A request for a mural in downtown Southern Pines ran into some traffic with town leaders during a work session discussion Monday. In part, the concern is whether the existing sign ordinance contains appropriate language to guide design decisions.
“Signage is a challenging issue for staff. It can be an arms race among neighboring businesses,” said Planning Director BJ Grieve. “And if we take the alternative view that it is art, one man’s art is another person’s sign.”
Steve Harbour, representing the Harbour Place shopping plaza where Scott’s Table is located, said his family would like to paint a mural to add color and vibrancy to an otherwise blank two-story wall. Their goal is to create an interactive mural that would encourage passerby to stop and pose for a photograph.
“The pandemic has put businesses in a bind. Small businesses have had it particularly tough,” he said. “We feel like a mural could be a nice boost...and reminds everyone how much we love Southern Pines.”
The example Harbour presented of a young girl using a watering can surrounded by the words “Southern Pines is a great place to grow up," was a mock-up image he created using an existing work of art in Poland.
It was not an example of Charlotte-based muralist Nick Napoletano's work.
"Nick's work is much much better than anything l could ever make and he would bring his unique vision to it," Harbour said.
The mural is also not intended to be odd or out of place, he added, but rather a social media and family-friendly image that will encourage walkability and more foot traffic down this quieter block of Broad Street.
“It would invite you to play along," Harbour said.
Mayor Carol Haney said she was concerned about setting a precedent that might lead to a snowball effect with many businesses requesting murals.
“My biggest concern is art is very subjective,” Haney said.
Councilman Mike Saulnier also was hesitant, noting that while this particular request was “an extremely sincere effort,” he cautioned that it could put town leadership in the position of determining what is art. “We have a fundamental challenge with that.”
Grieve said, using current ordinances, a mural would be considered as part of an architectural compliance permit. Buildings in the historic district have a more stringent process to follow for approval of any exterior changes.
Mayor Pro Tem Paul Murphy said the conceptual mural image presented did not represent an inclusive interpretation of the town: a concern also echoed by Mayor Haney.
Harbour assured the council the final mural design would be more diverse. The mock-up image was an example of an interactive mural style only.
Councilman Mitch Lancaster said he liked murals overall and thought the design decisions were something the town could work through with Harbour.
“I think that spot could use something. That is a huge wall. I think it could be a huge splash and create some buzz,” he said. “I think murals are cool. I think they bring artistic expression to a town and I think having some of these around town, I would support it.”
During discussion it was noted that several communities in the area have sanctioned mural programs, including Robbins, Carthage and Aberdeen.
“There are towns that lend that lend itself to that style of art. I’m not sure Southern Pines is that kind of town,” Haney said.
Harbour said the murals in Carthage are very detail-oriented, “they are telling a story,” versus his family is looking for a simpler design that would be more interactive.
He also pointed out that Harbour Place would not be the first mural in downtown Southern Pines: The Pilot newspaper has a large American flag mural on one of its buildings on West Pennsylvania Avenue.
Resident Suzanne Coleman suggested the town could develop a public arts program with set standards and a committee to review and oversee temporary and permanent installations.
Councilman Bill Pate said he liked the idea of a mural at Harbour Place and that he was in favor of establishing a better method or criteria for approving potential future mural requests.
Town Manager Reagan Parsons recommended involving the town’s Appearance Commission and Historic Preservation Commission to help establish some public arts-related guidelines for these types of requests.
“This is not a flat-out no. Let us get our other committee involved and we’ll get back to you,” she told Harbour.
In other action on Monday, the Southern Pines Town Council:
Approved a modified plan for the Ravensbrook Greenway path near Waynor Road. The new layout allows public parking at Fire Station 2 and a gravel path to connect the subdivision’s sidewalk and cleared easement to the existing greenway at Forest Creek.
Authorized a CARES Act reimbursement agreement with Moore County. Using a population based formula, Southern Pines is eligible for up to $227,809 in reimbursement for COVID-19 safety related expenditures.
Appointed seven members to a newly created Housing Selection Committee, to develop criteria and procedures for the distribution of a potential Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). The members include six individuals involved with the West Southern Pines Task Force and a representative of Habitat for Humanity.