BRISTOL, Tenn. — Despite debuting only a few weeks ago, a new dining strip on Sixth Street in downtown Bristol has created parking problems, customer frustration and other headaches, several business owners told Bristol Tennessee City Council on Tuesday night.
At City Council’s general business meeting, a total of six owners of businesses on Sixth Street spoke before council about problems that arose after a section of the street was widened in July to encourage outdoor dining and café activity.
Keith Yonker, owner of The Angry Italian, the only restaurant on the street, said he supports the idea of the strip but said parking issues on the street have been exasperated, with people parking in the middle of the street and even on the sidewalk.
“To this day, I am asking people to not park in the street, not just in front of my restaurant, but down the street as well, which is causing traffic to drive over that beautiful new sidewalk,” Yonker said.
He added he has received verbal threats from customers and other people who blame him for the dining strip, despite his lack of involvement in the sidewalk expansion.
Others such as Robert Pilk, owner of Mountain Empire Comics, said the city did not clearly communicate its plans for the dining strip and said the city should have spoken directly to business owners on Sixth Street about their plans before moving forward.
City Manager Bill Sorah said the city has held a number of public meetings on the dining strip and pointed to news articles and press releases from the city and nonprofit Believe in Bristol, which focuses on downtown businesses.
He added that, during demolition, construction and post-construction, city representatives including Sorah were on-site at different times to answer questions from business and property owners on the street.
Sorah said the city already planned to install planters along the perimeter of the expanded sidewalk to prevent people from driving over it, and he assured business owners that the planters would go in soon.
In other business, council voted 4-1 to appoint Douglas Harmon to the Bristol Tennessee Essential Services Power Board for a term ending on June 30, 2023. Vice Mayor Mahlon Luttrell was the only member of council to vote for Gary McGeough, who finished his term on the board in June and sought reappointment.
Council voted 4-1 at its July meeting to put off the appointment after Councilwoman Lea Powers recommended they delay a decision until after council had a better look at the candidates. Councilman Chad Keen was the sole vote against delaying the appointment.
Appointments to the Power Board have proven to be contentious and drawn-out affairs for council over the last several years.
When McGeough first sought an appointment to the board in February 2016, council didn’t reach the minimum three-vote consensus needed to select a candidate, and the appointment was delayed a month. McGeough got the three votes necessary at the March 2016 meeting.
In 2018, council ended up deadlocked for two months over who to appoint to the board. Pat Hickie, a longtime member of the board, sought reelection, but some members of council opposed reappointing him because they thought the board needed new blood — or because Hickie was chairman of the board when the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury investigated BTES in 2016. The anti-Hickie crowd won out in September 2018 when Erin Downs was appointed to the board by a 4-1 majority.
In 2017, council appointed Larry Clarke unanimously to serve on the board but appointed David Akard by a split 3-2 vote.