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Hearing planned on festival boundaries

Mount Airy officials are being asked to amend the city Code of Ordinances to formally incorporate a change in boundaries for the largest annual event in the city.

This issue affecting the Autumn Leaves Festival will be the subject of a public hearing Thursday night.

It involves an earlier extension of the specific area covered by the festival held in October, which an official of the sponsoring organization has said was triggered by safety considerations and not to expand the size of the festival itself.

Wording in the city ordinances presently sets the northernmost boundary for the event at Independence Boulevard, where the Autumn Leaves Festival bandstand was situated for years.

But beginning in October 2018, the stage was shifted from that spot on East Independence Boulevard between North Main and North Renfro streets to an area farther up North Main near a cluster of banks. This meant that the northernmost boundary unofficially became Rawley Avenue.

That occurred in order to eliminate vehicular traffic during the festival on Hines Avenue, which runs parallel to Independence Boulevard and Rawley Avenue and is between those two streets.

“We basically had a pedestrian and car issue — it gets kind of crazy with people and cars,” Randy Collins, president and CEO of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce — which operates the festival held since the late 1960s — has said.

“Where could we move it where it would be safer?” Collins added Tuesday regarding the bandstand relocation from Independence to the banking district. “We had too many cars running around there.”

City officials earlier gave the nod for the boundary change that actually was implemented in 2018 and 2019 — with the festival cancelled last year because of the coronavirus. Yet there was an acknowledgement in 2019 that a formal ordinance amendment would be required at some point.

That time is now, with the next Autumn Leaves Festival scheduled for Oct. 8-10.

When the chamber applied for a permit for this year’s event, Police Chief Dale Watson asked that the organization seek the amendment to the city Code of Ordinances, a section of which is devoted to the festival.

Such an ordinance change requires a public hearing, which will be conducted during a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners scheduled Thursday at 6 p.m.

Festival parameters

• The proposed amended ordinance defines the Autumn Leaves Festival area as extending north from Main Street at Pine Street to Independence Boulevard — exclusive of Pine and inclusive of Independence, and then north to Rawley Avenue, exclusive of that street. “This section had not previously been included in the footprint of the festival,” Collins mentioned regarding the latter.

• In addition, the event area extends east from the central business district on all streets from Main to Renfro Street, exclusive of Renfro.

• It also stretches west on all streets from Main to Market Street, excluding Market.

Within those boundaries, the chamber is authorized to use all public property, streets, sidewalks and municipal-owned parking lots to set up craft and other booths or activities.

Collins said Tuesday that the festival is still making use of the area along East Independence Boulevard formerly set aside for the bandstand and spectators to watch and dance.

“That section of Independence will have additional crafters, but also the Fleming race cars will be down there as well.”



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