City of Chattanooga says huge mural of flying doughnuts is illegal

photo Southpaw mural painter Joseph Giri reaches out from atop a hydraulic lift last week as he works his visual magic on the south building at Koch's Bakery on Broad Street.

A collection of flying doughnuts on 20th Street has brightened the Southside neighborhood but frosted the city of Chattanooga.

Koch's Bakery owner Barbara Davis says a mural of tumbling frosted doughnuts and cookies painted on the side of her detached south storage building is art. But the city says it's illegal advertising.

The colorful mural was featured in Monday's Times Free Press.

A city inspector showed up Tuesday to tell her the doughnuts needed to go.

"They said it was a sign and it was an advertisement. But it doesn't have a name on it, or an arrow, or prices. Nothing," Davis said.

Further, the mural faces 20th Street, but her storefront is on Broad Street, she said.

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

But advertising murals are treated as signs in city code, and per the code, it doesn't matter that there is no actual writing on the wall.

She said the inspector told her that, because she has sold doughnuts for 31 years, the mural was advertising her business. Had she painted flying corn dogs, dancing bears or anything else, there wouldn't have been a problem.

City sign ordinance defines the term "sign" with a broad brush, which includes any message symbol or insignia that is "used as, or in the nature of, an announcement, advertisement, attention-arrester, warning or designation" for any person, place, group, business or product.

The ordinance also prohibits an advertising sign from covering more than 20 percent of the wall to which it is affixed.

Davis was also ticked because inspectors didn't show up until the $11,000 mural was finished. The painting had been sketched out for days.

Chattanooga Zoning Inspector Gary Robkin said he could not comment Tuesday, because he was fully investigating the mural issue.

City Councilman Chris Anderson said he had not been contacted about the mural by Tuesday afternoon, but he was willing to help any way he could.

"I do plan to look into it and see what can be done. I like the mural. I was glad to see it go up," he said. "But sign ordinance is sign ordinance. All there is to do is see if this is a correct interpretation."

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at or at 423-757-6481.

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