Monday, December 4, 2023
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Highland Park council eases mural regulations

Town of Highland Park is about to get quite a bit more colourful.

Highland Park council members unanimously approved on Monday, Sept. 11, an updated city-art and mural policy that can support more public art throughout town.

“We’ve got had business owners and folks come to us and say it is a method to bring vibrancy into our community and all we do is put it off, and it’s time to do it,” Councilmember Annette Lidawer said.

After an almost two-hour debate with presentations from Director of Community Development Joel Fontaine and Chair of the Cultural Arts Advisory Group Joanne Bernstein regarding policy recommendations, the council passed the ordinance with several amendments.

The amendments to the ordinance include the elimination of a maximum height for the murals, addition of an exception for privately owned underpasses in any zoning district, a rise within the permit limit to fifteen, the removal of the two-year minimum for murals, and the addition of language to ban certain murals, reminiscent of offensive content and advertisements.

In keeping with Bernstein, the vast majority of the Cultural Arts Advisory Group, including herself, were against the utmost height restriction on city murals.

Councilmember Andrés Tapia was also in support of eliminating a maximum mural height of 30 feet with a view to prevent town from limiting the creativity that goes into the artwork.

Tapia was also against making a two-year limit for town’s murals.

“I don’t think that’s realistic and even within the spirit of murals. Some murals are iconic and last for many years, even 100 years, others could just be ephemeral for just a few months,” Tapia said. “For us to guess what could be the proper period of time for a mural to be up shouldn’t be congruent with the concept of art.”

Multiple council members voiced reservations in regards to the ordinance’s ambiguity regarding what content may very well be prohibited in a mural, resulting in the tighter language developed within the amendment.

Councilmember Yumi Ross expressed concerns regarding the usage of the word “prurient” within the ordinance because it was initially proposed.

“It didn’t cover hate speech and I feel we have now to be really specific about that to the extent we may be specific,” Ross said. “I’d hate to see something misogynistic, racist, and I don’t know what we will protect against.”

Councilmember Anthony Blumberg, who stepped in because the presiding officer in Mayor Nancy Rotering’s absence Monday, voiced his confidence “in corporation counsel’s ability to craft appropriate language” to manage content for town’s murals.

Councilmembers move forward with sustainability plan for 2023-2027

The City Council also unanimously approved a two-part sustainability plan with a goal of reducing Highland Park’s greenhouse gas emissions as much as 45 percent by 2030 and becoming net zero by 2035, based on a presentation by Kelly Shelton from Quercus Consulting.

Councilmembers, including Jeff Hoobler and Tapia, were hesitant to vote on the ordinance on Monday, wanting more time to familiarize themselves with the plan before coming to a call.

City Manager Ghida Neukirch approached the approval of the plan in another way, encouraging councilmembers to view the plan as an evolving document that might be a guide for future efforts.

“I might suggest when you’re comfortable having a sustainability plan with different components, adopt the plan this evening,” Neukirch said. “As there are particular elements that we would like to discuss in greater detail, reminiscent of greenhouse gas, we bring that to a committee of the entire meeting and deal with that specific topic.”

Councilmember Kim Stone supported approving the plan, citing that town is already behind in its sustainability efforts.

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