A colorful mural painted on a wooden fence at the corner of Cartecay Drive and Sylvan Circle in the Brookhaven Fields neighborhood is creating smiles, but also raising eyebrows.
After some residents complained, the city may consider regulating mural art. For now, Mayor John Ernst says there are no mural rules and it’s a potential “massive First Amendment issue.”
The mural, not quite finished, shows a city skyline painted across much of the 52-foot-long fence against a pale blue background. Orange and pink clouds float to the top of the fence, which stands 10 feet high, and when completed the mural will include people walking dogs in the foreground.
It’s the first known artistic mural on a residential property in the city, and homeowner Marty Scheufele, who commissioned the work, said he’s gotten only positive feedback.
“I’ve had lots of people say they like it and that it’s an awesome idea,” he said. “I’ve not had anyone tell me they don’t like it.”
At Mayor John Ernst’s July 18 town hall, however, one of Scheufele’s neighbors said she was concerned the new mural could be a traffic hazard as people drive by and slow down to look at it. She also said she was concerned about how it could affect property values.
“People are stopping … and mouths are dropping,” she said. She wanted to know if the mural violated the city’s sign ordinance.
Ernst said the city attorney has looked into the matter and the mural is not considered a sign that can be regulated by the city. The property owner’s constitutional rights entitle him to paint art on his fence, he said.
“We’ve not had an art regulation, so it becomes a massive First Amendment issue,” Ernst said at the town hall. “This is a very new issue, so I’m sure we will be talking about it more.”
City Councilmember Bates Mattison, whose district includes Brookhaven Fields, said he’s heard from some residents unhappy with the new mural. He said he has asked the City Council to bring the issue up for a policy discussion to consider parameters on what is acceptable.
“I want to make sure we have balance as we move forward,” he said.
Scheuefele said the mural idea was not his. A year ago, a neighbor surveyed homeowners on Cartecay Drive about the city putting a sidewalk on their road. Scheufele said he opposed the sidewalk because doing so would eat up the little landscaping he had next to the narrow road.
But the city funded the sidewalk project as part of its program to create connectivity throughout the city.
“I wasn’t too happy. They tore out my shrubs and now you could really see how ugly my fence is,” he said. A $10,000 quote to build a new fence quickly put that idea out of his mind, he said.
He said he saw the neighbor who surveyed the neighbors and he told him in a sarcastic tone, “Why don’t you put a mural on it?”
“That caught my attention,” Scheufele said. “And I started thinking about it.”
He began noticing murals in Chamblee and in Midtown, he said, and began to like the idea of his own mural more and more.
He posted on the Nextdoor social media website in May seeking mural artists, he said. About two weeks ago, artist Nicole Rateau agreed to do the work with Scheufele only paying for the paint.
The mural could be completed by July 21, barring any rain, he said.
As for that sidewalk he didn’t want a year ago? Scheufele said “tons of people walk on it every day,” walking their dogs or pushing their children in strollers. The dog walkers inspired him to incorporate dog walkers into the mural.
“There’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t like it,” he said, “but now when people drive by or walk by, they get to look at a mural and not an ugly fence.
“And when I’m outside or when I drive home and see the mural, it brings a smile to my face, too,” he said.