High Springs finalizes mural policy, denies murals

High Springs City Hall
High Springs City Hall. (photo by Seth Johnson)

The High Springs Commission approved a mural ordinance on Thursday, creating policy for applicants and staff, while also denying a request to install two murals on city property.

The city of High Springs has worked on a mural amendment to the Land Development Code for months. The issue came up when residents learned about mural projects proposed by the Heart of High Springs, a nonprofit looking to enhance the city.

The commission decided to create its own policy for dealing with mural requests, and the final amendment underwent multiple revisions leading to Thursday final vote.

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The amendment passed 4-1 with Commissioner Katherine Weitz in dissent.

Weitz has offered alternatives since the start of the process when the city attorney’s office presented its ordinance draft in August. The city’s Plan Board addressed the issue next and offered five amendments, but as Weitz noted Thursday, none were included in the final draft.

She said she supported the five additions which included a setback requirement for residential areas, one mural application for the city to process per month, a digital rendering of the mural during the application and specific language that new owners can remove existing murals on buildings.

However, the other commissioners voted for the ordinance as it stood. City Attorney Scott Walker said property owners still retain control over their property, but he said that issue is already taken care of under other sections of the code.

Later in the meeting, the Heart of High Springs requested city permission to add two murals on city buildings for its upcoming Walldogs Dive Into High Springs 2023 – a Mural & History Festival.

The two murals would go on the west side of the fire station and the west side of the old school building. The fire station mural would highlight the impact of the Santa Fe River and local springs. The old school mural would honor local figures Tom Diedeman and Essie Mae Williams Gassett.

Heart of High Spring would pay for the mural installations and upkeep. The fire station mural would be painted on panels attached to the building, and the commission discussed doing the same for the old school building.

Weitz opposed any murals on city property. Even if Heart of High Springs pays for the installation, she said maintenance costs could switch to the city down the line, despite current intentions.

“Now, we’re talking about free speech on a publicly owned building, and I think that opens up a can of worms that we don’t need to open up,” Weitz said. “There’s nothing wrong with that brick wall on the fire house.”  

She suggested the mural of Diedeman and Gassett be placed at the current school building to excite the students and help enhance the space. The switch would also keep the city from any obligation since it doesn’t own the building.

Commissioner Tristan Grunder, who joined the commission on Nov. 17, agreed that he would like Heart of High Springs to ask the school district about the possibility.

Commissioner Byran Williams also asked if another wall would serve the mural intended for the fire station. He said he would like to see options for private property in the area instead of publicly owned sites.

Vice Mayor Ross Ambrose, who also serves as treasurer for the Heart of High Springs, said the nonprofit had looked into other options and decided on the fire station based on feedback.

He added that Heart of High Springs also has eight other planned mural installations for the festival. The offer by the nonprofit gives the city the opportunity to join.

Grunder made a motion for the city to approve the fire station mural while waiting to see if the school district would want to be involved with the Diedeman and Gassett mural. Ambrose seconded the motion.

But the motion failed 2-3 with the rest of the board in opposition.

The commissioners said the Heart of High Springs could return with more information on the firehouse or school murals at future meetings.

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