month that to officially reopen the stairs from Mark Watson Park “we’ll have to put in a railing, and assess other possible repairs.”
That assessment is under way.
Also expected to help ease the parking strain is a continuing slowdown in construction work. Those final fixes that always seem to surface with a new project should continue to diminish, meaning fewer workers’ trucks and more patron parking, said head Librarian Dottie Brunette.
Air conditioning has been an ongoing problem, as have lightening strikes and simple electric surges that knock out the computer circuit boards, requiring workmen’s services.
“We’re the highest point on the hill,” Brunette said. “It’s like I’ve told people, we’ve got Lady Justice on top of the courthouse with her arm up in the air just beckoning for it.”
One day, for undetermined reasons, each punch of an elevator button triggered the security gates to sound. That made for an interesting work atmosphere, the librarian said.
But overall, the opening has been gone smoothly, Brunette said. The new library celebrated its grand opening last month. It was forced to shutdown entirely for one day after a waterline break, but otherwise, the library has been open for business when promised.
In all, 402 brand new library cards have been issued, and the library (including the grand opening celebration and subsequent programs) had 8,184 visitors in 20 days — an average daily attendance of 409 people. That compares with average daily attendance of 300 to 350 in the old library on Main Street.
“Before we ever moved up here, there were folks for various reasons and from various points of view who felt that the parking would be more limited than we would like it to be,” Brunette said.
There are two actual parking lots at the library, plus some additional spaces right out front and down off the hill.
Supporters of the courthouse site wanted a library within walking distance of downtown. Putting it there on the hill overlooking Sylva, they said, would avoid sprawl and help keep the downtown area vibrant, and give the iconic but vacant historic courthouse a community purpose.
From the get-go, however, the community and the then board of commissioners knew the site wouldn’t be perfect. There is no room for future expansion. The road winding up the courthouse hill is steep and narrow. And, of course, there is that lack of parking.
A group who wanted the library built at the Jackson Plaza touted the two-acre tract on the outskirts of town as being easier to work with, and pointed at the time to its ample parking as one highlight that should be considered.
Tired of watching a source of possible town revenue end up in the state’s coffers, Sylva wants to start collecting parking fees at the town hall.
Last week, commissioners tweaked the language of the proposed parking ordinance, clarifying that only certified town police officers could issue citations. There had been some thought that it might be wise to empower any town employee to issue civil citations, but commissioners Chris Matheson and Harold Hensley nixed that idea.
“It ought to read they strictly are police certified,” Hensley said, concurring with Matheson’s objections to having non-police employees given that responsibility.
The primary payment area for people cited parking illegally in Sylva will be Town Hall. Police Chief Davis Woodard, however, said he’d like for people to be able to pay at the police department as a “secondary option,” such as during holidays when Town Hall is closed.
Parking in an unauthorized parking zone in Sylva will cost violators $10 for each violation. All loading and unloading in designated zones is limited to 30 minutes, with a $10 violation penalty for those taking up space for longer than the time permitted.
It costs $150 for parking in a handicapped space illegally, and $50 for a fire lane violation.