Deli owner’s appeal to Lee’s Summit Planning Commission to keep mural fails

rpulley@lsjournal.comApril 25, 2014 

‘Bout Thyme Deli, fighting to keep its sign, isn’t the only downtown building with a painted wall, but city officials say this one is grandfathered.

RUSS PULLEY — the Journal

Dave Kemp’s desire to save his sign or mural that’s the outside of his deli in downtown Lee’s Summit didn’t get far with the Lee’s Summit Planning Commission.

At their meeting April 22, the commissioners unanimously voted to direct Bob McKay, director of zoning and codes, to work on revisions for regulating murals.

However, the commission also rejected the idea that those murals could include “commercial speech.” They said they considered the painting on the exterior of Kemp’s business a wall sign painted on the stucco, a practice forbidden in the city. Kemp owns ‘Bout Thyme Deli at 210 SE Douglas Street.

Several commissioners said they felt Kemp should have followed the application process outlined by the ordinances.

Kemp commissioned an artist to paint the scene on the exterior of his deli, but didn’t get a permit.

He explained to the commission that he intended to get one when he could take a picture to submit with the application. The city’s permit process includes submitting a conceptual drawing of the sign to the city before approving the permit.

“I’m going to see about putting (the issue) before the city council,” Kemp said.

Kemp said he wasn’t trying to be a jerk but he’d persist in trying to save the sandwich painted on his business. It includes his shop’s name and some of the items for sale. It doesn’t list prices. Kemp said it meets the definition of a mural, but city officials disagree.

At the Planning Commission he had reiterated how important signage is to businesses, contending that 30 percent of its traffic results from signs.

“I don’t want to see signs down there, I want to see murals,” said Kathy Smith, a commissioner. She is also chairwoman of the Lee’s Summit Preservation Commission and the Lee’s Summit Historical Society. She said murals would be part of a growing art district.

Commissioners Fred DeMoro, Colene Roberts and Smith said Kemp should have followed the process. DeMoro noted the process gives the pubic an opportunity to express an opinion on any proposed signs.

Lee’s Summit Downtown Main Street Inc. has proposed regulating murals in the Central Business District, basically downtown Lee’s Summit, that would require permits for murals, even those that don’t have commercial speech.

That group opposed commercial speech in the murals.

Its proposed ordinance would intend to regulate the monuments’ content as well, to make sure the art isn’t offensive to the public.

“We are fearful having every building downtown with a painted wall sign,” said Trisha Drape, director of DLSMS. “We don’t want to open it up to that.”

Kemp questions the practicality of enforcing such a provision.

“How can you know what’s in an artists mind?” he said.

Kemp cited several instances of older signs on downtown buildings, such as the VFW farther south on Douglas Street. He said the painted walls with Coca Cola and Western Auto in Kansas City are landmarks and nostalgic. They evoke memories of small towns and earlier times that is what Lee’s Summit wants to promote for its downtown.

McKay said wall signs that were present before the city adopted its ordinance are “grandfathered” and if there are substantial changes at building, they would have to be corrected.

McKay said Kemp would get notice to remove the sign, probably with a deadline of 30 days. Kemp has the option of appealing to the Board of Zoning Adjustments or take his cause to the city council, he said.

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