Murals discussions prompt MHZC action
By Sabrina Bates
Special to the Press
The Martin Historic Zoning Commission has adopted guidelines in relation to the use of murals on downtown businesses within the historic district of the city.
The district, which includes businesses along South Lindell Street and Broadway Street in downtown Martin, is governed by guidelines adopted and enforced by the MHZC.
Classified as a Certified Local Government through the Tennessee Historical Commission, the district maintains eligibility for downtown improvements, such as sidewalk lighting, signage and other features throughout the historic district.
The MHZC is made up of individuals who are appointed by the City of Martin Board of Aldermen in a volunteer capacity and do not receive compensation for serving on the commission.
Created in 1986, the MHZC now consists of a handful of local downtown business owners or managers, one Martin alderman and community members holding degrees in the field of history.
Recently, the commission was tasked with determining if murals were allowable within the area zoned as the Martin Historic Business District. Recently, downtown business owners requested the commission grant the couple approval for a mural to be painted on the backside of their building.
After being denied the request during the May MHZC meeting by a tie vote, which rejects a motion under Robert’s Rules of Order, the commission agreed to create specific guidelines governing murals within the district. Previously, the MHZC followed signage guidelines for the historic district, something many districts across the state refer to for placement and manner, according to Jane Coleman Cottone of the Tennessee Historical Commission.
During the May MHZC meeting, board members announced to one of the business owners they would move forward with reviewing and updating guidelines specific to murals within the historical district.
After the initial vote denying the mural request, the business owners took their message to social media, where claims of bias by certain MHZC members were circulated on the business page.
Those claims led to a special subcommittee being appointed to create mural guideline recommendations. The subcommittee met via Zoom last month. Those appointed included three MHZC members who are also downtown business owners — subcommittee chairman Warner Pace, Anita Allen Bell and Sharon Maloan — as well as three other downtown Martin building owners — Alex Bynum, Scott Taylor and Tracy Nassar.
The subcommittee made a recommendation regarding murals to the MHZC during last week’s commission meeting. On behalf of the subcommittee’s recommendation, the group developed a letter, which was presented last week when the business owners’ made another request for a mural approval.
“Local governments are advised to carefully consider how their zoning codes and other regulations affect the ability of artists to speak through their work and to ensure that local efforts to make regulations content neutral and consistent with the First Amendment to preserve free speech rights,” the letter crafted by the subcommittee reads.
The mural subcommittee noted one of the main goals upon accepting the appointment was to help lay the groundwork for the development of a strong, walkable and vibrant downtown. They concluded the Martin Historic Business District is “definitely thriving,” with a good mix of businesses. They also noted the City of Martin has seen increased local option sales tax collections, outside of the global health pandemic.
“Growth, investments, and developments are all great but these positives also present challenges. Maintenance, business retention, parking, trash, and rehabilitation are all more difficult to manage in regard to compliance and maintaining the historic integrity of the MHBD. The ultimate to goal is to create an environment where business can thrive, while also retaining the historic cultural and architectural fabric of the MHBD,” the letter further reads.
Subcommittee members determined after research murals were not, historically, part of the original fabric of design of the Martin Historic District. When guidelines were established by the MHZC, murals were not initially addressed as they had “no historic reference or precedence in the Martin Historic District.”
Maintenance of murals and responsibility for that maintenance were also factors considered by the subcommittee. Subcommittee members also discussed adjacent murals, public sculpture art and the greenway trailhead, which are already in place and visible from the MHBD.
“The purpose of the subcommittee was not to regulate or limit murals, per se. The purpose was to maintain the historic integrity of the MHBD, while maintaining a cohesive a look. In doing so, in accordance to the ordinance and the guidelines structures are not to be individual and stand alone. One should not be immediately drawn to a specific building because of signage, lighting, paint color, fixtures, etc. Signage should be cohesive. Lighting should be cohesive. Paint colors should not be garish. The architecture is what should be the main focus. If business owners are looking to be unique, they should not locate a business in a historically zoned area,” the subcommittee’s letter reads.
In conclusion, the subcommittee made a unanimous decision to recommend murals not be allowed with Martin’s Historic Business District.
Following the subcommittee’s recommendation last week, the members of the Martin Historic Zoning Commission voted unanimously to not allow murals to be placed within the district. That followed with a unanimous vote by the MHZC to deny the business owners’ mural request for a second time.
MHZC members voting against the mural request were vice chairman Stephanie Mueller, alderman Marvin Flatt, Marvin Downing, Dee Cannon, Maloan, Pace and Bell. Committee members absent from last week’s meeting were chairman Lynette Wagster and Beverly Claybrooks.
A public notice of the recently-adopted guidelines for design review established by the MHZC can be found on Page ?? of today’s edition of The Press.