Should Murals Fall Under Sign Ordinances?

A local controversy in New Jersey has residents debating whether a city should interfere with artistic expression on private property.

1 minute read

October 19, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Image of Welcome to Cedar Grove sign

Jared Kofsky/ / Welcome to Cedar Grove, New Jersey

A controversy over a coffee shop mural in Cedar Grove, New Jersey has sparked a debate over what constitutes a sign and how far a city should go to regulate 'artistic expression,' reports Kaitlyn Kanzler.

Although Cedar Bean's Coffee Joint owner Dave Fletcher got permission from his landlord and neighbors before commissioning the mural on the back of his building in June, the city cited the mural as an illegal sign under a newly amended sign ordinance that now includes murals and paintings. Council members say the amendment is not meant to stifle artistic expression or stop business owners from putting up murals, but they want "to put a procedure in place to apply for permission to put up a mural." According to Councilwoman Kerry Peterson, "it's about everyone following the same process and nothing gets out of control."

Local art advocates expressed disappointment with the council's decision to approve the amendment. Nat Harris, who heads the Cedar Grove Artists Alliance, said while "[t]here was ample opportunity for them to table the vote and maybe talk to the community more," it seemed that the decision had been made. Harris will be meeting with council members next week "to discuss how the Cedar Grove Art Alliance and the town can work together."

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