Joseph Taylor asked Council to consider changing the four regular parking spots and one handicap spot directly in front of Town Hall from two hour parking to 30 minute parking at the Monday night meeting.
The first reason being that vehicles are parking for long durations in front of the building causing issues with traffic control. Taylor said that he could not see any of the offices in the line of buildings needing more than 30 minutes to conduct business but if they do, there are over 20 spots in the back of the building.
Secondly, he said that he has an “increasing concern about security for the public employees within Town Hall. “I challenge you to consider that in public buildings such as Town Halls, courthouses, etc. from cities to towns to county locations across the Commonwealth, there is frequently and almost always a buffer of landscaping and perhaps a drive thru between the entryway of Town Hall and public parking. That is not accidental. It is on purpose to create a buffer. I will tell this body that I do not want to wait for a problem to take place where we have a vehicle that’s parking numbers of hours and perhaps creating a security concern in front of Town Hall because it’s not only parking that’s the problem, it also obstructs the view almost entirely at the front entrance of the building preventing pubic employees from seeing out of a window. That is a problem.”
Taylor said that the only exception would be buildings with their own security staff in place, which our Town Hall does not have.
“This is not a dramatic change for the citizens of South Hill and I would say to the businesses adjacent to Town Hall that we are not eliminating parking and frankly that’s a consolation out in front of Town Hall.”
Mike Moody asked Taylor to clarify that he was asking for a reduction in the parking time limit on the front parking spots but not the back. Taylor answered yes due to there being a “buffer” between the back spots and the door to the building, referring to the other parking spaces in the lot and the staircase leading to the back door.
Moody also asked Police Chief Stuart Bowen how many accidents had taken place in front of the building in the past 12 to 24 months. Bowen answered the there have been “a few”.
“We’ve had a few all over the place so were they related to people parking here for two hours or was it related to somebody being in motion and not paying attention?”
Bowen said he was not aware of any accidents related to parking.
“I understand what you’re asking for Mr. Taylor but we have an investment business right next door and if they have customers they can’t go in and do investment consultations in 30 minutes so we may be putting them at a disadvantage.”
Moody asked if Taylor was proposing this for just this one area or would it be for all limited time parking spaces around town.
“No because, again, my concern is not so much traffic control but also ease of access for citizens who are coming in to take care of small transactions. There is simply a rarity of situations where you have someone if they, unless they have a need of access issue where they are handicap, of course, town staff would be aware that they have a handicap issue and need actually to be as close to the front entrance, that’s fine. We have a handicap spot for it, but for those who have a two hour meeting, we have plenty of spots in the back of the building. I’m very concerned about blocking the view for town employees for a number of hours. That’s a big security concern and they do not have the blessing of a security force inside the building.”
Gavin Honeycutt asked what would stop someone who was parked there for 30 minutes from being a security threat. “Poor Mrs. Archer has just as much to lose in the back of this building as say Katie does working in the front. Mrs. Archer is actually closer to the door as you walk in than the office staff is to the front.”
He continued, “In speaking with Jeremy Lynch, he is highly opposed to this happening. A lot of his consultations go from two to two and a half hours and this would really affect his business. Trinity Custom Apparel as well when they have pick ups. There could be multiple pick ups that could sometimes take up to an hour.”
Taylor pointed out that Trinity had parking on the side of the building which allowed easier access for deliveries and pick ups. Honeycutt responded that the company has had access to the public spot in front of the business for years.
“It’s not their spot. It’s the Town’s spot. It’s all of our spot,” said Taylor.
Honeycutt said, “Again, it’s public parking for these businesses making an investment in this community.”
“Glad to have them but it’s the entire community’s parking space,” answered Taylor.
Shep Moss referenced an email that he says was sent from the South Hill Chamber of Commerce stating that “most every business is essentially against the proposal of this new policy”.
Moss also said that he was told by someone that the proposal would include the parking spaces across the street from Town Hall and that the businesses adjacent to Town Hall were not contacted and informed about the proposal, though he was allegedly told that they were.
“My motion refers to the parking spaces in front of Town Hall singularly,” said Taylor.
Before ending the discussion, Honeycutt commented, “God forbid anyone get shot and killed through the backdoor if we’re only going to do this at the front door.”
“So is that a reason not to protect one side of the building because they’re not fairly protected, of course they’re fairly protected. There’s a buffer at the rear of the building,” said Taylor.
Honeycutt interrupted saying, “If we’re to do this for one side then why not the other?”
“You must not have heard me. So is your answer not to take any action and wait?” asked Taylor.
“We’ve waited on lots of other things Mr. Taylor.”
“I’m not willing to wait on the security of public employees under any circumstances. I will never be. That’s up to you Mr. Honeycutt. If that’s a priority of yours you can lay it out. I have mine. That’s my motion,” said Taylor.
Moss asked Kim Callis how many security issues that Town Hall has faced, being aware of one or two. Callis referred to Director of Finance Sheila Cutrell to answer how many times she has felt “discomfort”, which is what he considers a “security risk”. Cutrell said she could not provide a specific number but there have been a few.
Moss asked if any of those situations could be directly related to the length of parking time in the front spaces. Cutrell stated that she would have no way of knowing that information.
Honeycutt addressed what he felt was the “real issue”. “We’ve had an individual for the past four to five months who has chosen to practice their first amendment right of speech by having a sign on the back of his vehicle sitting out in front of Town offices, now Sheila is that a concern? Did they feel threatened by the signs in the truck?”
“I don’t think any employee felt threatened by the signs. There have been some comments made about concern over individuals who are handicap and need to park in the spaces out front and are able to because the spaces are taken,” replied Cutrell.
Honeycutt asked if the individual in the truck, referring to Wade Crowder of South Hill, was parked in a handicap space.
Callis answered that “they do not park in a handicap space but they try to park as close to the front door as possible and that’s not a handicap space. We do have a few people who are slow. I cannot say that I have seen anyone in a wheelchair.” Cutrell said that she knew of one person in a wheel chair that often comes by town offices but there are a number of elderly people who need access to front parking spaces.
The motion put forth by Taylor was not seconded by his fellow Council members, therefore did not call for a vote.
A second proposal from Taylor called for prohibited parking on West Main Street from Mecklenburg to Lunenburg Avenue. There would be no parking on the south side of that road and unlimited parking on the north side.
According to Callis, parking on both sides of the street between Brown’s auto repair shop and DMV makes it difficult for traffic to move through the area. Callis said that CJ Dean and Stuart Bowen had a conversation with George Brown and tried to work out a “gentlemen’s agreement” where people would not leave their cars on the south side of the street but they had trouble enforcing that with customers.
Taylor’s motion was seconded by Mike Moody. Mayor Marion asked, for clarity, if the Brown family had been contacted to which Callis replied yes. CJ Dean said that he had spoken to Ella Vandyke last Thursday and that they were in favor of the proposal.
Marion asked if she was a “business partner” as previously stated. “She works for Mr. Brown,” replied Dean.
Moody asked if she worked for Mr. Brown or was a partner. “I don’t know the relationship,” answered Dean.
Callis added that Mr. Brown was having a medical procedure after answering “yes” when asked if Mr. Brown had been contacted by Mayor Marion.
“I think the fair thing to say is that both Chief [Bowen] and CJ [Dean] have had conversations with George Brown about this. We tried to have this gentlemen’s agreement. When we tried to get this together to come before Council, he was not available. We talked to the person that runs the business in his absence and she said ‘We’re fine with this. We’ve been trying to tell people not to park over there.’ She was very agreeable with no reservation what-so-ever,” said Callis.
Moss asked if the proposal should go to the Streets Committee for review and a scheduled public hearing to which Callis responded this has been an issue for many years and for safety reasons should be brought straight to Council.
“When I gave my second to the motion I was under the impression that the right people had been contacted and they haven’t. I don’t care who sits behind the desk and runs the business, we need to speak to the property owner. I understand that you have been working on this for years and years but if you are going to bring something to us tonight, you need to have all of your information together so we can act upon it. With that being said, I’m going to withdraw my motion to second until we get something we can vote on,” said Moody.
Town Attorney Estes pointed out that the motion to second could not be withdrawn now that Council had moved on to discussion but rather the original motion could be withdrawn. Taylor refused to withdraw his motion.
After some back and forth between Moss and Taylor, Moody and Feggins-Boone called for a vote. The vote ended in a tie with Taylor, Luster, Feggins-Boone, and Crocker voting in favor of the proposed change and Moody, Moss, Honeycutt, and Graham voting against the motion. In the event of a tie, the Mayor has the deciding vote. Marion voted against the motion.
Moody requested that all business owners in that block be contacted about the proposal and the information be reported back to Council.
In the first public hearing, Council voted to rezone property owned by the Alpod
Company located behind Walmart at the end of Peebles Street from transitional suburban
residential district (R1-40) to general dwelling district (R2-16). This allows for the construction of apartment buildings versus single family homes.
GWP, LLC partner Stacey Whithouse says the goal is to develop about 200 three story apartment buildings on the property due to the “vast lack of housing, especially housing that working people can afford”. Whithouse explained that it would not be subsidized housing but market price housing.
Joseph Taylor said that he would prefer to have some sort of schematic to review before voting. “We’re responsible to the public. I understand that it’s expensive but what we have in front of us is a request and a map showing where the property is. Nothing more. You have been very helpful and I have no reason to doubt what you’re saying but that would be my comment.”
All but Taylor voted to approve the rezoning request.
In a similar public hearing, Justin Smith of WBS Investments, LLC answered Council questions regarding his request to rezone their 21-acre property on Country Lane from general business district (C-3) to general dwelling district (R2-16).
“It may be a mix of apartments and single family housing because we were told both were allowed in that zone,” said Smith.
Taylor again pointed out that he would request a some sort of schematic, image, information about the project before approving.
“I understand that there is a need for housing and I look forward to voting yes, I’m doing so blindly. I’m rezoning a property without any information as to the specific use other than it will be residential. I would encourage the Council to consider that when voting.”
Taylor again was the only Councilmember to vote against the request.
Both rezoning requests presented in public hearing were unanimously approved by the South Hill Planning Commission. Moving forward more details will have to be presented to Council before approving.