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Sylva reaches temporary parking agreement with Baptist church

Owned by the Sylva First Baptist Church on the other side of Landis Street, the parking lot offers easy access to the downtown area. Lilly Knoepp photo Owned by the Sylva First Baptist Church on the other side of Landis Street, the parking lot offers easy access to the downtown area. Lilly Knoepp photo

The quarter-acre parking lot on the corner of Main and Landis streets in Sylva is officially town parking following a 4-1 vote from the town board Nov. 14. 

The lot, located next to Humanité Boutique, is owned by the Sylva First Baptist Church and has long been used by downtown visitors and workers. The lot had previously been rented, but no agreement has been in place for the last few years. The discussion regarding a potential rental agreement came to the forefront as the church made it clear to the town that it would close the lot to public use if no rental agreement were reached. 

“I wasn’t aware that for years that lot had been rented,” said Commissioner Mary Gelbaugh as the board discussed the issue Nov. 14. “When I learned that that’s part of their operating expenses I had a different opinion of the issue. That’s something they have depended on. They had a lease for 20-something years that they counted on, and the offer they’re making to us is I think half of what they were getting for that lot. So they were trying to meet us in the middle.”

In September, the board voted to authorize a lease of $255 per month to rent the lot, but the church rejected that offer and posted a sign stating that the lot would be closed Nov. 4 in the absence of a rental agreement. After further discussion with town commissioners and business owners, the church agreed to lease the lot for $255 through the end of the fiscal year in June but wants to go up to $400 in July. 

“I think for the sake of our business community, residents, visitors, that we rent this,” said Commissioner David Nestler. “It’s the same rate that we pay at the Cogdill lot until July, and whoever’s on the board then can decide if they want to renegotiate that lease for different terms. But that keeps it open until then.”

Following this year’s election, Nestler and Commissioner Greg McPherson will remain on the board for another four years, with incoming Commissioner Ben Guiney replacing Commissioner Harold Hensley, who opted not to run for re-election. 

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Hensley voiced his opposition to the rental agreement, and to town-held parking leases in general. 

“I don’t know why taxpayers out there that never come to the town of Sylva should be paying for a parking lot for somebody to park in,” he said. “We don’t pay for Lowe’s parking lot or Ingles’ parking lot.”

In response, Mayor Lynda Sossamon pointed out that the town doesn’t require downtown businesses to have their own parking lots, whereas businesses in outlying areas such as those where Lowe’s and Ingles are located do have to provide parking. 

Commissioners also pointed out that the Presbyterian and Methodist churches allow public parking in their lots, and that First Baptist does as well on the larger lots behind its buildings located across the street from the lot in question. 

The board ultimately voted 4-1, with Hensley opposed, to approve $2,113 from contingency to keep the lot open through the end of June. The money will cover rent as well as creation of ADA-compliant parking spots on the lot.

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