Ordinance change boils down to bears vs. fiddles

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

December 21, 2013

It was a group of human beings who decided that certain obstructions can be allowed on downtown Mount Airy sidewalks, thus forsaking a longtime local precedent, but in the end it came down to bears versus fiddles.

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners agreed 4-0 Thursday night, with one commissioner absent, to amend the city’s sidewalk ordinance in response to plans for the first-ever Fiddle Crawl next year. It will involve multi-colored sculptures of fiddles, reflecting the local musical tradition, being prepared by artists and exhibited publicly throughout the downtown area before being auctioned.

However, an obstacle in the path of the sculptures — standing more than 5 feet high and weighing about 220 pounds — was the city ordinance, banning structures from walkways. The list includes porches, steps, fences, walls or similar impediments, and “any other article unless approved by the city,” it states.

The measure has been vigorously enforced, as evidenced by the 2011 arrest of a man who impersonates Otis the Town Drunk for repeated violations of having a table and checkerboard on the sidewalk in front of his son’s store.

But in response to the Fiddle Crawl plans, which are aimed at raising funds for economic development through the sculptures’ auction, the commissioners approved changes Thursday night to pave their way.

Under the amended ordinance, temporary obstructions will be allowed for campaigns such as the Fiddle Crawl, but with their sponsors required to obtain a special-event permit. There is also a rule in which the organizers must stipulate that their planned activities will “promote a public benefit and the general welfare of the city.”

This includes weighing inconveniences posed to the public and costs to the city in ensuring its safety and welfare against the stated civic purpose of an event that includes sidewalk obstructions, the amended measure states.

Andy Goodall, a city planner who briefed the board on the amended ordinance Thursday night, said it is patterned after regulations in Hendersonville, where large painted bears are prominently displayed through a highly successful “Bearfootin’” campaign that began in 2003.

Goodall said the ordinance governing sidewalk obstructions has been effective in Hendersonville. “We thought it would work here,” he said of the planning department staff.

However, Commissioner Shirley Brinkley asked Goodall how the size of the fiddle sculptures compares to the bears in Hendersonville.

“I don’t think they would take up as much space as the bears,” the city planner said of the fiddles.

The “public benefit” of the Fiddle Crawl will be to generate funds for economic development from the auction of the sculptures. Hendersonville has raised nearly $200,000 for charities there through its 10-year-old campaign.

Even before Thursday night’s action, plans for the Fiddle Crawl have pushed forward, since the commissioners indicated last month that they would be willing to tweak the ordinance to accommodate the sculptures.

One-Way Traffic

In other action, the board voted 4-0 to make traffic on West Elm Street one-way.

The safety-minded action stems from residents of that street in a densely populated neighborhood approaching city police in mid-November with concerns about speeding vehicles. Two-way traffic is problematic because West Elm Street is narrow and street-side parking is allowed, further reducing the distance.

Police Chief Dale Watson said his department responded to the residents’ concerns by conducting a site survey, during which the officer assigned the task was nearly struck by a vehicle.

This assessment concluded that West Elm Street is not wide enough to safely permit two-way traffic.

Restricting travel to one way was suggested by a resident of the street, with others expressing support for that change based on a door-to-door survey.

“This is an example of how…the best solutions often come from citizens,” Mayor Deborah Cochran said.

Watson said the traffic on West Elm will be west-only from Main to Willow streets, and that street-side parking is still allowed.

The change is effective upon approval, according to the resolution voted on by the commissioners Thursday night.

Park Board Appointees

Also, the commissioners reappointed an existing member to the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Commission, and appointed one new member. The commission is an advisory board to the commissioners.

Cooper Adams, whose latest term expired on Dec. 1, was approved for a new three-year term to expire in December 2016.

Cathy Harrison, another member whose term expired on Dec. 1, elected not to seek reappointment, leading to Reagan Tidd being approved as her replacement.

Tidd also was appointed to a three-year term to expire in 2016.

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