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Downtown Sylva to test social district

Downtown Sylva. Downtown Sylva.

The Sylva Social District test period is one step closer to launch following input from a community task force.

“We have been taking our time crafting the plan to make sure we consider all of the feedback,” said Main Street Economic Development Director Bernadette Peters. “We all agree that implementing the social district in a test period will be the best approach.”

The Sylva Town Board approved the ordinance for a social district during its Feb. 10 meeting. A social district is an outdoor area in which a person may carry and consume alcohol sold by an ABC permitted establishment. Following the decision by the board, Peters said the town must create a specific plan, file it with the state and implement the plan according the bill’s specific requirements. 

“We plan on hosting a merchant permittee brainstorming session and a non-permittee merchant brainstorming session, plus consider all of the public input from our Feb. 10 Town Board Meeting to create the details of the plan,” Peters said after the meeting. “We will periodically evaluate the social district’s usage and any reported safety concerns periodically and are open to changing the district plans accordingly.”

The Sylva Social District Task Force is made up of community members, business owners and local law enforcement. The group has been reviewing feedback given during the public hearing on Feb. 10, and spent eight hours in merchant meetings to hear and process the needs and ideas of downtown merchants. 

The current plan is to implement a test period for the social district which involves limited hours. The recommendation is to change the ordinance so that the social district is in effect Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday from 1-9 p.m. 

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Town Commissioner and downtown resident Greg McPherson indicated that a launch with limited district hours will provide good data for the town board to consider in rolling out, changing or discontinuing the social district. 

“Although we don’t anticipate any significant negative impacts of the social district, we want to make sure that we review all of the data objectively and determine our unique community’s best path forward,” said McPherson. 

The Sylva Police Department is gathering baseline incident reports for the downtown district and will re-evaluate the impact of the social district after the test period. 

Economic impacts for downtown merchants will also be reviewed following the test period. The test period will require consumers to purchase an eco-friendly reusable cup for use in the social district, placement of portable toilets on Main Street and in Bridge Park until the public restrooms are completed, and social district map and rules that permit customers to enter particular public areas, but not shops unless invited by signage and merchant permission. 

Commissioners will have to vote on the reduced hours for the social district test period. The next town board meeting is April 21. The test period will last for six months after it begins. The start date depends on the approval of the ordinance change and plan submission to the state. 

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