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Avondale compromises on contentious street painting tradition

Avondale Estates

Avondale compromises on contentious street painting tradition

Isabela and Mirabel pose for a photo on Clarendon Avenue during the Avondale Estates Fourth of July Community Parade on Monday, July 4, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated.

Avondale Estates, GA — For decades, residents of Avondale Estates have gathered to paint part of the parade route along Clarendon Avenue for the annual July 4 parade, but not everyone thinks the street art is patriotic. The tradition became a topic of conversation at the Avondale Estates City Commission meeting on May 24.

“My problem is that it’s gotten out of control,” Mayor Jonathan Elmore said. 

Elmore said that the tradition started with Boy Scouts using stencils to create temporary designs, but that over the years people have gone far beyond a few stencils. Spray paint has been used, which is difficult to remove, and some residents along the street have complained about the results.

“It’s gotten janky-looking,” Elmore said.

The city commission is evenly split between supporters and critics of the Independence Day paint party. Commissioner Lionel Laratte spoke eloquently in favor of continuing it, saying it was a longstanding tradition and that as Avondale Estates has grown, the city is in danger of losing some things that make the city what it is.

“We do live in a beautiful place. We do great things in this beautiful place, but the important word is community. Traditions are what binds a community together,” Laratte said.

Commissioner Lisa Shortell said if no limits were placed on street painting, that it could encourage graffiti. Shortell said that it was a matter of one day of fun for some members of the community versus what people in the neighborhood wanted it to look like.

Elmore said that he had participated in street painting himself, and would like to see the tradition continue with some restrictions including using chalk paint only, stencils only, and no painting over road striping. The city will provide chalk paint and the event will be supervised by someone from the commission, the mayor, or the city manager. 

Laratte noted that nearly everyone he’d heard from on both sides of the issue had proposed a compromise as well. Laratte said that the changes proposed by the organizers of the event were substantially similar to the mayor’s, except for supervision by the city. 

City Manager Patrick Bryant said that the city has provided chalk paint for the last three years, and it typically costs between $800-850.

If spray paint is used, removal options include pressure washing, painting over it, and a chemical removal process that costs $17,000. Bryant said that the latter is the only way to return the freshly paved road to its original appearance.

Commissioner Dee Merriam suggested sidewalk chalk as an alternative because it’s hard to tell the difference in paints when they are being used. Merriam said that in the past, people haven’t respected the city’s request to use chalk paint.

Elmore said that’s why he wants someone there to supervise and volunteered to be that person.

“If anybody shows up with a can of spray paint, I’m going to spray paint them,” Elmore said.

Elmore volunteered to meet with the organizers of the event. To address concerns about making the event more public, so more people can participate, Elmore said that it should be announced in the city’s newsletter.

In response to a question from Shortell, Bryant said that the city code already forbids spray paint as graffiti, subject to fines. The mayor and council agreed that if people did not adhere to the rules, the event would have to be shut down next year.

Bryant confirmed that the commission did not need to vote to implement the plan. 

“No further legislative action need be taken,” Bryant said.

In other business:

— The commission conducted first reads on an administrative fee ordinance and one to allow farm winery tasting rooms.

Language added to the fee ordinance requires annual commission approval, which will be included in the city’s budget process. Merriam said that the new ordinance will put the fee schedule all in one place, which will make them easier to manage and easier for the public to find.

The city was approached by Wild Heaven because the brewery would like to add a winery tasting room to its business. Adding a permit for a wine-tasting room would require a change to the city’s alcohol ordinance.

Both proposed ordinances will receive a second read and vote on June 14.

— During the work session that followed their regular meeting, the commission revisited options for changing the city’s sanitation program, partially in response to DeKalb County raising its tipping fee. All the options presented by the city manager will increase fees, but keeping the service as-is with backyard pickup twice a week will be the most expensive. Other options include reducing service to once-a-week curbside pickup, or contracting out sanitation services to an outside business.

— Assistant City Manager Shannon Powell offered a presentation on proposed changes to the land disturbance permit process. Powell said that the current process makes no distinction between amounts of disturbance, while the effects of larger projects on runoff and therefore stormwater management can be considerable.

Powell said that state law requires a stormwater management plan for construction over 5000 square feet, but most projects are much smaller. Other communities are setting the threshold at 1000 square feet as a best practice.

— Dustin Gilliland applied to Avondale’s historic preservation commission. The commission plans to interview him at their next meeting. The seat has been open for a year. 

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