Nearly six months after the conversation began about murals in Worthington, city leaders are moving slowly but surely toward crafting a policy on the topic.

The debate began in late October, when two murals were proposed for the sides of Old Worthington buildings.

The partnership, led by executive director Annina Parini, had hoped to paint a large "Welcome to Worthington" mural on the south side of La Chatelaine French Bakery & Bistro at 627 High St.

Another project, spearheaded by state Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington), would have installed a mural called "Firefly Delight" on the back wall of House Wine at 644 High St.

Both options were rejected by the city's architectural-review board.

The board and city staff members said they had to consider them as sign applications because city code contained no specific language about murals. Signs cannot have more than four colors without needing a variance in Worthington and most murals require far more than four colors.

After the ARB denied the variance in a 3-3 decision, Parini and other leaders of the partnership initially decided to appeal to Worthington City Council, but when the time came, they withdrew the appeal and said they would prefer to be a part of policy-making decisions in the future.

Meanwhile, Duffey, a former city councilman, decided he no longer would be involved.

In the wake of the controversy, the city has created a six-member task force, supplemented by five city representatives, in an attempt to craft a policy related to murals.

The group met for the first time March 21, but planning-and-building director Lee Brown said "not much at all" has happened yet.

The main reason for the slow process, he said, is the amount of research and education that need to be completed.

Brown said he wants all task-force members to be on the same page and has presented them with a lot of information and "homework."

Much of the conversations surround the idea of conflicting with the First Amendment, which Worthington's legal department has said means the city can regulate only such aspects as size, shape and location.

"It's the understanding, with the First Amendment, that you cannot legally regulate the content and design," Brown said. "So much of our city falls into the historical review district. For us, it's 'How is that handled?' and explaining to the general public about the inability to regulate content or design."

Beth Dekker, owner of Igloo Letterpress and a partnership board member, is one of the six community members on the task force.

She said she has experience with murals, helping to found Wild Goose Creative in Columbus and leading the group's push for its "SoHud" mural in the Old North Columbus neighborhood to denote the South of Hudson neighborhood.

"It really taught me the pros and cons of reaching out to the community for support and criticism and what that could mean for Worthington," she said.

Dekker said she has been thrilled with the information and research presented by Brown and his team and the group is composed of "a lot of nice, independent voices" that are working together for a common goal.

"We're all on the same page that we want to come up with some ways to be able to look at murals if they come before City Council again, and how to do that and also how to move forward with the ones that are already proposed," she said.

Brown and Dekker both said the deliberate process comes from necessity.

Dekker said she has seen stories of communities taking years to make a decision, but she doesn't expect it to take that long in Worthington.

Brown said he would like for the process to move faster but it isn't worth getting any steps wrong.

"It's definitely something you do not want rushed, especially with all the legalities and setting the tone as we move forward," he said. "You need to think of all the issues, items and concerns that could come up."

Parini said she is "anxious to see the outcome" and "hopes things are moving at a reasonable pace."

"There's still a hope that we can eventually get our mural painted," she said.

For information and updates on the mural task force, go to worthington.org.

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