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Sylva starts social district test period

Sylva starts social district test period

The Sylva social district opened for business, just in time for last weekend’s Greening Up the Mountains festival.

On Thursday night, the Sylva Board of Commissioners voted to amend the previously approved social district ordinance , reducing the days of operation to Friday through Sunday. The board will revisit the ordinance after six months, an amount of time it is considering as a test period  for the social district. 

“We received great feedback about the social district from patrons, festival vendors and downtown merchants,” said Main Street Economic Development Director Bernadette Peters. “The Sylva Police Department and Public Works both indicated that things ran smoothly with the launch. We will have conversations with the permit-holders and retailers who participated in the social district this week to gather feedback and make changes if necessary.”

The newly approved hours allow the social district to be in effect Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 9 p.m. During these hours, people in downtown Sylva will be able to carry and consume alcohol from any bar, restaurant or other entity that has a permit to sell alcohol and has agreed to participate, within an area spanning Main Street and Mill Street between Innovation Brewing and Nantahala Brewery. 

At Thursday’s meeting, Commissioner David Nestler asked if implementing different schedules in the ordinance — not in place Monday through Thursday, and differing hours on the three days the social district is in place each week — would create confusion for people. 

“That was something that the other towns we talked to expressed, that there was confusion,” said Peters. “But they all felt like offering a test period was the better way to have a consensus among their towns.”

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Peters convened a Sylva Social District Task Force over the last several weeks to address feedback given during a public hearing for the ordinance on Feb. 10 , and spent eight hours in merchant meetings to hear and process the needs and ideas of downtown merchants. Together, the task force created aspects of a maintenance plan that is required to be submitted to the state before a social district can be put in place. 

One important point of discussion for the task force was the possibility of increased trash created by the social district. In order to reduce the use of single-use plastic cups, the maintenance plan developed requires people participating in the social district to purchase a reusable, stainless steel cup at any participating location. The cups will cost $10. 

However, the requirement for this specific reusable cup is not delineated in the ordinance approved by the town board that allows for a social district in Sylva. 

Commissioner Nestler questioned this discrepancy between the maintenance plan and the ordinance, noting that according to the ordinance, businesses and people consuming alcohol aren’t required to use the metal cup. 

“According to the ordinance, it can be a plastic cup, it just has to have the social district on it and a participating business,” said Nestler. “What’s to stop a participating business from not selling someone a $10 cup, and just putting it in a plastic cup? According to the ordinance, they can do that.”

“I think the idea was getting people to buy into the district and also discouraging under-age drinking,” said Commissioner Greg McPherson. 

Peters mentioned that there is an exception in the plan for festivals. During festivals in downtown Sylva, people consuming alcohol are not required to use the metal cup when moving through the social district. 

“For festivals, we’re offering that [use of plastic cups in the social district] as an option, knowing that there’s going to be a lot more people in town,” said Peters. “But when we created the details of the plan, we were trying to address the things that were presented in the public hearing.”

While Nestler said that requiring people to purchase the metal cup renders the social district burdensome, Mcpherson argued that it is a similar concept to using reusable grocery bags, coffee cups or growlers. 

Commissioner Mary Gelbaugh noted that ultimately, this is a test period and that the town board will be able to revisit the issue and determine what is working and what is not working after six months. 

Gelbaugh, McPherson and Newman voted in favor of amending the social district ordinance to weekend hours for the test period, Nestler voted against the amendment, saying he was not in favor of reducing the hours, and Commissioner Ben Guiney was absent. 

The town board will revisit the social district ordinance at its first September meeting. 

Leave a comment


  • Why in the world do your hours run from 8am -9 pm? Are you encouraging morning drinking?? Having it in the late afternoon to evening hours would be much more practical and safer for the townspeople and the shop owners don’t you think?

    posted by M Bowman

    Monday, 04/25/2022

  • Thanks for the article. Im grateful that GUTM went off with no alcohol related incidents. I agree with commissioner Nestler. Changing the hours throughout the week is too much to keep up with and inconvenient for out-of-towners who might be visiting for Monday through Wednesday. Also $10 for the cup seems quite high. It might be based on the cost of the cup but a $6 beer and a $5 cup sounds better and leaves a cash customer singles to tip with.

    posted by John Bubacz

    Monday, 04/25/2022

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