By Dave Russell
Members of Sylva’s town board have a variety of goals for 2021: new hiking trails, sidewalk and crosswalk additions, public art, public restrooms in the downtown area and more.
Before any of those visions, a repair sits atop the list for all of the board members.
“I hope that we have some sort of resolution to Allen Street,” board member Mary Gelbaugh said.
The town’s responsibility, Allen Street suffered two landslides that have closed it to through traffic. Repairs could cost the town upwards of $1 million.
“A project that we have talked about before that I want to revisit is putting public bathrooms in downtown Sylva,” she said.
She would like to use the closed-off area of Spring Street across from Melissa’s Back Street Takeout for the facilities. The area is currently set off by white posts.
“We’ll probably be able to open up our parks in 2021,so if we can do some small park improvements, keeping in mind our budget restraints,” Gelbaugh said. “I’d also love to explore our options with the Blackrock Creek Tract.”
The Skyland Drive sidewalk, which several board members mentioned as a goal at the beginning of 2020, is on her radar again, she said.
That project has been under discussion since at least September 2017, when The Herald ran the story “A sidewalk for Skyland Drive nearing reality.”
Board member David Nestler echoed Gelbaugh’s thoughts on Allen Street.
“That’s going to be the biggest project we have tackled in a long time,” he said. “That’s going to eat up every bit of our staff resources and our financial resources. We want to make sure we fix that right and do everything we can to make sure the people who live in that community are happy with the solution.
“Another big thing for me is going forward with the new Bridge Park design,” Nestler said. “We were making good progress on it this year until COVID happened.”
The Jackson County Watershed Action Plan identified projects throughout the county, with Bridge Park listed as number one. Slowing down and filtering storm water before it brings pollutants and sediment into Scotts Creek would be one part of improvements to the park.
The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce took the role of Main Street Sylva director last year. “I’d like to get more input from the Main Street board on what they want to see, and what the merchants downtown want to see and keep it the way it is or change it to an actual position,” Nestler said.
Board member Ben Guiney wants to do his part to make Sylva inclusive and welcoming to everyone, he said.
“That’s kind of my guiding principle,” he said.
An avid cyclist, Guiney wants to see progress on trails in Pinnacle Park and Blackrock Creek.
“The plan is to start in Pinnacle and work up to Blackrock and start connecting trails,” he said.
“I want to work on getting public WiFi here in town,” he said. “I’d like to see 5G in town.
“Housing is always on my mind,” he said. “It’s on all the board members’ minds, I think. There’s a lack of housing in Sylva and I expect there is going to be growth, because I think people want to get out of big cities and away from the pandemic because they have learned they can work remotely,” he said. “Sylva is such a good spot for that, with a university and 15-20 minutes away from a national park and there is just so much to do here.”
Allen Street is on his radar as well.
“It’s tough,” he said. “We’re going to have to take a hit on that.”
Board member Greg McPherson agreed Allen Street is a priority.
“I would also like to see the sidewalks downtown completed and a mid-block crosswalk added on Mill Street,” he said. “Somewhere near the mural. A lot of people need to cross the street there.”
He hope to see the Evalina Street crosswalk project completed, he said. Work is ongoing to move the crosswalk west so that cars turning east onto West Main Street do not turn into the crosswalk.
McPherson, an artist, is big on more downtown art, he said.
“We have the Harriet Tubman sculpture coming in fall, and it would be nice to hear some ideas coming out of the art committee,” he said.
“All our parking lots need to be re-striped,” he said. “The Ritz and Cogdill lots and loading zones could use a refresher, and I look forward to developing the dirt lot next to Bridge Park.”
He, too, would like to see more housing, suggesting smaller lot sizes to get some high-density construction.
“I want to see the continuing positive growth, expanding our tax base,” he said. “Onward and upward.”
Board member Barbara Hamilton said the town would have a “dilemma” when it comes to Allen Street.
“It’s going to cost so much money,” she said. “We’re a small town with limited funds.”
Finding grant or other funds to help defray the cost of the repairs are ongoing and should be a priority, she said.