City powerless to stop beer garden

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

September 21, 2013

Concern over a beer garden planned during Mayberry Days and the Autumn Leaves has reached the ears of Mount Airy government officials — who say they have no authority to prevent its operation.

“The city has received several calls and emails on this matter,” Mayor Deborah Cochran said Thursday night during a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.

Although discussion of the beer garden issue was not part of the official agenda for the meeting, the mayor wasted no time in addressing it as Thursday night’s session got under way — specifically to explain the city’s position.

Some citizens have questioned why the municipality would allow some local businessmen to operate the beer garden from a parking lot on the corner of North Main and West Oak streets near a downtown toy store. But its power is limited, officials said during the meeting.

The sticking point is that while the outdoor beer garden, to include both food and beverage sales, will be situated only feet away from a public sidewalk — it’s literally miles away from city regulation by virtue of being on private property.

That was confirmed by research of all applicable laws on the matter by City Attorney Hugh Campbell, he said Thursday night.

“It is my considered opinion,” Campbell said, “that the city doesn’t have the jurisdiction to regulate this activity on private property.”

The city attorney acknowledged the unusual nature of the situation, given an expectation by the public that the city can control facilities within its limits such as beer gardens. “This is one of those rare instances,” Campbell said.

When outlining municipal officials’ position, Mayor Cochran referred to a festival ordinance in place in the city. It gives the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and Surry Arts Council, the respective sponsors of the Autumn Leaves Festival and Mayberry Days, the authority to manage their events in designated areas.

Those parameters basically include public facilities such as streets and city-owned parking lots in the central business district, but not sites on private property. The lot where the beer garden will be located is used for public parking, but is privately owned.

Mayor Cochran said the primary regulatory authority involved is the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, which has issued an ABC permit to Operation Walk of the Women Orthopaedist Global Outreach Inc., a non-profit organization, for the beer garden.

“The law allows that in North Carolina,” Campbell said.

In addition to city officials broaching the beer garden subject Thursday night, two citizens addressed it during a public forum portion of the meeting.

William Clark expressed concern about the limits on alcohol consumption at the site, where organizers say that age and other restrictions will be enforced and certified bartenders are to be on duty.

Paul Eich said he thinks the private parking lot should be marked off to ensure its patrons don’t stray onto city property.

Some critics have said they believe the beer garden is incompatible with the family atmosphere emphasized during both Mayberry Days and the Autumn Leaves Festival.

Chamber Position

An official of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce also offered a statement Friday concerning the beer garden issue, on the heels of a meeting of its board of directors Thursday when the matter was aired.

That position is basically that the chamber is not to blame for the beer garden, according to the board’s chairman, David O’Neal.

“The proposed beer garden is not affiliated with the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce in any way, or the Autumn Leaves Festival,” O’Neal said.

“It is under the city’s jurisdiction,” added O’Neal, who apparently was unaware of the position voiced by municipal officials the night before.

“So all comments and questions…should be referred to the city of Mount Airy,” he said.

“That’s our position.”

Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or