By Dave Russell
About 19 parking spaces in the center of downtown Sylva are expected to remain open thanks to town board action last Thursday.
The paved lot on the corner of West Main and Landis streets, next to Humanite Boutique at 633 W. Main St., is the property of the First Baptist Church of Sylva.
In addition to public parking, it has hosted entertainment stages during Greening Up the Mountains. It will be the site of the Winter Market from noon until 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30.
Town Manager Paige Dowling said the lot has been available free to the public for the past few years.
In September, Sylva authorized staff members to offer the church $255 per month for use of the lot. The church declined that offer and posted a sign saying the lot would close Nov. 4, Dowling said. Town board members Mary Gelbaugh and David Nestler met with church leaders, and they agreed to rent the lot to the town for $255 through June. The rent would go up to $400 in July at the beginning of the new fiscal year.
The town will have to determine during the budget process whether it can afford to rent the parking lot longer term and if that is a priority, Dowling said.
“I don’t think we should rent any parking lots,” board member Harold Hensley said. “If they want to rent that parking lot, let the merchants rent it.”
Hensley said it was rare that he came downtown and did not see available parking spaces.
“Seeing that parking is at such a premium downtown, I think it is in the best interest of our community that we keep the lot open,” Nestler said. “Since they have made it clear that if we don’t rent it they are going to close it off, I think for the sake of our business community, residents and visitors that we rent it.”
The town pays the same amount per parking space at what is known as the Cogdill lot on the east end of town, Dowling said.
The town will re-stripe the parking spaces and put in a handicapped accessible parking space.
Renting the lot out is nothing new, First Baptist Church member and trustee John Dills said Tuesday.
“The lot was not available to the public for a long time,” Dills said. “It was leased to a bank in town for many, many years.”
The money from the lease went to maintenance of church property. When the money from the bank lease dried up (after SunTrust Bank left Sylva), the church had to take money from its missions funds, he said.
“It was felt like that to be good stewards of the property, we needed to lease the property,” Dills said. “We prefer to lease it to the town, although we have other options.”
Dills would not disclose who those other options were.
“We’re in the same boat the town is in,” he said.
“They need to get a contract as beneficial to them as they can. We need to be good stewards of our property and we need to get as good a contract as we can. I think that’s the bottom line for both parties.”
Rent beyond June has not been finalized, he said.
Contract negotiations will start early next year.
“We just wanted to meet them halfway,” he said. “We understand about the budget.”