Breckenridge Town Council to address concerns over lack of regulations for murals
Breckenridge Town Council will revisit a now-voided decision from the town’s planning commission to approve two large, exterior wall murals on The Village Hotel downtown after calling up the issue at council’s Oct. 24 meeting.
“I got to say, that seems like a stretch, considering we don’t have a rendering of what this is going to be,” Mayor Eric Mamula explained as he took issue with two large proposed murals during a work-session meeting.
“We do. It was actually in the planning commission (packet),” Councilwoman Elisabeth Lawrence responded, referencing a small artist’s rendering submitted by the hotel inside its request to start work on what seems like an otherwise mundane remodel.
“You’re gonna die,” Councilman Mark Burke murmured to Mamula, giving the mayor a heads-up and underscoring a much larger council discussion, in which it was revealed there are almost no controls on outside wall murals in Breckenridge.
It should be noted, the proposed hotel murals have not yet been chosen, according to town staff, and the rendering included in the application was only a depiction of a mural to provide a broad idea of what the murals might look like, not an accurate representation of the actual proposed murals.
Regardless, by the end of the discussion, the mayor and a number of council members were left dumbfounded, wondering if there’s a critical gap in town code that doesn’t need addressed.
“I’d like to bring this policy back as soon as possible,” Mamula said. “I mean Dick’s going to end up putting a big lamb chop on the side of the Hearthstone.”
The mayor paused for a light round of laughter before he continued: “It’s funny, but it’s not that funny because we will see that. This mural will go up, and we are going to ruin the downtown historic core — with everything that we’ve done — by allowing this.”
THE CALL UP
Council’s decision to call up the hotel’s remodel followed an eight minute, 40 second conversation about food carts, throughout most of which Burke expressed his deep dissatisfaction two more were approved at the Village plaza, just across the street from the highly restricted historic district, which limits their allotments to just four.
Ultimately, council agreed there were no grounds to call up the commission’s decision approving the new food carts, and Burke settled with reiterating an ongoing effort at council to better distinguish snack bars and delis from other food-based businesses. Then they moved on — but not far, in topic or geographic location.
“Can you explain the murals,” Mamula asked immediately after, cherry picking one item out of the hotel’s request, approved on Oct. 17 by the town planning board.
Like the Village plaza at 655 S. Park Ave., The Village Hotel sits across the street from the downtown historic district, and Lawrence and Councilman Mike Dudick indicated they too wanted to talk about the murals.
As town staff explained the code, and how exterior wall murals are exempted from most of Breckenridge’s regulations — excluding one that prevents them from advertising — Mamula’s concern grew.
“So you could walk through the Village, it could be a picture of a glass of beer by a bar, and that would be OK?” he probed.
“Like you could do a mural of a piece of pizza on a building?” ribbed Dudick on the heels of the mayor’s most-pointed questions.
The punch line referencing that in addition to being mayor, Mamula also owns Downstairs at Eric’s, an arcade and pizza-serving pub, on Main Street.
“Yeah,” Mamula said, seemingly more focused on the murals.
the mysteries of managing MURALS
In a more serious moment, Dudick rephrased the bigger question: “At what point do these murals turn into marketing pieces?”
No doubt The Village Hotel has a towering presence at 535 S. Park Ave., but its remodeling plans, detailed in the application, only reference a few minor exterior changes, such as a new paint job, slight resurfacing, and new trim and wood finishes, in addition to the large murals, one of which would go up on the south-facing wall with the other overlooking the Blue River walkway on the east side of the building.
The hotel also has designs on rearranging some things inside, but the building uses won’t change, nor will the site plan.
At one point, Councilwoman Erin Gigliello asked town staff if the town code dictating how many colors of paint can be spread on a single building could come into play. However, town staff seemed confident that, because the murals are artwork, that wouldn’t apply in this scenario.
In fact, town code specifically exempts murals from all of Breckenridge’s signage controls, and the only restriction that does exist is exterior wall murals are not allowed to advertise.
That’s why the planning commission unanimously approved the hotel’s request at its Oct. 17 meeting, like it does so many others, and why the commission forwarded the hotel’s application over to the council’s consent calendar, where minor, run-of-the-mill agenda items go to be passed in a single vote.
Not even the town’s public art commission, which weighs in on developers’ requests for positive building points when adding public art pieces into a project, has a say.
That’s because the hotel isn’t seeking any positive building points — doesn’t need them — and without a request for those points, it’s not an issue for the art-based commission, according to town staff.
Moreover, any restrictions the town might want to put on murals are further hampered by First Amendment protections, town attorney Tim Berry warned council, further explaining that any would-be regulations on murals must be content-neutral to withstand a legal challenge.
Most basically, the town can’t pick and choose which murals it likes and which it doesn’t, regardless of how artistically good — or aesthetically bad — a mural might be.
In calling up the decision, council has set a de novo hearing for Tuesday’s agenda. “De novo” is Latin for “starting anew,” and with the hearing, the process for approval will basically begin at square one.
Additionally, the planning commission has revised its approval of the murals, adding a stipulation that the hotel must submit renderings for the planned artwork. With renderings showing “the location and content” of the murals, the commission says, it can determine with certainty they won’t be promotional in nature.
Messages left with The Village Hotel’s front desk on Wednesday and again Friday were not returned.
The process begins again Tuesday, but it’s unclear exactly how town council will proceed from here, or if the commission’s plan to force the hotel to provide actual renderings will push further discussions back to a later date.
Regardless, there appears to be an appetite to take up the large issue regarding a lack of town regulations for murals, both in the historic district and across Breckenridge.
For Tuesday, the murals sit on a packed agenda with expected votes on a long-discussed local drone ordinance and a resolution stating the town’s commitment to a 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2035 for every building, public and private in Breckenridge, which has taken even longer.
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