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Murals, other wall art okayed in Birmingham

By Kevin Elliott

Painted wall art and murals may soon be popping up in Birmingham following the city commission’s approval on Monday, December 13, of a zoning ordinance and review process for exterior art.

Birmingham Senior Planner Brooks Cowan said the city has received many inquiries from property owners about potential murals on the outside of their buildings. However, the city had not previously permitted murals, based on the city’s sign ordinance that prohibits painted signs on buildings.

Cowan said the issue was brought up by city staff at a design review board meeting in August of 2020, when Griffin Claw Brewery requested to have an artist paint a mural on its building. The city’s sign ordinance states that “no sign may be painted directly onto any building surface.”

The new ordinance differentiates wall art from signage, and creates a definition and review process for wall art.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the ordinance.

Under the approved ordinance, the city’s public arts board would first review the proposed art. That board would then forward the decision to the city’s design review board with a recommendation to approve or deny.

“Wall art applications would start with the public arts board and go to the design review board for final approval,” Cowan said.

Commissioner Clinton Baller voiced some concern about whether the commission would have any determination in individual art applications to the city. “We should be cognizant that we are ceding authority in this,” he said.

“I don’t think you want to get involved,” Markus answered. “There is a distinction between this governing board and commissions. Authority was ceded years ago for design issues on these private structures. Does the commission really have time to take up all these issues, on top of what you’re dealing with now? I don’t think so.”

Markus also said both the other review boards have specific roles regarding aesthetics in the city, and permitting the city commission to intercede could be problematic.

Commissioner Andrew Haig agreed that the city commissioners shouldn’t judge art applications itself.

Cowan said there are three businesses in Birmingham that have asked to be notified when an ordinance is approved, suggesting interest on behalf of owners.


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