WEST JEFFERSON — On June 7, the West Jefferson Board of Alderman held its monthly meeting. Orders of business included the regular department reports and the approval of the budget ordinance with the majority of the meeting being dedicated to a public discussion regarding downtown restaurants using parking spots for outside dining.
The meeting began at 6 p.m. at West Jefferson Town Hall, the Aldermen members present at the meeting were Stephen Shoemaker, Mayor ProTem John K. Reeves, Russell W. Barr, Mayor Tom Hartman and Crystal C. Miller.
The bulk of the discussion centered on the use of downtown parking spots. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic the town council had allotted parking spots to local restaurant owners for use as outdoor seating. The outdoor seating allowed the restaurants to continue to cater to the public while also remaining within COVID-19 occupancy regulations.
Now that many pandemic restrictions have been lifted, however, some local merchants argue that the lack of parking spots is affecting customer access to their shops.
“I get the reasoning behind allowing the different restaurants to be able to come out on the street due to limited space. We all suffered and I understand. But, I’ve asked that after the restrictions are lifted and everyone could go back inside if the parking would be allowed to come back,” said Dana Little, owner of the Cutting Edge Hair Salon. “I’ve started to having a lot of problems with my customers being able to find parking. Especially my older customers because there’s no parking.”
“That is parking for everyone,” Little continued. “After 5:30 or 6 p.m. let them have it until midnight. But from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. when all of our businesses are open parking is very important for all of us.”
Likewise, Melissa Cox of the Vintage Locket noted that her shop has also been facing issues of accessibility due to the lack of parking spaces.
“We were so busy Mother’s Day. I had a ton of orders, I had customers that had even messaged me online and said ‘I can’t get to your store, so can I order this and can you do curbside or walk it out?,’” Cox said. “I had five customers that had to drive around about five times and couldn’t find parking because there were two parking spaces in front of my store that were taking up by Black Jack’s tables and then all the way down the sides, both side were taken up by restaurants.”
Though able to cater to her customers needs through curbside pickup, Cox stated that visitors inability to get to her store does have an affect on her revenue.
“We had to walk out and run their credit cards and unfortunately with that they didn’t come in and when they don’t come in they don’t buy more,” Cox said.
On the other side, downtown restaurant owners argued that not only is the abundance of outdoor seating a draw for many tourist visiting the community, they also pointed out the personal investments they have made when creating the outside dining areas. This includes the purchase of potted plants, patio furniture and lighting to accommodate guest visiting the town.
“When I asked to put out my seats I agreed that I would make it nice looking. I’ve put out a $1,000 worth of plants. I’ve never asked to put seats out on the main street, wouldn’t even dream of it,” said Tammy Rose, owner of the Burgers Ya’ll restaurant. “For me, it really makes a difference. Our customers, everyone that comes in, says that they love being able to sit outside.”
One proposed solution to the parking issue was selecting designated hours that would allow restaurants to use their parking spaces as outdoor dining. Having tried this in the past, however, some restaurant owners pointed out the infeasibility of moving patio furniture in and out of their designated spaces.
“The problem is that when there’s a car parked, we couldn’t set up a table. From my end it’s either we do it or we don’t,” said Mike Kesterson of the Home Slice pizzeria regarding the proposed time restraints on outside seating.
Other proposals to the parking dilemma included the possibility of enforcing time limits on downtown parking spots and making it mandatory for employees of downtown businesses to park in the town lot, thus freeing up more space.
In the end — noting that the original decision to allow restaurants to use parking spaces as dining areas was intended to be temporary solution to the COVID-19 restrictions — Alderman Shoemaker made a motion to retrieve all the outdoor parking spaces that were not being used as dining areas prior to COVID-19. The motion would allow for the restaurants to use the parking spaces as dining areas after 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and all day on Sunday.
The motion was favored by Aldeman Shoemaker and Alderwomen Miller and opposed by Mayor ProTem Reeves and Alderman Barr. Mayor Tom Hartman passed the motion with the deciding vote in favor of reclaiming the parking spots.
Effective on Friday, June 11 downtown restaurants can no longer use parking spots as outside dining during peak business hours.
“I want all of you that are here that have businesses to know its wonderful having you here,” said Alderman Shoemaker. “I want to thank you for working with us, we’ll work with you as much as we can. I know sometimes you might say, well, that’s not fair, but its never fair for everybody at one time and we have to keep working at it as we go along.”
The Board of Alderman stated that they hope to revisit the parking situation at a later time in hopes of finding a more permanent solution to the town’s parking woes.
The next West Jefferson Board of Alderman meeting is scheduled for July 12 at the West Jefferson Town Hall located at 1 South Jefferson Avenue. For more information call (336) 246-3551.