Middleburg Council Bans Murals in Historic District

Anyone looking to paint a mural in the Town of Middleburg, regardless of how artistically-refined it might be, should turn their focus to another community.

The Town Council on Thursday night voted unanimously to add a paragraph to the Historic District Regulations section of the town’s Zoning Ordinance that prohibits individuals and organizations from painting murals in the town’s Historic District, which stretches west from North Pinckney Street to Reed Street and encompasses land about 650 feet north and south of Washington Street. According to the clause, murals have not historically been a part of the district, and the regulations aim to preserve the historical, architectural, cultural and archaeological heritage of the town.

“Without historic precedents, the introduction of murals to the district would not serve the purpose of the Historic District regulations,” the new language reads. “As such, murals are not appropriate in the Middleburg Historic District.”

Former Town Councilwoman Bundles Murdock was the only resident to address the council on the subject as she urged council members to approve the restrictive language.

“Art is so subjective, so personal. I may love one mural and not love the next one,” she said. “Keep Middleburg the historic town it is and [don’t] wander into the unknown.”

Town Planner Will Moore said the vote to ban murals in that district comes in response to several individuals and organizations requesting the town’s permission to paint them. Moore said that town staff and council members had no guidelines to fall back on when talking with those people because there was previously no language in the Zoning Ordinance pertaining to murals.

Specifically, the owners of Crème de la Crème, a home décor shop on Washington Street, approached the town last summer with an interest in painting a mural on their blank sidewall that faces South Liberty Street. “That was the conversation that really started this,” Moore said. “That kind of got the ball rolling.”

Moore said that after the town’s Historic District Review Committee undertook months of studies and discussions on the matter beginning in June, it came to the consensus that murals aren’t appropriate in that district of town.

Councilman Chris Bernard, the e-commerce director for West Federal Retail, the parent company of Crème de la Crème, said the shop’s drive to paint a mural was more of an “interesting idea to explore” and that he was “OK” with the unanimous vote to ban murals in the Historic District. “We set up committees for a reason…and they came to a completely reasonable decision,” he said.

However, Moore said that murals may be allowed in areas where they’re shielded from public view, like Akre Capital Management did last year in the back of its building just three doors down from the town office on West Marshall Street.

Moore said that Akre’s mural, which is a large portrayal of a dandelion, was allowed because it’s hidden in the back of the company’s property and can only be partially seen from North Madison Street in the winter months when the leaves are off the trees.

As for other mural sites in town, Moore said that a potential site could be the 12-foot-tall, privately owned concrete retaining wall outside of the Historic District along Washington Street just east of the Middleburg Volunteer Fire Department. “That might be a good canvas for something like that,” he said.

At the request of Mayor Bridge Littleton, Moore said town staff would draft language that defines what a mural is when it comes time to re-evaluate the guidelines a year and a half from now.

Other western Loudoun towns are a bit more accepting of murals.

In Purcellville, Mayor Kwasi Fraser mentioned in his 2019 State of the Town address that the town would partner with businesses to bring murals to the town.

Round Hill Town Administrator Melissa Hynes said the town allows for mural painting unless it’s used for advertising, which would limit the size to 10 square feet.

Lovettsville Town Planner Josh Bateman said the town would review and approve or deny murals on a case-by-case basis and that it limits advertisement paintings to one square foot per each linear foot of a wall.

Hillsboro Mayor Roger Vance said that while the town has never had a request to paint a mural, the artist would need to go through the Planning Commission to obtain a certificate of appropriateness.

While the Town of Hamilton was recently approached with a request from a Boy Scout proposing to paint a mural for his Eagle Scout project, Treasurer Lori Jones said the scout might need to first present the idea to the Planning Commission.

pszabo@loudounnow.com

A view of the dandelion mural from North Madison Street that Akre Capital Management painted on the back of its building last summer.
[Patrick Szabo/Loudoun ]Now

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