By Clint Parker
Weaverville – If you had to name a major topic at Monday evening’s (Feb. 24) Weaverville Town Council meeting, it would have to be parking. Parking on Main Street, that is. The council held their meeting in the Weaverville Fire Department’s meeting room because the county board of election had the council chambers sequestered for early voting.
Several items were on the board’s agenda before they got to the parking issue, such as public comment, which started off from three residents also over parking issues off Main Street. Darrell Fox, a contractor and town resident complained that because of parking on streets along Central Ave, he had trouble accessing his property. “I cannot access the parking to my equipment,” Fox said. He’s never allowed his employees to park on downtown streets. He said, “I’ve never allowed them to park on the streets in downtown. We’ve always parked off the streets.”
Town resident Alan Shepherd had a similar complaint about parking on streets off Main Street as did Jackie Fox, Darrell’s wife, who also spoke. Mayor Al Root thanked them for bringing the issue to the council; however, the current parking issue on the agenda for the night would only be dealing with Main Street parking.
The council then passed the consent agenda, which contained several items including the monthly tax report that reported more than 96% tax rate collection, several tax releases and refunds, Board of Adjustments rules of procedure, a resolution for the water extension project and set a public hearing on code amendments for mixed-use development for March 23 at 6:45 pm.
Town Manager Selena Coffey then gave her report before the council went into discussion and action items where the council heard a presentation from Chuck Megown about the upcoming U.S. Census and an update from Doug Dearth on the Reems Creek Greenway Plan.
Another agenda item was tabled: Consideration of action on a proposed technical review committee was held over until next month after Town Attorney Jennifer Jackson asked for it to be. According to the town agenda, the agenda item was to fulfill the “…goal of the comprehensive land-use plan of creating a staff-led technical review committee for development reviews.”
Council then heard the first on consideration of a request for a conditional zoning district for 20/30 Garrison Branch Road. Warren Sugg, with Civil Design Concepts, presented the application which “…calls for the establishment of a multi-tenant development of 25,000 square feet or more” on the nearly five-acre tract. Plans show three buildings, offering a variety of uses, from retail and office space to a storage facility. The project still has to go to the planning board before coming back before the council. At least two council members offered positive comments about the development, one of whom was Councilman Patrick Fitzsimmons, who joined the meeting via an electronic device, a first since the council passed an ordinance allowing such teleconferencing. However, because of technical difficulties, none of Fitzsimmons’ votes were recorded.
Then the board took up the parking issue. Coffey said that what they were bringing forth to the council was done so after the board asked the parking situation to be looked into by staff.
Coffey said staff recommended that the council replace the current parking code, which dates all the way back to the 1970s. According to the study, “…there are a total of 135 marked public parking spaces on Main Street between the intersections of Hamburg Mountain Road and Brown Street.
This includes 89 marked, on-street spaces and 46 spaces in the municipal parking lot at the town clock. There are another 57 marked spaces available for employees of downtown businesses at Weaverville churches: United Methodist Church (18 spaces), First Baptist Church (10 spaces), and First Presbyterian Church (29 spaces).”
The town has a mixture of signage covering parking, including: “11 parking signs within the study area, with four marked as two-hour parking, two marked as one-hour parking, two marked for 30-minute parking, and three marked for one-hour parking on weekdays from 8 am – 6 pm.” “Parking has historically not been enforced unless it prohibited safe passage or a vehicle was inappropriately parked in a handicapped space,” said Coffey.
She explained the staff’s recommendations within the “…report predicated on the following key assertions:
• All Main Street on-street parking will be standardized to a two-hour maximum.
• The town’s municipal (clock) lot should be time-limited to three-hour parking in order to provide visitors adequate time for shopping, dining, etc.
• Time-limited parking should be in effect from 8 am – 6 pm Monday through Friday. Parking will not be enforced on weekends.
• Employees of downtown businesses must utilize marked parking spaces established at the three downtown churches.
• The Weaverville Police Department will begin parking enforcement on April 1, 2020.”
With that, Coffey recommended that the council first adopt an updated code on traffic and parking; implement a communication and outreach plan for downtown parking; upgrade, add and replace parking signage; add marked spaces (about eight spaces) to parking inventory and then enforce the new parking ordinance.
“Parking has not been enforced in the past…outside of handicap parking and also some parking in spaces that cause safety issues,” Coffey told the board. “One of the things that has been alluded to a couple of times and I’m saying it pretty straightforward here is that employees who work in downtown businesses need to use church parking lots…they’re not being used.”
Councilman Andrew Nagle was having none of it and voiced his opposition to what he sees as a business association problem. “I struggle with the whole thing, and I have now for three years. I see it as a Weaverville Business Association problem, not a town problem…The biggest problem is employees, so why are we spending tax dollars on this…who does it hurt?”
“I’ll speak to that,” interjected Root. “As a landowner on Main Street, I spent over a year trying to lease my building. Every single conversation began with the fact that ‘Like your building, but we can’t park in Weaverville.” He added, “I think it behooves the town to want a healthy business district to take what I think are relatively simple steps. To be honest with you, I think after one enforces the parking ordinance, for a certain number of months, it’s going to be pretty easy after that.”
Nagle remained unconvinced but did say that any money from parking fines should go to charity, so it didn’t look as if the town was profiting from parking ticket fines. Later, a member of the audience cautioned the town about mandating an ordinance that would cost the town money but not fund it through the penalties. The board eventually voted that they want to move forward with the plan but would hammer out the details next month. Nagle was the lone dissenting vote.
The board also voted to take in streets in the Lillie Farm Cove development and heard quarterly reports from the police and fire departments before adjourning the meeting.