Sylva official explains how social district works

Sylva’s Main Street Economic Development Director Bernadette Peters spoke to the Franklin Town Council about the success of Sylva’s social district experience.

Dan Finnerty – Contributing Writer

Town of Franklin (TOF) Council members received input from some Franklin residents last month on social district alcohol permission allowances. On Monday evening, May 1, Bernadette Peters, Main Street Economic Development Director for the Town of Sylva, brought information based on Sylva’s experience with starting up a similar process.

Peters provided data on Sylva’s assessment with social districting, how it operates, and how one may impact Franklin. A social district is an exception to North Carolina’s open container law and allows residents and visitors to partake of alcoholic beverages in specified downtown areas. Some provisions associated with social districts are that drinks must be consumed from officially-designated containers received at drink purchase locations; visitors may stroll with their beverage within social district boundaries; people can ascertain whether retailers allow social district drinks before entering an establishment; and, a cup must be empty before entering another venue that serves alcohol. Sylva has 10 locations at which patrons may purchase drinks and 14 stores where people can shop while in possession of alcoholic beverages.

Rules and restrictions regarding the imbibing of an alcoholic beverage are in force in the Sylva district, such as:  Must be consumed within designated timeframes and no outside alcohol is permitted within the district – all alcoholic beverages must be purchased and consumed within specified locations. According to the agreement in Sylva, the social district “allows for common areas where licensed establishments may sell alcoholic beverages in designated containers to be taken outside within the area for consumption.” Sylva also uses a designated logo to indicate which establishments participate within the district boundaries. Any costs associated with establishing and managing the social district are provided by the Town of Sylva. The town is also insured for management and provides sanitation services within the district, including trash removal and litter pick up. 

During her address to the Council, Peters pointed out that while Sylva is still evaluating the success of the district, “the main purpose was to increase retail sales, especially in and immediately following the pandemic.” She added that getting people outside of establishments was more in keeping with mandates of the time that ordered social distancing and discouraged or disallowed people to congregate indoors.

Sylva was the second North Carolina town to implement a social district (Kannapolis being the first). With more than a year gone by to assess the change, Peters described the results as “very successful.” The state implemented the rule change to assist small businesses that were feeling ill effects from the restrictions. Towns can opt in to allow people to have open containers in town. 

“We did research with other states – Alabama, Michigan – [with] some of the communities there and what they have done, and also Kannapolis to see what they had done,” she said. Sylva went through what Peters described as a “trial period” of six months, and whereas the original ordinance allowed open containers seven days a week, the town scaled that back to just weekends during the trial period. “Although it didn’t seem like it changed retail sales tremendously, what it did do was relieve a lot of the congestion at restaurants and breweries,” added Peters. 

Current rules in Sylva allow for the district implementation seven days a week, from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Sunday. Peters added that Sylva is looking at potentially extending until 10 p.m. to more closely align with some of the established operating hours of those businesses opting into the social district program. The district rules do not apply to any government-owned property..

Mayor Jack Horton presented numerous proclamations, including a “Thank You” from the American Legion to the Public Works (PW) staff, which was presented to Director Bill Deal. He also presented announcements for Firefighter Week (May 1-7), Police Week (May 9-20), and Public Works Week (May 21-27).

As advertised last month, a public hearing was held on an amendment to Chapter 130 of the Town of Franklin Code of Ordinances to prohibit camping on public property. Presented by Police Chief Devin Holland and Town Attorney John Henning, the amendment required adoption by the Council. Once approved, it is considered to be in full force and effective immediately. The main impetus for a hearing, according to Henning: “You (the Council) can extend authority out into the extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ), which is almost necessary for enforcement.” The county is also considering a similar adoption in order to protect applicable areas and both the Town and county are considering a joint effort to enforce the regulation, once passed, throughout the community. Only publicly-owned property is in play with this proposed ordinance change. 

Private businesses or residents could still authorize camping for events such as festivals or other temporary gatherings. Part of the proposal states “the goal of the Town is to reduce inadequate housing, homelessness, and vagrancy within the Town of Franklin.” Council member Stacy Guffey pointed out that while he understands the need for some measure to combat a growing problem of unregulated camping or tenting by some who may have no other means of shelter or who simply choose to exist outside of established residences. However, he said, “We’re not taking care of the cause of those problems, which is homelessness.” Guffey went on to acknowledge that homelessness in the last 10 years has skyrocketed, especially in rural areas. “This is a band-aid on a problem that goes much deeper.” 

The Council voted on and unanimously approved the amendment.

Town Planner Justin Setser requested an additional streetlight at the corner of Ulco Drive and 

Wells Grove Rd. Expected increased cost per month is only about $10 (Cost is $9-10 dollars a month, without a new pole – closer to $20 a month with a new pole) Setser does not anticipate needing one. This request was also unanimously approved by the Council.

As part of her fiscal year 2023-2024 Budget Overview, Town Manager Amie Owens advised that the Town revenue neutral tax rate will be 33 cents, which is a reduction of 2 cents from the previous amount. She also stated the town was able to balance its budget with no fund balance appropriations needed. A public hearing is scheduled for input to the budget June 5, at 6:10 p.m. 

Council Members approved fireworks at the Whitmire property on July 4, 2023. The approved contract includes a new vendor, Deep South Fireworks, who will orchestrate the Independence Day show. 

The next scheduled Town of Franklin Council meeting is Monday, June 5, at 6 p.m.