‘Wel­come to Sper­ryville’ cre­ator pe­ti­tions BOS for ad­di­tional mu­rals in county

‘They would quickly be­come iden­ti­fi­able land­marks’ Su­per­vi­sor Smith says ball rolling to ‘craft a mu­ral or­di­nance’

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By John mCCaslin Rap­pa­han­nock News staff

As “Wel­come to Sper­ryville” painter Robert Archer explains to the Rap­pa­han­nock News, “I’m try­ing to turn a po­ten­tial neg­a­tive into a pos­i­tive . . . Thus, I’m pe­ti­tion­ing the BOS to help cre­ate a coun­ty­wide mu­ral pro­gram.”

In a let­ter sent this past week to the Rap­pa­han­nock County Board of Su­per­vi­sors, Archer, who also goes by the sur­name Chap­man, pe­ti­tioned the board “to ini­ti­ate an RFP [re­quest for pro­posal] call­ing for a county-wide mu­ral pro­gram that will al­low res­i­dents to iden­tify and paint wel­com­ing mu­rals on struc­tures.

“The goals of the pro­posed mu­rals are to pro­mote our county’s val­ues, stim­u­late county pride and wel­come vis­i­tors all the while keep­ing within

the char­ac­ter of our ru­ral set­ting,” Archer ex­plained.

Last April, the Sper­ryville res­i­dent and busi­ness owner hand-painted an old-fash­ioned art mu­ral on the side of his new Happy Cam­per Equip­ment Co. re­tail store, which ex­tends to passersby the friendly greet­ing, “Wel­come to Sper­ryville, Main Street — Est. 1820.”

One month later, an uniden­ti­fied per­son brought the mu­ral to the at­ten­tion of the Rap­pa­han­nock County Zon­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tion, point­ing out that Archer never went through the required per­mit process to paint the “sign,” which some county res­i­dents ex­tolled as a fine art mas­ter­piece.

Since then, Archer, gar­ner­ing sup­ported from hun­dreds of county res­i­dents, has been fight­ing the county to keep the vil­lage sign — deemed non­con­form­ing to Rap­pa­han­nock County code — in­tact.

In sub­mit­ting the new pro­posal to al­low for ad­di­tional mu­rals in the county, Archer with­drew his ap­pli­ca­tion with the Board of Zon­ing Ap­peals for a “vari­ance” to al­low for the orig­i­nal mu­ral be­cause the board con­cluded it wasn’t au­tho­rized to is­sue a vari­ance in this par­tic­u­lar case.

“Mu­rals have long been a rec­og­nized mech­a­nism for fos­ter­ing arts and tourism through­out Amer­i­can his­tory,” Archer ar­gued in his let­ter, “most no­tably through WPA [Works Progress Ad­min­is­tra­tion] arts pro­grams of the 1930s. Artists were put to work de­sign­ing and erect­ing im­ages of iden­tity and hope on the heels of the Great De­pres­sion. Mu­rals are up­lift­ing. Mu­rals speak to the cul­tural val­ues of their set­tings.

“Such wel­come mu­rals in Rap­pa­han­nock will fos­ter the al­ready strong arts com­mu­nity while high­light­ing our ru­ral char­ac­ter and his­tor­i­cal charm to de­lighted vis­i­tors. They would quickly be- come iden­ti­fi­able land­marks and phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions that our county is in­deed wel­com­ing.”

The busi­ness owner noted that since he painted the wel­come mu­ral, not only has it be­come “a widely sup­ported and iden­ti­fi­able land­mark in the vil­lage and county . . . count­less vis­i­tors have pho­tographed it, shared it, and in some in­stances, cited it as a rea­son they’ve vis­ited Sper­ryville.

“In its short life, the mu­ral has had a mea­sur­able im­pact on morale, vil­lage pride and even eco­nomic in­ter­ests. There is over­whelm­ing sup­port for its ex­is­tence and, as neigh­bor­ing vil­lage res­i­dents have ex­pressed, a de­sire to see sim­i­lar land­marks through­out the county,” Archer pointed out.

Thus, he is re­quest­ing the BOS cre­ate the RFP, call­ing for pro­gram lan­guage that would al­low for “sim­i­lar wel­come mu­rals to be erected in our vil­lages.”

Shortly be­fore the Rap­pa­han­nock News went to press Wed­nes­day, Archer re­ceived an email from Pied­mont District Su­per­vi­sor Christine Smith, who stated: “To the ex­tent that we [the BOS] can move for­ward, there will be an agenda item [at next Mon­day’s BOS meet­ing] re­quest­ing the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion craft a mu­ral or­di­nance.

“This is the log­i­cal first step in the county un­der­tak­ing any mu­ral ini­tia­tive,” Smith wrote to Archer.

The busi­ness­man sug­gested any such county-sanc­tioned pro­gram “would be well within es­tab­lished or­di­nances. County erected ‘signs’ are free from the per­mit process.”

Archer sug­gested the county could stip­u­late that all main­te­nance would be borne by the prop­erty owner and/ or mu­ral or­ga­niz­ers, and the wel­come mu­rals wo uld re fe r- ence a ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion, be free of com­mer­cial speech (iden­ti­fy­ing any par­tic­u­lar busi­ness, lo­gos or call to ac­tion), and be in keep­ing with the ru­ral na­ture of Rap­pah- an­nock County.

He also vol­un­teered to work with the county, BOS and mu­ral par­tic­i­pants on all facets of po­ten­tial mu­rals in­clud­ing de­sign, art­work, in­stal­la­tion, plan­ning and more.

Archer stressed that his “Wel­come to Sper­ryville” mu­ral was sim­i­larly “painted in good faith and un­der the be­lief that its con­tent fell out­side of the lan­guage of Rap­pa­han­nock County sig­nage or­di­nances.”

Archer also ad­vised the BOS in his let­ter, dated June 20, that he does not want the mer­its of whether his mu­ral is or is not a “sign” to be de­cided in Cir­cuit Court, as he be­lieves “there is ex­ist­ing case law to sup­port its de­fense as a work of art/mu­ral as well as strong 1st Amend­ment is­sues that can be ar­gued.”

He said he hopes that by shift­ing the con­ver­sa­tion to the BOS “it can be ad­dressed with­out costly court in­volve­ment, with­out neg­a­tive press from me­dia and with­out chang­ing ex­ist­ing or­di­nances.”

Mean­while, County At­tor­ney Art Goff, who was asked by chair Alex Sharp at the last BZA meet­ing whether the code for “vari­ances” — as orig­i­nally re­quested by Archer, but now with­drawn — ex­tends to signs.

“In my opin­ion the type of ‘wall-art’ sign in this case is a com­mon and re­cur­ring thing through­out the state and there­fore the rem­edy here is in the for­mu­la­tion of a gen­eral reg­u­la­tion to be adopted as an amend­ment to the Rap­pa­han­nock County sign or­di­nance, should the Board of Su­per­vi­sors be so ad­vised,” Goff wrote.

“In sum­mary, there are three rea­sons that I think a vari­ance is not au­tho­rized: vari­ances of non-con­form­ing signs are not cov­ered by the Code; the hard­ship compl ainEed oGf i n ca se w as cre­ated by the ap­pli­cant; and, fi­nally, the is­sue pre­sented here could be re­solved by amend­ment to the sign or­di­nance.”

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