New proposal bans murals in downtown Johnson City

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — There will be no more murals allowed in downtown Johnson City, under a new plan developed Thursday night.

The design guidelines have been disputed for almost a year, after city officials told Johnson City downtown business owners their murals had to come down, because they did not meet sign regulations.

Thursday the historic zoning commission went over the design guidelines once again, and proposed a new plan that would ban all murals in the historic district of downtown Johnson City, in order to avoid future lawsuits.

City attorney Eric Herrin said, allowing murals downtown could put the city into “slippery territory.”

Zoning Commissioner Hal Hunter said even if this change is approved, the ordinance can always be amended.

“I’d be amenable to sitting down with our public arts commission and our legal consultants and see if we can find a way to allow them in some way shape or form,” said Hunter. “But at this point, the commission is not willing to give up its authority and say, ‘You can paint them anywhere.’”

Attorney Amber Lee, is representing Nelson Fine Art Gallery, and Downtown Farming, the businesses that are in the center of the debate. They say the excessive control of artwork is a violation of their constitutional rights.

Last week, business owners sent a letter to the city, asking that the city allow murals and even offered a concession:  That  the city could choose the artist, just not the subject matter.

“They absolutely believe art deserves to be in downtown,” said Lee. “Not just sculptural art that’s in place, but mural art.”

After meeting tonight, Lee said she’s disappointed and saddened by the decision. Pro-mural business owners haven’t decided on their next step.

The next meeting to decide if the plan will go into effect will be February 23rd at 5:30p.m at the City commission chambers. There will also be a public hearing.Copyright 2016 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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