Waynesville debates which special events merit street closingsWritten by Bibeka Shrestha
Waynesville’s town board is drawing the line at 14 Main Street closings annually.
As a result, the town has rejected a request to shut down part of Main Street to traffic for a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony.
The group organizing the memorial was hoping to close the area in front of the Haywood County Courthouse for three hours so that an American flag could be raised between two parked fire trucks during the ceremony. The group putting on the ceremony is the 9-12 Project, a political group that shares many of the philsophies and goals of the Tea Party.
Representing the 9-12 Project, Jan Sterret said she wanted to interrupt traffic as little as possible.
“I think the greatest thing is the visual of the two fire trucks with the huge flag hanging down,” said Sterret. “It would be very meaningful for a lot of people.”
But Mayor Gavin Brown, Town Manager Lee Galloway and town aldermen expressed concerns about irking the N.C. Department of Transportation with yet another closing. Main Street doubles as U.S. 276, a state maintained highway, and is not technically under the town’s jurisdiction.
Whether it’s for a street dance, International Festival Day or a block party, closing Main Street requires permission from DOT 60 days in advance.
So far, the DOT hasn’t objected to the large number of street closings in Waynesville.
“Although they don’t particularly care for it, they’ve allowed it,” said Alderman LeRoy Roberson.
But town officials fear the DOT might begin clamping down if the town adds any more closings to the list.
“Sooner or later, DOT’s going to start knocking on the door,” said Brown.
Jonathan Woodard, a DOT district engineer over Haywood, Jackson and Swain counties, said he would normally expect one or two street closings a year.
“I wouldn’t expect it to be an every weekend or once-a-month type situation,” said Woodard.
Though 14 street closings a year certainly doesn’t meet that threshold, Woodard said it really depends on which street is being closed.
Making the call
Festivals and events that have historically been part of Waynesville’s repertoire will likely continue to be approved for street closings.
“The newer ones have a tougher time, there’s no question,” said Brown.
Even the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce’s request to shut down Main Street for the inaugural Fire & Ice festival last winter was denied. The detour would take drivers down the much steeper Depot Street.
“If it was snowy or icy, that could be a hazard that we were directing people into,” said Galloway.
Waynesville’s tight budget continues to remain a concern. During each street closing, town employees must set up and remove barricades and clean up streets during the aftermath. A few extra police officers are often called in to work the events.
“We have to try to control those costs to some degree,” said Galloway.
Brown’s other reservation was that the 9-12 Project is not a legal entity that could held responsible if something went awry during the Sept. 11 memorial.
“You would rather have a group of individuals who collectively take responsibility,” said Brown. “And the 9-12 group is not organized like that.”
In contrast, the Downtown Waynesville Association — which coordinates most of the events on Main Street — is an established organization that carries a large insurance policy for its festivals.
Brown said the 9-12 Project didn’t notify the town until Aug. 17 of its request for a street closing, while the Downtown Waynesville Association applies annually for street closings every February.
“It shows me a lack of coordination,” said Brown.
With about 100 people showing up at the Sept. 11 memorial last year, town officials say the Haywood County courthouse lawn will easily accommodate the entire ceremony again. Fire Chief Joey Webb is working with the group to possibly close down Depot Street to allow a flag to be draped across two fire trucks.
Buffy Messer, director of the DWA, points out that unlike other towns, side streets can’t always accommodate events. The Apple Festival once took place on Church Street, but its slope made setting up booths challenging.
“Main Street is just on this little ridge,” said Messer. “All the side streets are sloped. Our topography is just a little different than any other town.”