June 27, 2023 - Tuesday evening, June 27, 2023, Waynesville Town Council voted 4-1 to postpone the idea of a social district downtown indefinitely. The vote came after many residents spoke passionately during a public hearing against the idea. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)
WAYNESVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — The streets of Waynesville will not be seeing a social district anytime soon.
Vote on social district postponed indefinitely amid concerns it would 'ruin' town
Tuesday evening, Waynesville Town Council voted 4-1 to postpone the idea of a social district indefinitely.
The designation would have allowed people to walk around a defined area in town with alcoholic beverages. Businesses in the area would have decided whether or not to allow people with those beverages in their stores.
The Downtown Waynesville Commission recommended a social district every day of the week from 10 in the morning until 10 at night in the immediate Main Street area.
Ahead of the vote Tuesday evening, Waynesville Mayor Gary Caldwell told News 13 he knew the issue was capturing attention.
The Downtown Waynesville Commission conducted a survey showing most business owners and residents favored the idea. But as word spread, so did opinions.
“What we're hearing now is there's more and more people that are coming out against it,” Mayor Caldwell said ahead of the vote.
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Opinions earlier Tuesday varied along Main Street's sidewalks.
“It's sort of fun, really, because everyone's happy,” Linda Lasch said.
She said it's working back home in Savannah, and she thought it could work in Waynesville.
“It still sort of frees you up to maybe have a glass of wine," she added. "You want to move on, and we see people just walk around with their little cup and there isn't any trouble."
It was a similar feeling from Thad Ovcarich from Miami.
“I think it’s a great idea," he said. "A lot of other little cities that I'm from or visited, they do it there."
Still others were ambivalent.
“I'm kind of on the fence about that,” said Waynesville resident Anne Page. “I think it might be nice to maybe walk around town. But on the other hand, when I think of the shop owners sometimes about, I don't know, maybe spilling stuff like that, I don't know."
Mayor Caldwell said he would be voting no on the issue.
“Not for me, yeah, not for me," he told News 13. "Not with my Christian belief. I cannot support it. I feel that there's probably some board members that do support it.”
PREVIEW: News 13's Rex Hodge spoke with Waynesville's mayor and some folks on the street ahead of Tuesday night's town council vote on a social district space for downtown. (WLOS)
Town council's vote happened Tuesday evening after many residents spoke passionately during a public hearing against the idea.
“I know what social districts look like in time," one resident, Trudy Schmidt, said. "I have seen it and I don’t know what the object is for you people to do this to Waynesville."
Schmidt said she believed the idea would be nothing but a mistake and asked council members why they would want to ruin Waynesville.
“There’s a huge difference in individual businesses promoting their food, their excellent service, their vibe and even their alcohol offerings versus a town promoting itself as an alcohol town,” said resident Bob Cummings.
Another resident called on the council to spend their time and energy on the problems they're already facing.
“What will we do with our already over capacity jail when laws are broken, crimes are committed and folks have to be hauled off?” questioned Deenie Brooks.
Resident John Wattsworth said that they all love Waynesville the way it is and that they will hold the council’s feet to the fire if they vote for this district.
“The social district favors drinkers at the expense of all other citizens,” resident Theresa Brothers expressed.
Another resident, Stephanie Sutton, said that there had been a petition going around the town that 403 residents had signed that held their position that they do not want open drinking on the streets of Waynesville.
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“Listen to the will of the people and to vote no to this proposal,” she expressed.
Resident Terry Kelly said that the town’s motto is 'progress with a vision' and that this proposal shows neither progress nor vision.
“It would increase public drunkenness, crime, probably drug use and many other ill things,” he said.
The only resident that spoke in favor of the proposal was Jeremy Stephans.
“I’m hearing a lot of demonizing in this room, a lot of finger pointing, a lot of accusations that drinking is going to lead to the devil,” he said.
He explained that every opinion there had been emotionally driven and asked council members to not let the emotions of people sway them, but to look at the data.
In the end, the council went with the majority and voted 4-1 to postpone the idea of a social district indefinitely.
This left many residents pleased, but worried that with it being indefinitely postponed the idea could resurface eventually.