The topic of murals is back at the forefront of Worthington City Council conversation.

But a decision on guidelines for them isn't likely without more time to gauge public opinion, city officials say.

In fall 2017, the city's architectural-review board received applications for two mural projects: one from the Old Worthington Partnership at La Chatelaine French Bakery & Bistro, 627 High St., and one spearheaded by former state Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) at House Wine, 644 High St.

Both of those applications were denied, largely because the city did not have regulations to govern those murals.

In short, city staff members said they found that if murals were allowed in the city, guidelines would not be able to govern the content of those murals, potentially leaving the city open for less-than-savory projects.

"It was the issue of regulating First Amendment rights," said Lee Brown, the city's planning-and-building director. "The end result (of research) was that you could not regulate the design or content of a mural."

In response to the confusion, the city assembled a task force of volunteer residents, city officials and council representatives.

"We had some volunteers diligently work to research murals and frame options that would be available to the city, should we decide to choose one," City Manager Matt Greeson said.

More than a year after the conversation began, that task force returned its findings to City Council on Jan. 14. But because of the nature of the conversation, the issue remains opaque, and no easy decision seems likely, city officials said.

A memorandum sent to City Council from the task force reiterated that the city is "not legally permitted to regulate the content and design of the murals" and provided five logical policies:

* Maintain the status quo.

* Permit no murals.

* Permit murals.

* Permit murals on private property through a special easement program.

* Permit murals on all private property.

After a lengthy discussion among city officials and council members, those involved said they still were unsure of the best way to move forward.

Council member Scott Myers, an attorney, said the central issue – a lack of control over the content on murals – always would be an issue.

"As much as I like the murals, the lawyer in me says this is a really slippery slope," he said.

Rather than determining a direction, City Council decided to gather more input on the topic before moving forward.

Council President Bonnie Michael suggested scheduling the topic at additional public meetings and an online comment-submission process for more input from residents, including ideas for a way to implement a public-art program that could guide the topic.

"I'm sure we're going to end up with people who are going to feel both ways," she said.

Michael directed city officials to gather answers to some of council's questions, place the item on future agendas and return to the topic at a later date.

"At this point, we're going to get some additional information and have this become a future agenda item – a little more broad – to encourage more residents to come forward."

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