Fry Street Decision a let down
Bryson City Town Board’s decision on Fry Street comes as a disappointment.
After months of deliberating and holding two public hearings on whether the town should abandon the right-of-way on Fry Street from Everett Street to Greenlee Street, the motion to move forward died during Monday night’s meeting after it didn’t get a second.
This action comes after months of revisiting the matter and considering varying aspects from how many parking spaces there are to how Raleigh reopened a street it had closed to vehicles. Looking back, it seems it never had much of a chance before town board.
With one new alderwoman on the board, the plan seemed to have one clear voice of support. Other members have been resistant to take a clear stance on the proposal, some more recently showing disdain for it.
When the formal proposal first came before the board in 2014, the board responded with 20 questions proposed in writing outside of public session with some queries having seemingly little to nothing to do with the street proposal.
When Brad Walker with the Swain County Tourism and Development Authority spoke to the board in January, it got heated with some board members having open opposition to it. It seemed Walker was fighting an uphill battle.
Alderman Rick Bryson, who at first seemed like he may be open to the idea, said he was against it after talking to business owners on the block who said they didn’t do well during the street closure over the holidays when the railroad had Polar Express.
The closure of Fry Street to vehicles is nothing new. The block next to the GSMR depot is home to several festivals from Railfest to Chili Cookoff. Those who visit or are new to the area often say they didn’t even know Fry Street was a street—claiming it appears more like a parking lot.
What became clear during public hearings is that for several community members, opposition to the closure of the street and the park plans came down to distrust and a dislike for the railroad.
While on paper, the idea of a town giving up a right-of-way seems like it’s a disadvantage, but Fry Street is a different story.
A new public park in Bryson City paid for through grants and occupancy taxes would offer a new public space for visitors and residents to enjoy.
The park plan was well thought-out. Plans even included a new paved parking lot, providing an answer to concerns over the parking that the town would lose with the street closure.
The park also offered an ideal solution to concerns over public safety, and with the introduction of steam engine trips on GSMR this summer those concerns are likely to grow as more people head to the depot on foot.
While it was about time the town board make its intentions known on Fry Street, the decision seems to fall short of what is best for the community in the long run.