Before the county can regulate murals, it must answer this question: What, exactly, is a mural?
An anonymous complaint brought code enforcement staff to the mural at Al Bavry’s store, Kimal Hardware on Fruitville Road in July. Staff told him the mural he’d recently commissioned for the exterior of his store depicting a hardware store on one wall and a woman on a ladder on another, violated county ordinances that require that artwork on buildings be unrelated to the business.
“There are murals around the neighborhood no one questioned,” said Bavry, who contacted the Economic Development Corp. over the issue. “Why is Kimal in the spotlight now?”
Bavry’s response spurred the county to re-examine its policy on murals, in part to allow those already on display throughout the county to remain. But no definition of what constitutes a mural exists in the current code.
Tom Polk, planning and development services director, showed commissioners in November at least a dozen murals in violation, many of which “have existed in our landscape for decades without any great concern or notice.”
Included in the presentation was Phil Solorzano’s display outside his Solorzano’s Late Night Pizzeria in Gulf Gate.
Solorzano said he was approached by code enforcement after opening his business last year but that the county didn’t pursue the complaint after he retained an attorney and threatened to fight.
He said murals like his give the Gulf Gate neighborhood and business district character, though it is subject to the same sign rules as the remainder of the county.
“The first thing I wanted to do when I opened … I wanted to make this place pop out,” Solorzano said. “I want to make it look like Jersey. Gulf Gate is thriving because it’s different – there’s culture and people are expressing themselves.”
Across the street from Solarzano’s, Munchies 420 Cafe’s two-story painting of a delivery boy wearing a cape and carrying a bag of food also caught the eye of code enforcement and was included in the presentation. Owner J.D. Chester said the mural is an attraction in itself, drawing tourists who pose for photos in front of it.
Chester said he would take the mural down if new rules don’t allow it. But he believes what’s displayed on his store qualifies as artistic expression or decoration — as was required in an initial draft definition of a mural that was presented to county commissioners.
That draft is being revised to address “the subjectivity of ‘art vs. advertisement,’” according to county spokesman Jason Bartolone. The matter, originally scheduled for consideration at the Jan. 12 commissioners’ meeting, will now be reviewed by the planning commission Feb. 18.
Bartolone said he could not give details about changes needed or if new language would still legalize existing murals.
Bavry said he agrees there’s value in a rule that doesn’t allow commercial murals that directly advertise a business’s services but doesn’t think that would apply to his.
“Everything we do is in good taste,” he said. “If I had plastered a billboard on there with big gaudy letters, that would be a different thing.”