Mural law passes by 5-2 vote
Civic groups claim restrictions may hinder installing murals
POTTSTOWN » Despite a last-minute change of heart by Councilman Joe Kirkland, the borough council moved ahead Tuesday night with the adoption of new rules governing murals.
Kirkland, who had previous supported the rules, said he had his mind changed by public comments made during the last few months of deliberations.
“I just feel that somewhere along the line, there will be some project that we want and we’re going to lose it because in Pottstown there is just one more contract they have to sign,” said Kirkland who, with Councilman Dennis Arms, cast the only two votes
against the new rules.
Kirkland’s talk of a contract has to do with provisions in the new rules requiring the property owner to take legal responsibility for the maintenance of a mural — a requirement members of Pottstown Community Arts said has prevented them from moving forward with a “Welcome to Pottstown” project at the corner of King and Manatawny streets.
Marie Haigh, speaking for that group Tuesday night before the vote, said they had checked with Phoenixville, Boyertown, Malvern and Philadelphia and none of them require the legal maintenance agreement Pottstown now requires.
“This is not encouraging, this is discouraging,” said Haigh.
Matthew Hovey, who was sitting in for Borough Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr., pointed out that the previous law governing murals also contained the legal requirement for maintenance by the property owner, and the new ordinance simply makes it easier for the borough to step in and maintain
or cover over a mural if it is not maintained without the lengthy and expensive court orders that are usually necessary.
He also noted that the Welcome to Pottstown project is actually governed by the borough’s sign ordinance, not the changed mural ordinance, and the sign rules have always had a maintenance clause.
Resident Darlene Bainbridge also spoke out against the ordinance changes.
“Revitalization starts with the arts,” said Bainbridge. “If you look at any revitalization that has taken place in Pottstown, it has been with things like Steel River Playhouse, the Arts Walk, the GoFourth celebration, it’s been the Beech Street lofts revitalization.”
“To hamper artistic efforts by creating bureaucratic red tape and legally binding maintenance agreements, with the borough to enforce it, you will only deter further interest and investors from improving our town,” Bainbridge said.
Some changes were made to the ordinance to accommodate previous public comments, said Assistant Borough Manager Justin Keller. The language now
makes clear that a third party can be designated as having the legal maintenance responsibility.
Councilman Ryan Procsal, said “we have no desire to stomp on the arts,” and said his initial support for the changes was to spare artists the $600 fee to apply for the conditional use approval.
And Council Vice President Sheryl Miller noted that “there is art going up all over High Street right now” that is the result of property owners taking responsibility for maintenance of the art.
“The maintenance clause is protect taxpayers,” said Council President Dan Weand.
Codes workers taking care of properties owners will not is already almost too much work for them, said Miller. “They can’t keep up now. We don’t want to add painting to their responsibilities.”
“We should not be getting involved in an agreement between a property owner and an artists,” said Arms.
The passage of the ordinance will allow a planned mural for the wall of the former Public Works Garage on Beech Street by Cultural Centro Latinos Unidos to move forward.
A rendering of the “Welcome to Pottstown” sign which organizers say is being prevented by restrictions in a new mural ordinance.