Brewmasters seeks change to city sign rules

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The vivid yellow mural on the side of Brewmasters has been capturing passing motorists’ attention for about a year, yet the fate of the painting has not been decided.

The Forest Hills Road business was notified in January that the mural violated the city’s sign ordinance — a decision that was appealed with the help of Farris & Farris attorney Rhyan Breen. Breen represented Brewmasters owner Morkos Youssef during a March hearing with Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz, arguing the mural was artwork, not a sign.

In early May, Lentz ruled the mural was in violation of the ordinance and Breen appealed the decision. Also at the suggestion of city staff, Breen filed an application to amend the Unified Development Ordinance by adding definitions to the terms “noncommercial,” “lawful noncommercial message,” and “advertisement.”

“Brewmasters is using all available remedies to resolve the issue surrounding the mural in conjunction with appealing (Lentz’s) decision to the zoning board,” Breen said. “Adoption of the citizens’ amendment would remove the ambiguity contained within the UDO as to what constitutes a ‘commercial sign.’”

Breen said he is optimistic that if the amendment is approved, Brewmasters would be grandfathered and the mural would be able to stay as designed by artist Dave Matthews.

“(The mural) has been largely accepted by the citizens of Wilson,” he said. “In that area, the mural is an oasis of artistic expression in a desert dominated by large commercial businesses. In a city that prides itself on being a haven for art and artists, it should be allowed to remain.”

Wilson spokeswoman Rebecca Agner said the amendment is being reviewed by the city’s attorney.

“If we are able, the draft language will be provided at the Nov. 7 planning board meeting for initial review only,” she said. “The public hearing will be set once the draft language is completed.”

Brewmasters and a thorough review and update to the Unified Development Ordinance was among the topics that was discussed during a Thursday morning City Council meeting. The UDO was enacted in 2013, replacing a 25 year old ordinance.

“City Council appointed a committee to develop the UDO along with Planning Department staff,” she said. “The committee included members from the development community, neighborhoods, the housing authority and representatives from other city boards and commissions, such as the planning board and Appearance Commission. The committee provided input on each chapter (of the UDO) as it was developed.”

While officials have not publicly expressed support or opposition for the change, City Manager Grant Goings said he’s open to reviewing the development ordinance.

“We had a great group of citizens, engineers, developers and staff to help draft the document,” Goings said in a Friday statement. “Now that we have been operating under the UDO for several years, I think it is prudent to get folks back together and receive feedback.”

Lentz is gathering some information requested by the councilmen and the topic is expected to be addressed again in December.