Put social districts to a referendum
To the Editor:
On Thursday night, February 10, the Sylva Board of Commissioners, on a split vote of three to two, established a social district for the majority of downtown Sylva.
The district runs from Innovation Brewing in the east to Nantahala Brewing in the west, encompassing most of both Mill and Main Streets. It also includes the Bridge Park.
The purpose of this district as reported in The Smoky Mountain News is to cut down on crowding indoors of businesses that sell alcohol and to open up more space so more sales can happen. The establishment of this social district means that as long as the alcoholic drink is purchased within this district, the purchaser is allowed to walk on the public streets and visit the public park while consuming that beverage.
According to the Sylva Herald, the idea for the establishment of this district was researched by board Commissioner Greg McPherson and Main Street Sylva Director Bernadette Peters.
Indeed, Ms. Peters is quoted in The Smoky Mountain News as saying, “We did quite a bit of research on this … and I actually went to Kannapolis, North Carolina, which is the only North Carolina city that has it fully implemented, to study how they have done things.” This is a very poor standard of research. Sylva is not Kannapolis.
Kannapolis has a population of 54,054 compared to the population of Sylva which is 2,804. This makes Kannapolis a bit over 19 times the size of Sylva. The West Avenue Social District of Kannapolis does not encompass the major portion of the downtown business district as it does in Sylva nor does it include the two major thoroughfares traversing the town.
Additionally, the Kannapolis district is adjacent to a minor league ballpark (Kannapolis Canon Ballers) where alcohol is already being sold and served. The only park involved in Sylva is the Bridge Park, which is open to the general public for use — including families with children — and is only a short bridge crossing over Scott’s Creek from the main children’s playground for the town. Kannapolis implemented its social district in the middle of October 2021, only four months ago. How can you research the successes and/or failures of a system that has not had time to prove itself one way or the other? This is shoddy research. It is the comparison of apples to oranges.
At the February 10 council meeting, 33 citizens showed up to question the adoption of this matter. Fifteen spoke against the proposal, some of them owners of downtown businesses. No one spoke in favor of it except for council members David Nestler, Greg McPherson, and Natalie Newman. Obviously, they were not listening to the constituents at the meeting.
I call on the Sylva town council to rescind this vote and to put the establishment of a social district on the ballot as a referendum during the next regular election. To not do so shows that the Sylva Town Council is more interested in the concerns of a few private businesses than in the interests of the residents of Sylva as a whole.