Murals back up for consideration in downtown Johnson City, public hearing set for next meeting

Jessica Fuller • Updated Aug 22, 2017 at 11:06 PM

Plans to revisit guidelines for murals in downtown Johnson City moved forward in a 3-1 vote by the Historic Zoning Commission Tuesday evening. 

Commissioners Liz Biosca and Valda Jones were absent from the monthly meeting, leaving commissioners Wesley Forsythe and Tom Mozen, vice chairwoman Shelia Cox and Chairman Hal Hunter with the decision of whether or not to move forward with new guidelines that would reverse the complete ban on murals implemented in February 2016. 

The revisit of the guidelines was already postponed from the commission’s May meeting, with a city staff member for the commission and city planner stating at the time that members decided to postpone the meeting in order to “further research the topic and the legal issues associated with it.”

The draft of guidelines that made its way to Tuesday’s meeting altered the existing language to only apply to street-facing walls, opening up possibilities for murals in places like the breezeway that connects the Downtown Square parking lot and East Main Street. The new guidelines also specify that murals may only be painted directly on brick surfaces if they are silicate dye paints or painted onto a mesh vinyl or fabric material before being placed on a wall. The guidelines also specify only one mural will be allowed per wall. 

A public hearing must be scheduled before the commission can vote on the new measures, and while Mozen, Hunter and Forsythe were keen to move the guidelines forward, Cox said she thought the new guidelines left too much up to interpretation.

“I just can’t support it, I just can’t,” she said, adding, “I still feel like we need to preserve the integrity of the buildings. The art, to me, are the bricks, are the buildings, the architectural features. I’m feeling that murals in a whole will be a mistake.” 

Hunter pointed out that since the commission made the decision to ban murals last year that he has gotten “a lot of flack” from the community. Cox said the feedback she’s gotten has been mostly supporting the decision to ban murals, but Hunter stressed several times during the meeting that a compromise is needed in order to go forward. 

Mozen was in favor of pushing the guidelines to a public hearing, but Cox said she was uncomfortable going forward with two commissioners absent and made a motion to table the decision until next month. The motion failed without a second. 

After that, Mozen made a motion to move forward with the public hearing, and Forsythe seconded the motion. 

“I want to go forward with what we’ve gone and worked toward,” Mozen said before making his motion. “I don’t believe in going backwards.” 

The motion passed 3-1 with Cox voting against it, and a public hearing will head the Historic Zoning Commission’s September meeting.

Email Jessica Fuller at jfuller@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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