- PHOTO BY JAMES DECHERT
Two weeks ago, we heard thatcity code enforcement paid a visit to Se7en Bites, an eatery in the Milk District, to take a look at a mural owner Trina Gregory-Propst had painted on the side of the building earlier this spring. The city wasn’t really there to admire the mural, so much as to tell her that some unnamed business owner had filed a complaint about it and that she’d have to remove it. Why? Because the painting, located on the north side of the building and featuring an adorably retro woman with a pie in hand and the text “Come on in & let us fill your pie hole” was considered a sign for Se7en Bites (though it doesn’t include the business name), and therefore, it violated code. Further, she was told, the building she’s in isn’t zoned for retail or restaurant use – it’s only zoned for office space, Gregory-Propst was told, even though the city gave her a permit to operate her bakery/restaurant on the premises (and the space was being used as a restaurant before she even set up shop there in 2013). She was told that she’d have to keep signage down to the maximum allowed for offices: 9 square feet. To make matters worse, her actual sign – the 21-square-foot one in the window that does have the business name on it – is also in violation, and she’d need to take it down or apply for a variance from the city (to the tune of $500).
Before we even had a chance to stop in to talk to Gregory-Propst about the situation, the city had a change of heart – well, about the mural, at least. She told us that City Hall has since told her that her mural would be fine, and she wouldn’t have to alter it or paint it over after all. City spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser confirms that the city will not require Se7en Bites to paint over the pie lady, as the city is mulling some things over. “The city is in the process of evaluating our code as it relates to artistic murals,” she says.
However, her actual sign with her business name on it? That one’s still in violation. And so, code enforcement has determined, is the sign on the business that’s located in the same building: Kyle’s Bike Shop, which has been at that location for eight years. The businesses will have to obtain a $500 variance to keep their signage in place. Lafser says the sign problem is “unrelated to the mural” – though the mural is what drew the city’s attention to the signs in the first place.
Which leads to an even bigger issue: Why does the city make it so hard for small businesses to navigate permitting, signage and other issues, when it should be doing all it can to support them?
“There is definitely a need for a more user-friendly City Hall,” says Scottie Campbell, director of the Ivanhoe Village Main Street. “These are small business owners, not city planners, and the concept of zoning is not an easy thing to wrap your mind around, nor is permitting. A sign is a sign, right? Not really. It is subject to certain permitting requirements and the need for that is puzzling to your average person.”
Gregory-Propst agrees. “At this point, it’s almost comical,” she says. “I just want to make some damn pie.”