City says downtown murals may have to be removed


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn - If you take a look at downtown Johnson City you will see brightly colored murals on the walls of many downtown businesses, but those paintings have caused some debate between city officials and business owners.

Dick Nelson, owner of Nelson Fine Art Gallery on Main Street in downtown Johnson City, said the Johnson City historic zoning commission told him the paintings violate the sign ordinance, and must be removed.

"They said I would have to remove it, and I said how am I going to do that?," said Nelson.

The problem is the mural is too big-- more than 200 square feet, which exceeds the size allowed by the code.

The brightly colored letters were painted three years ago by a local artist, Chris Witkoswki. Nelson considers it a piece of art, rather than a sign.

"Not a week goes by that someone comes and takes a picture in front of it," says Nelson. "It has really become an iconic spot."

Just a few blocks down the street, another business Downtown Farming, was also informed that the painting on the side of their building violated also the ordinance.

"They gave us a citation that we violated a sign ordinance, and that it was too big to be a sign, which we never intended it to be a sign," says Downtown Farming owner, Yancy Grimmett. "It was actually just to cover up some of the concrete that already had graffiti on it."

Grimmett says they hired Witkoswki to add some color to the corner, and is concerned that removing the mural may damage the building.

"The brick on the building is over 100 years old, and to remove it would likely damage it," said Grimmett.

Both Grimmett and Nelson plan on having conversations with city leaders in order to come up with a solution to the problem.

"Hopefully we will come up with a solution that keeps the artwork, and hopefully it makes it possible to have other artwork on the walls in downtown," said Nelson.

Grimmett tells News Five the community has started a petition to keep the murals. He says that it already has 1000 signatures.      

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