Archived News

Who’ll pay the price?

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

It’s lunchtime in downtown Hazelwood, and the small area’s only parking lot of roughly 30 spaces is jam-packed. People jump out of their cars to grab a bite to eat, a haircut, medications, or a cup of coffee from the various businesses in this section of Waynesville.

The cost to these businesses’ customers to park? Nothing. The town has paid Robert Ellis Forga, a Hazelwood business and property owner, $275 a year to rent the parking lot — and area businesses don’t pay a dime. But after several years of losing money on the lot for giving the town an inexpensive price, Forga decided to raise the monthly rate to $1,400. The town balked and declined to renew the lease.

As it stands now, only businesses owned by Forga will be allowed to use the lot.

That means the patrons of some Hazelwood businesses — including Connie’s Kitchen and Smoky Mountain Roasters — would be left to vie for just seven curbside parking spaces.

Forga defended his decision to raise the price of the lease. The town had paid the same amount of $200 a year since 1995 until an increase to $275 last year. To find out the true cost of the lot today, Forga took into consideration 2005 property revaluation figures and factors like landscaping, maintenance and garbage pickup. He decided the lot was now worth $1,400 a month, and told the town they could pay a reduced rate of $900 if they helped bring the lot up to design standards implemented in the town’s land-use plan.

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“(The town) declined to renew because of the cost. We’ve always had a good relationship with the Forga family, but the price that was quoted was more than we were willing to expend,” said Town Manager Lee Galloway.

Galloway explained in a letter to Forga that he felt the town had already expended a significant amount of money in Hazelwood.

When Forga received word from Galloway, he wasn’t sure of the next step to take. Keeping the lease at the same price wouldn’t be cost effective for him, even though it might have been for his father, who owned the parking lot previously.

“My father was much more established in his life when he owned this parking lot. He had the ability to do a little bit more,” cost-wise, said Forga.

“My question is, what are the requirements for a business to continue to be so civic-minded and generous when appreciation turns into expectation?” he continued.

Forga wrote a letter to Hazelwood merchants explaining that because the town had decided not to renew the lease, the parking lot would be a private parking area only available to Forga’s businesses starting Oct. 1.

Specifically, the lot would be available to Hazelwood Pharmacy, Bill’s Barber Shop, Robert Ellis Salon, Vertigo, Carver’s, and Old Time Insurance.

This left businesses like Connie’s Kitchen and Smoky Mountain Roasters, which have a steady flow of customers throughout the day, wondering where customers would park.

“Of course my customers do use (the lot), and it would definitely change things,” said Kevin Deckett, owner of Smoky Mountain Roasters.

“Everyone across the street was furious with me, calling me, really ragging me out. Their biggest thing was — why didn’t you notify us to pool our money together?” Forga said of comments from businesses.

Forga said he didn’t want the responsibility of collecting money from 14 different businesses and keeping track of who had paid. When he explained to some of the business owners that they shouldn’t offer to pool their money until the town had definitely decided what it was going to do about the situation, Forga said the owners understood.

Deckett was the only business owner who would go on record for this article. The business community in Hazelwood is a close-knit one. Most owners didn’t want to say anything negative about Forga or the businesses that would still be able to use the parking lot.

“I understand both sides,” said Duckett. “I just hope it gets resolved and everybody’s happy.”

As for Forga, he says he cares deeply about the Hazelwood community and would never intentionally do anything to harm business there.

“My father always told me ... Hazelwood may not be what people see as a lot right now, but one day, it will be,” said Forga. That belief helped Forga choose Hazelwood as the location for his upscale hair salon, and today, he thinks the community has grown by leaps and bounds.

The town of Waynesville and Forga are currently in negotiations about leasing the parking lot.

“The most desirable thing is for us to reach an agreement with the Forgas, and I’m optimistic that we will,” said Galloway.

Enforcement of the new restrictions on the parking lot was supposed to begin Oct. 1, the day the town’s lease expired. s of Friday (Oct. 26), however, patrons from all businesses could still park there with no penalty.

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