Flagler Beach is moving toward loosening its mural rules to allow for greater expression and even a little bit of extra advertising, all thanks to raining donuts on the wall outside Swillerbees, the craft donut and coffee shop on North Central Avenue.
The more liberal rules are the result of a few complaints about murals around town–by the city’s code enforcement division, which cites murals that are out of compliance with municipal rules, and by businesses, which have complained that the rules are too strict, and the regulation of murals that add character to the city is too counter-productive.
City code forbids any mural that carries advertising, or symbolism that could be interpreted as advertising. Bayne’s, the barbecue restaurant in the heart of the city, once featured a mural with a pig on it. Code enforcement interpreted the pig as advertising Bayne’s products. It had to be removed. A bar nearby featured a leprechaun with a beer. The beer was tied to the bar’s products. It had to go. The Pink Turtle gift shop nearby had a funky turtle painted on the back wall, and the words “Local Art” painted in psychedelic colors. That drew code enforcement’s notice. Wham Burger on South Oceanshore somehow still has a giant burger wrapped around one of its windows, right next to a bikinied peeping Jane being followed by a robot who seems to be about to do something very inappropriate in the age of #MeToo.
But it was finally Swillerbees’ mural that became the test case. You have to make an effort to see it. Drivers or even pedestrians up and down Central wouldn’t see it unless they went out of their way. It’s in the alley, on the south wall of the business, the work of Allie Wisniewski and Bailey Pemberton. It depicts a gigantic smoothie on one side, and a sprinkle of donuts over and under an umbrella on the other, along with the business’ trademark bees buzzing here and there. But for the rather discreet hashtag at the bottom of the mural (#swillerbees), you wouldn’t really know it was more than a witty mural with a touch of the surreal. It brightens up an otherwise drab alley, which in any case, features another mural on the building opposite–a lighthouse and the prominent “CHRIST CHURCH” in bold dark letters against a white background.
The donuts were tied to Swillerbees’ business. So was the hashtag. It was deemed in violation of the city’s code. Swillerbees was served a courtesy notice by code enforcement. A business owner appeared before the city commission a few weeks ago along with a county tourism official. They both spoke of the added value of murals and what those murals can do for tourism and local business. The commission directed Drew Smith, its city attorney, to look into a rewrite of city codes.
Thursday evening, Smith returned with examples of mural regulations from three cities–Los Angeles, West Palm Beach and Brevard County. “There’s no one of these that I really like,” Smith said. “But I like parts of each of them.” The commission took its lead from Smith and now appears ready to adopt parts of each of the ordinances to amend its own.
“We like artistic murals, we want to encourage artistic murals, we don’t necessarily want Eric to go out and paint a big 7-Eleven,” Smith said, analyzing one of the ordinances and referring to Eric Cooley, a city commissioner and owner of the 7-Eleven on South Oceanshore Boulevard. The Brevard ordinance is permissive to that end. West Palm’s has an application and review process that attracted the attorney, and Los Angeles’s spells out dimensions that could accommodate commercial speech.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is to allow commercial speech within a mural,” Smith said.
That’s what the commission favored: Doing away with the ban on any artistic expression that could symbolize or be tied to the products being sold by an establishment, and replacing that with an allowance for murals and advertising, including symbolism, the name of the business or the products being sold. But the proportion of text in comparison to the mural itself will be regulated, and the ratio of mural-to-text will be such that text will be very limited–to something like 10 percent of the total size of the mural. Under those conditions, the Swillerbees mural would be legal, Bayne’s could bring back its pig, and beer could return on bars’ murals. The big sign outside the Pink Turtle though might be too big.
The amended ordinance will also incorporate a new application process (but no permitting fee). Any business wanting to paint a mural would have to apply with the city, provide a rough rendering of the projected mural, and have the rendering go through some subjective administrative judgment. Murals deemed inappropriate would be barred. It’s not yet clear how the ordinance will spell out the difference between the appropriate and the inappropriate, but Cooley suggested that “If you couldn’t show it on TV you can’t put it on the wall, basically.”
The will also be an appeal process. If a business is dissatisfied with the administrative judgment, it can appeal to the city commission. Murals will be restricted to commercial zones, so residential homes won’t be allowed to have murals. Businesses will not be allowed to cover up their windows or doors.
“It’s going to be actually a large loosening,” Cooley said of the new rules. He is supportive of murals. “It’s a clever way to advertise, the tourists love it, they end up becoming miniature landmarks in themselves. There are some cities that actually have walking tours of murals.” He said the city’s economic development task force has long been discussing using murals at the city’s parking lots, which are underused, to attract attention to them and encourage their use. “It’s a great way to add a little color and character to a city,” Cooley said.
Smith will provide a new draft of the city’s sign ordinance in coming weeks.