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Sylva town board forces auto dealer to keep sidewalk promise

Despite pleas for leniency, the owner of a Sylva auto dealership faces a $500 fine for failing to build a sidewalk in front of his car lot.

Russ Cagle, owner of Concept Automotive, initially agreed to build the sidewalk last spring but since has attempted to persuade town leaders to allow him to skirt the requirement.

The Sylva Town Board stuck by its guns last week, however, and ordered him not only to build the sidewalk but also imposed a $500 fine. If Cagle wastes more time, the fines will pile up.

The town board met for nearly two hours in a closed-door session to discuss the sidewalk dilemma, citing potential legal concerns. Complicating matters, Cagle is leasing the lot from a Sylva town board member, Harold Hensley.

Cagle had mounted a multi-pronged argument for not building the sidewalk, appearing before the board members several times. For starters, he questioned the purpose of the sidewalk, since it would not connect to any other sidewalks nearby.

But, many towns have similar ordinances with the long-term goal of creating a pedestrian friendly community one sidewalk section at a time. The requirement only applies to new commercial buildings, or in Cagle’s case, property that was rezoned from residential to commercial.

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Cagle has also claimed the $6,000 price tag for the sidewalk is simply a burden for a small business owner and that the state highway department will likely redo N.C. 107 at some point in the next decade.

But his top argument was that Hensley might sell the property this winter, and the buyer would re-grade the entire property.

The town board agreed to reconsider the sidewalk requirement for Cagle if he and Hensley could provide proof that a sale of the property was pending and that future site work would affect the sidewalk.

Cagle did not comment for this story, but Sylva town Manager Paige Roberson said Cagle has now agreed to build the sidewalk after receiving a letter from an attorney working for the town. Cagle can reduce the fine if he begins to promptly install the sidewalk.

Hensley, who was forced to sit out the closed-door meeting and abstained from voting on the issue because of his role as property owner, said he didn’t want to voice his opinion on the matter.

“I wasn’t paying too much attention, and I left to go to the house to settle my nerves,” Hensely said of the meeting. “I’m getting too old to hold a grudge.”

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