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Public hearing scheduled for Sylva solicitation ordinance

Public hearing scheduled for Sylva solicitation ordinance File photo

The Town of Sylva is once again considering a solicitation ordinance for the streets and sidewalks section of its code of ordinances, and now the public will have a chance to weigh in. 

The proposed draft ordinance can be found on the town’s website and in the agenda packet for the Jan. 25 regular board meeting. During that meeting, the town board unanimously approved scheduling the public hearing for Feb. 8, however, both Mary Gelbaugh and Brad Waldrop were absent for the vote.

At the board’s Jan. 11 meeting, Mayor Johnny Phillips presented the idea of a panhandling ordinance and made clear his support for the proposal.

“We’re a tourist town; we don’t have any industry,” said Phillips at the time. “Tourism is what we have. We want people to want to come back here. We want people to want to move here.” 

The board had previously considered a panhandling ordinance in November 2022, but ultimately decided against it after a majority of the board and several members of the public spoke in opposition to the measure.

During elections in 2023, three new members were elected to the Sylva Town Board, and this time around, there appears to be more support for the measure among those new board members. Both Phillips and Mark Jones voiced support for such an ordinance during the Jan. 25 meeting.

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However, Council Members Brad Waldrop and Natalie Newman questioned the intent and effectiveness of an ordinance to address panhandling. Waldrop voted against staff creating a draft ordinance. At the behest of Council Member Mary Gelbaugh, the board made a motion for staff to create an ordinance that addressed solicitation rather than panhandling.

The draft ordinance would amend the section of Sylva’s code of ordinances that addresses street and sidewalks, section 30, and is titled “public solicitation and begging upon the streets and sidewalks regulated.” 

The ordinance would prohibit anyone from soliciting or begging by accosting another, or forcing oneself upon the company of another; within 20 feet of any financial institution; 10 feet of any bus stop or other transportation hub; 20 feet of any commercial establishment that is open for business; while the person being solicited is standing in line waiting to be admitted to a commercial establishment; by touching the person being solicited without that person’s consent; by blocking the path of a person being solicited or blocking the entrance or exit to any building or vehicle; following the person who has been solicited after that person has declined the request of walked away; by or with the use of threatening, profane, or abusive language, during the solicitation or following an unsuccessful solicitation; by or with the use of any gesture or act intended to cause a reasonable person to be fearful of the solicitor or feel compelled to accede to the solicitation; and during nighttime hours from dusk to dawn.

Additionally, as already outlined in North Carolina General Statutes, the ordinance states it would be unlawful to solicit or beg while intoxicated, by using false or misleading information, or by indicating that the solicitor or any member of their family suffers from a physical or mental disability when such information is false.

According to the draft, violation of the ordinance is punishable by a $50 fine.

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