In one of those delicious little ironies of life, this reporter had a devil of a time finding a parking space to attend last week’s meeting of the Fayetteville City Council in which a long parade of folks parked themselves in front of the council to discuss the dearth of parking in the downtown.
    Specifically, those who took the podium during the public comment period of the meeting urged the council to look into leasing a 44-space parking lot on the 100 block of Hay Street next to the Gotham City Jazz building that was closed for several days as the new owner of the lot, Chris Manning, had an environmental review carried out as part of his planned purchase of the lot.
    {mosimage}The city had leased the parking lot for 22 years from BB&T — until the lease recently expired and the council decided not to purchase the lot from BB&T at a cost of $395,000.
    Instead, Manning jumped into the breach, offering $465,000 for the lot.
    While it was not known what Manning plans to do with the property, what was known by downtown merchants operating in the area was that their businesses will suffer — and perhaps shut down — without those vital parking spots.
    At last week’s council meeting, some of these merchants showed up wearing blue and white sticks that read “Vote Yes” next to a “P” for parking. These folks urged the council to work out the details and pursue some kind of lease agreement so the parking lot would stay open.
    Larry Clubine, president of the Downtown Alliance, said that if the lot utilized some sort of paid parking system, such as meters, it could generate approximately $275 a day — or approximately $5,000 a month — which he said could easily cover the cost of a lease.
    “If something’s not done, businesses will suffer a significant loss at a time when downtown is thriving,” said Clubine.
    Also speaking out on the parking issue was Diane Parfitt, treasurer of the Downtown Alliance and owner of City Center Gallery and Books, which is across the street from the parking lot.
    “We firmly believe that the core of the city is its downtown,” said Parfitt. “We are a nation of drivers. For several years the Downtown Alliance has warned about the dearth of downtown parking. I have two book clubs that meet at my store and they have told me that those clubs will die if there is a loss of parking.”
    Diane Parfitt’s husband, Hank, founder and past president of the Downtown Alliance, appealed to the stomachs of the council members when discussing the impact of losing the parking lot.
    “These are 44 spots, but if you look at the number of cars parking there throughout the day, you’re talking about 200 cars easily … 200 customers,” said Hank Parfitt. “My wife and I own the building where Horne’s Café is … I’m going to tell you right now, it has the best cheeseburger in Fayetteville, bar none. But it doesn’t matter how good their food is or how quick their service is: If people can’t park there or within a reasonable parking distance, they are not going to go there. If we cannot regain those 44 parking spots, Horne’s will be closed in two months … and our bookstore won’t be far behind and there will be many more businesses that will have to close. It’s just a fact of life.”
    While the council did not address the parking issue at the meeting, city officials did say that the city is negotiating with Manning on the possibility of leasing the space and keeping it open as a parking lot.
The council would have to vote on any lease agreement at a future meeting.
    While the council members were tight lipped about the parking of cars, they weren’t nearly so mute as they discussed an ordinance that would close auto salvage yards within three years if they don’t abide by city regulations —  seven salvage yards could be closed under the ordinance, which passed 8-2, with dissenting votes cast by Ted Mohn and Robert Massey.
    Councilman William Crisp expressed concern that the ordinance would “put some folks out of business.”
However, Councilman Charles Evans shot back that the council wasn’t trying to put anyone out of business, but that something had to be done to clean up the salvage yards for the betterment of the health of families living adjacent to the salvage yards.
    “I too am concerned about putting people out of business,” said Evans, pointing to a picture of one particularly unkempt auto salvage yard. “But this place is in a residential area. The residents have been complaining for years and years about getting it cleaned up. To think that a person would have to come home from a hard day’s work and pass this mess going to and from (home) every day.”
    Massey countered that most of the salvage yards had been in business for years and provide the city with a needed service for residents who can’t afford new cars or to pay repairmen, so they frequent the salvage yards themselves to seek out the needed parts themselves.
    “Our community encroached upon them (the salvage yards),” said Massey. “Is it the city’s job to put     them out of business?”
    Evans answered, rather testily, that the council had previously agreed among themselves to this ordinance, and he also cited the low economic standing of the folks who tend to live adjacent to these salvage yards — folks who he said often don’t have their voices heard.
    “We have worked long and hard on this ordinance because we knew this was a problem in Fayetteville,” said Evans. “It’s not that we’re trying to put anybody out of business … We’re trying to protect the sanctity of the neighborhoods.
    “There’s a lot of those neighborhoods where the salvage yards are in economically challenged areas and those people need a chance to lead a decent life in their particular residences.”
    In other business, the council moved ahead with the annexation of Gates Four. The community will officially become part of the city following next year’s municipal elections.

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