In Worthington, murals are classified as signs and therefore can't contain more than four colors, per city code. Two murals in Old Worthington were rejected last month for that reason.

Next month, Worthington City Council will attempt to decide what to do about murals.

The city's architectural-review board has ruled that murals -- because they are not specifically addressed in city code -- should be classified as signs. City code specifies that signs cannot contain more than four colors without needing a variance, and most murals have more than four colors.

For that reason, two applications for murals in Old Worthington were denied last month.

One application was from the Old Worthington Partnership; it was for a mural bearing the message, "Welcome to Worthington," on the south side of La Chatelaine, 627 High St. The other was spearheaded by state Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington); that mural, titled "Firefly Delight," would have been painted on the back wall of House Wine, 644 High St.

After the decisions, the partnership and executive director Annina Parini appealed the decision and will go before City Council on Dec. 11 to plead their case. Meanwhile, Duffey has decided he no longer will be involved.

"We're going to encourage folks to come out and speak in favor of it," Parini said. "The merchants are in favor of it, I know lots of the neighbors who are in favor of it. ... So we hope that they show up so that council can hear this is a good thing for the community and will bring a lot of public attention."

Parini said the partnership has been in touch with city officials about the project for several months.

She said she wished staff members would have "realized that this was going to be an issue" and anticipated the slowdown earlier.

But with a public hearing, she said, she is looking forward to things being resolved one way or another.

"We've been working hand in hand with (the city) to try to make this work," she said. "So the appeal will give the public the opportunity to weigh in on the idea of a mural."

City Council President Bonnie Michael said she is not sure how council members would approach the topic.

"There are two parts of looking at this," she said. "Do you look at just this one mural and make a decision just like that, or do you look at a policy concept and whether the city should have a policy regarding murals? So we've got two ways to be looking at it."

Beyond that, she said, the topic is a tricky one given the First Amendment implications involved.

"You can't govern content," Michael said. "So you can do time, place, size, location. Those types of things can be specified."

Michael said she and other council members already have heard plenty of feedback on the topic. She said letters are "evenly spread" and have reflected a range of opinions.

"We're going to have people coming from both sides," she said. "I anticipate that we'll have people coming in and saying, 'Murals are wonderful and great.' But I've already received letters saying, 'Don't allow murals anywhere.' And then there will be people saying, 'Allow some but not others.' So there will be a wide spectrum."

Parini, however, said she thinks the issue of murals -- and the partnership's "Welcome to Worthington" mural in particular -- is more straightforward.

"Public art is something that will really energize the community, and I think it's a beautiful welcome for the city," she said.

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