FOCUS: Frankfort officials and citizens are working on mural regulations

City officials and citizens continue to work together on creating regulations for downtown murals. The Frankfort City Commission approved a moratorium on April 15, putting a hold on creation of murals in the city’s downtown historic area. An ordinance proposal was reviewed by Frankfort’s Architectural Review Board at its April 16 meeting, according to the agenda. […]

City officials and citizens continue to work together on creating regulations for downtown murals.

The Frankfort City Commission approved a moratorium on April 15, putting a hold on creation of murals in the city’s downtown historic area.

An ordinance proposal was reviewed by Frankfort’s Architectural Review Board at its April 16 meeting, according to the agenda. The proposal in that draft aimed to create guidelines for murals in the downtown historic area. The draft outlines a way for citizens to apply to create murals in historic districts and for those applications to be reviewed by ARB.

ARB Chair Patti Cross said at the April 16 meeting that ARB was tasked with reviewing the ordinance to give input about what the ordinance should look like, according to a recording of the meeting provided by the Frankfort Plant Board. The choice to adopt the ordinance is up to the city commission, she said.

Many of ARB’s recommendations were to clarify language in the ordinance to minimize confusion between those who apply to create a mural and the ARB.

The ARB did discuss at length Section V, which outlines the scope of ARB’s ability to review proposed murals. The board voted to recommend the city commission clarify that paragraph and determine what the ARB’s scope is when reviewing murals, whether reviews be entirely architectural or also determining whether the content of proposed murals is appropriate.

At the end of ARB’s review of the ordinance draft, board member Nicole Konkol said that it does not consider possible murals as a group, but rather individually.

“Cumulative effect is not in these guidelines,” Konkol said. “The city may not find this appropriate, but I think as the ARB we need to look at the possibility of cumulative effect, particularly pertaining to streetscapes or something like that.”

Following citizen comments, Konkol made the suggestion that Frankfort consider hiring someone with historic preservation expertise to be on staff full time.

Irma Johnson, another member of ARB, concurred, adding that the city should explore hiring someone with an art background to be included in this process.

“When we start talking about scale and when we start talking about different kinds of materials and whether we are not using mediums of this kind or that kind, I think it would be helpful to have … somebody of public art background,” Johnson said.

Mike Fitzpatrick, a member of Citizens for Architectural Preservation who attended the ARB meeting, said that he believes that all murals created in the historic district should be reviewed by ARB. He also added that the city needs to have a go-to person for historic preservation, either a staff member or contractor, per the Certified Local Government Manual, a program that Frankfort is included in through the Kentucky Heritage Council.

He encouraged the city commission to put a lot of weight behind ARB’s comments when it reviews the proposed ordinance.

“We love murals, we want murals, we just want them to be done appropriately,” Fitzpatrick said.

City Solicitor Laura Ross said in an email that she and Planning and Community Development Director Eric Cockley reviewed ARB’s feedback and will work it into a proposal that will go before the city commission with the goal of a first reading, but she was not sure when that will be.

“We are tentatively shooting for the May 13 (commission) meeting, but I can’t positively confirm that at this point,” Ross wrote.

Cockley said that Frankfort is reviewing how other cities regulate public art.

“As a matter of practice, we always try to investigate how other cities are dealing with similar issues as us to assist us in crafting our solutions,” he said.

At the April 16 ARB meeting, Cockley told the board its comments would be given to the city commission for review “in some fashion,” but the commission would decide whether to incorporate those comments in the final ordinance.

The proposal comes after heated public debate surrounding the creation of murals in Frankfort. In February, Lexington artist Dani Greene was stopped by Frankfort police officers as she was working on a mural outside the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4075 late at night. Greene told police that she had permission to be on the premises, and called Frankfort resident Danny Strong to support her claim. Strong paid for Greene’s supplies and the rental for a lift, The State Journal reported at the time.

Greene painted a mural of Buddha on a wall in Catfish Alley earlier this year in January. The building is owned by Taylor Marshall, Realtor and co-owner of Bourbon on Main restaurant. Marshall asked Greene to create the piece, The State Journal previously reported. Greene estimated that she had completed more than 40 murals in Lexington.

Marshall said that he believes the city is within its rights to create a process that has oversight on murals. He commended Ross, Cockley and Senior Community Planner Jordan Miller as well as other city staff members on their work in creating the ordinance.

When he asked Greene to paint the Buddha mural, Marshall saw the project as a beautiful way to bring energy into downtown. He said that while change may be hard for some people, changes like the addition of murals can bring growth to the community. He encourages Frankfort to continue focusing on public art, interaction with its natural resources, recreation, walkability, rehabilitation of buildings and population growth via new residential space downtown after this debate.

“Our community is so fortunate that we can spend this inordinate amount of time and effort talking about paint on walls instead of issues that really matter to our future,” Marshall said. “It means that we have a really solid base from which we can work on sustainable growth and recruiting younger professional neighbors.  However, at some point, we will need to start talking about the relevant issues ahead of us or we will continue to have a population decrease where we continue to pay more property taxes and more for the wonderful services now provided to us. When we stop growing, we start dying.”

Vice President of the Franklin County Arts Council Joanna Hay said that the group has been working with city planning staff on the proposed ordinance and has consulted with Lexington’s art council LexArts and Louisville’s Commission on Public Art.

“Since we are in the middle of all that, we really aren’t ready to make any statements,” Hay said.

According to Article XVII of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government’s code of ordinances, the Urban County Arts Review Board was created in 2004. The committee is made up of 10 residents appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Urban County Council to four-year terms. The committee must be made of a licensed architect, the president of LexArts, a licensed landscape architect, a sculptor with public art experience, a painter with public art experience, a licensed civil engineer, an art historian, a representative from the University of Kentucky College of Design, a representative from the Transylvania University College of Fine Arts and a representative from the mayor’s office.

The Urban County Arts Review Board is tasked with reviewing proposals for permanent visual artwork in public spaces, including murals, sculptures and more. The code of ordinances defines a public space as “any real property or improvements owned or leased by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and open to the public.” Frankfort’s proposal deals with all buildings in the historic district.

The Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government also regulates public art through the Commission on Public Art, which is under Title III, Chapter 32 of the government’s code of ordinances. The commission, which was established in 2010, must include the mayor or his or her designee, a member of the city council, seven citizens appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council, two civic or business leaders, one university or college faculty member of an art department, four citizens who are professionally involved in visual arts and the public art administrator, who works with the metro government’s Economic Development Department and oversees the city’s public art collection.

Frankfort City Commissioner Scott Tippett said that the commission has not seen a tangible draft of the ordinance but has been made aware of the staff of the city’s work on it. He commended their hard work in “hectic” circumstances.

Tippett added that the process of debating the proposed ordinance has been very democratic in that the city has had several meetings with citizen interaction.

“In this democratic sausage-making process, we’ve come up with an ordinance that is a good start and that will evolve over time,” he said, adding he expects to vote in favor of the proposed ordinance unless something is added that he does not approve of in the future. The ordinance protects public art as well as the business and historic districts, he said.

Commissioner Eric Whisman said that he has been reviewing the ordinance proposal and making sure that it is something in good conscious that he can support when it comes to the city commission. He said that this process can balance the issues of public use, historic preservation and art expression. Whisman said the ordinance is not about stifling expression, as the only provisions about content in the proposal are in regards to the federally defined use of “obscene” material.

No matter how citizens may feel about the ordinance, Whisman said that this debate has sparked a wave of citizens to engage with the local government. He has been to several meetings and forums about the mural ordinance and estimated hundreds of citizens have attended meetings or reached out to city officials to make their voice heard. It could be the start of more citizens being involved in Frankfort’s government, he said.

“I like that discord and engagement,” Whisman said.

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