Public backlash brewing over doughnut mural that Chattanooga city inspector says must go

Public backlash brewing over doughnut mural that Chattanooga city inspector says must go

June 19th, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

A donut mural covers the side of a building near Koch's Bakery on 20th Street.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster/Times Free Press.

POLL: Is the Chattanooga doughnut mural an illegal sign?

Public backlash is rising after a city inspector told a bakery owner that the flying doughnuts she paid $11,000 to have painted on a dilapidated building constitute an illegal advertisement and must go.

A group of local artists has started an online petition asking city leaders to revamp the city's sign ordinance, saying it doesn't clearly define what is art and what is an ad.

"Fight Crime not Art!" proclaims the petition. "Save the Flying Doughnut Mural (and others like it)."

"This is beautifying the neighborhood and everybody wants it to stay," said Hollie Berry, a local artist who started the petition.

Meanwhile, Councilman Chip Henderson has asked the City Attorney's Office to study the sign ordinance to determine whether it could be clearer.

According to the ordinance, wall murals do not require permits from the sign board -- unless they include "written trade names, advertising or commercial messages."

Koch's Bakery owner Barbara Davis said the inspector told her that because she has sold doughnuts for 31 years, the mural is advertising her business and therefore is treated as a sign in city code. Per the code, it doesn't matter that there is no actual writing on the wall.

That means, Henderson said, if a flower shop owner wanted to hire an artist to paint a mural on its building, the artist could paint doughnuts and at a doughnut shop the owner could have flowers painted, but not vice versa.

"That doesn't make sense to me," he said.

Davis thought she was doing a good thing to have the mural painted on the side of her faded brick storage building, which had been marked by overgrown weeds and graffiti.

Surely flying doughnuts looked better?

On Tuesday, a city inspector told Davis the visual graphic had to go because her mural, which faces 20th Street, is really an advertisement. Davis' bakery sells doughnuts, wedding cakes and specialized birthday cakes and is located nearby on Broad Street.

Land Development Director Gary Hilbert didn't return calls seeking comment. On Tuesday, Chattanooga Zoning Inspector Gary Robkin said he couldn't comment because he was investigating the mural issue.

By 6 p.m. Wednesday, 145 people had signed Berry's petition asking the mayor's office and City Council to exempt murals from the sign ordinance and treat the paintings as art. Residents online also blasted the city for citing Davis in the first place.

"Don't we have more important things to focus on?" wrote Chattanooga resident Cameron Matthews.

"Fight crime, not art," said Chris Thomas, a Chattanooga resident. "Efforts by private individuals (and even businesses!) to beautify the city should be embraced, not punished."

Henderson said he found the whole question to be a head scratcher.

"We want businesses to flourish and we want to incentive businesses at the same time," Henderson said. "But," he acknowledged, "somebody has to draw the line between art, advertisement and graffiti."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.