City Manager Mike Schrage addressed the mural/sign initiative on Cozy Inn's North wall during Monday's City Commission Meeting. Schrage emphasized that the issue wasn't about the art, or the artist but centered around the existing city codes for commercial signs.
In discussions with Cozy Inn's owner Steven Howard, the artist, and City staff, Schrage highlighted the complexity of determining what constitutes art, a sign, and how free speech intertwines with regulations. He clarified that despite the artistic nature of the proposed mural, the city adheres to its codes, particularly concerning the size of signs based on zoning categories.
Currently, Cozy Inn has three permitted signs, utilizing 84% of the allowable space. The proposed mural would exceed the limit by nine times. Schrage outlined potential next steps, including Howard submitting a sign application. However, given the disparity between the proposal and existing codes, options like applying for a variance or proposing a code amendment were discussed.
Lauren Driscoll, Director of Community & Development Services, explained the zoning code specifics and the challenges of balancing artistic expression with sign regulations. She stressed the need for community input and proposed bringing in a subject matter expert to navigate the intricacies efficiently.
Commissioner Ryan expressed support for reviewing the outdated code in light of the city's interest in mural art. Vice Mayor Longbine noted the uniqueness of Cozy Inn's historic status but emphasized the importance of consistency.
Commissioner Lenkiewicz acknowledged the complexity of the situation, leaning toward seeking external expertise for a more expedited resolution. City Attorney Greg Bengston provided legal insights, highlighting the need for specific public purposes in regulating commercial speech and the heightened scrutiny for art as a form of expression.
Commissioner Ryan advocated for bringing in a consultant to benefit from their expertise, ensuring a thorough exploration of the matter without the city navigating this on its own.