Mural ordinance may reach beyond downtown

rpulley@lsjournal.comJune 27, 2014 

Lee’s Summit continues to try to solve its questions about allowing murals without painting itself into a corner when regulating signs.

The issue recently surfaced when City Hall got complaints about a sign painted on a downtown restaurant, the ‘Bout Thyme Deli and as Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street Inc. was asking the city to consider its suggestions for regulating murals.

“A lot of people looked at it, they liked it, they don’t have a problem with it,” said Bob McKay director of planning for the Lee’s Summit Planning Commission.

The city’s regulations define the deli’s sign, painted directly on stucco, as a wall sign because it includes the name. The Planning Commission discussed some ideas June 24 with McKay as he prepares a draft ordinance possibly to regulate murals.

McKay said he’s OK with allowing wall signs but current ordinance forbids them being directly painted on a wall. Murals right now aren’t regulated nor limited to downtown.

Other buildings in Lee’s Summit besides downtown have wall signs, decorations or murals painted on them, but there haven’t been many complaints, McKay said.

There are paintings on a Chinese restaurant on Missouri 291, a Goodyear store on Oldham Parkway, and had been on Jazz Louisiana Kitchen, in a strip mall on Missouri 291 that has since closed, had musical notes painted outside.

“Nobody ever said a word about it,” McKay said.

McKay said the city would be looking at whether the city should have a mural ordinance that’s confined to the central business district or if it would cover other commercial areas.

DLSMS has given the planning department a proposed ordinance. He said that under current rules, murals could be painted on a wall and wouldn’t require permits, but would have to be maintained to meet city codes.

“There are very few cities that even deal with murals,” McKay said.

He said there should be stipulations that wall signs be on sides or rear of buildings and not directly painted onto brick. If the building is brick, a sign could be painted on another surface and attached in mortar.

“That does give some protection for downtown,” he said.

Commission members had several suggestions and concerns.

Chairman Jason Norbury said he questions one idea submitted by DLSMS, the one that would make murals subject to approval of its Design Committee. He said he doesn’t know if a private group could legally or appropriately be inserted into a city process.

Norbury said he thought wall signs should be on a panel attached to a building, not painted, in case ownership changes. Then the sign could be easily removed.

“I’m against painted wall signs anywhere,” he said.

Fred Delibero foresaw conflicts if the city tried to create a more permissive ordinance for wall signs or murals.

He asked who would be the arbiter of what is art or advertising? Or what would prevent a business from leasing space on its walls to a different business for advertising?

“It’s a hard thing to control,” Delibero said.

Colene Roberts said, “I’m fine with the idea of murals downtown, just murals, not wall signs.”

She noted there already is a process for businesses to ask for exceptions to the Unified Development Ordinance for a wall sign if there are special circumstances or need. She said perhaps the owner of a mural should be required to put money on deposit for its maintenance or removal if needed, if there could be a mechanism for that.

Fred DeMoro said the ordinance should include who will be responsible for maintenance, the owner or business owner who leases a property.

“When they become unsightly, who takes care of it?” DeMoro asked.

McKay said he’d take their comments, DLSMS’s proposed ordinance, talk to city’s lawyers and bring a draft to the commission for its review.

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