Medina will decide on public art in historic district after hearing from public

Photos by Tom Rivers: The Canalligator mural was finished last month by artist Tim Meyers on a building in an alley between Main Street and Proctor Place. The Form Foundation didn’t pursue a certificate of appropriateness for the project until after it was complete.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 August 2020 at 10:11 am

Planning Board acknowledges current regs are ‘vague’ for public art in historic downtown

MEDINA – The Medina Village Board said the current village code for public art is “vague” and makes it difficult to determine whether public art should or shouldn’t be allowed in a historic district.

The board is facing the issue after the Form Foundation, led by local resident Tim Hungerford and his wife Teresa Misiti, applied for certificates of appropriateness for three murals in the historic district. They are also planning for another mural by Julian Montague outside the historic district. That project at the corner of Pearl Street and West Avenue doesn’t need Planning Board approval and is expected to start in about a month. Montague has a following of about 70,000 people on Instagram.

Tim Hungerford presents three murals to the Village Planning Board on Tuesday evening. Hungerford said modern art could turn blighted sections of Medina into assets for the community.

One of the murals in the historic district is already done. Artist Tim Meyers last month completed the “Canalligator” that stretches more than 50 feet. It is mostly on the back of the Celebrity Day Spa, owned by Edee and Bernie Hoffmeister, and also stretches onto property owned by Tom Fenton.

Hungerford and Misiti live almost next door to the mural. They didn’t believe the alley and the cinder-block building were in the historic district and that the mural would require Planning Board approval.

“I apologize for not following the procedures the way we should have,” he told the board.

He said the mural has been popular in the community and among art enthusiasts in Western New York. Many stop by to get photos of themselves with the mural that they post on their social media.

Hungerford and Misiti also put a petition on, urging the Planning Board to support the projects. That petition has more than 1,100 supporters, and about 75 percent are from Medina and other communities nearby.

John Dieter, acting chairman of the Planning Board for Tuesday’s meeting, said the current village zoning doesn’t clearly address how to handle modern art. The Planning Board said Medina needs to update its zoning to address the issue. That could include designating areas for modern art, perhaps the section near the Canalligator on Proctor Place. The zoning could specify no historic building materials be painted on, such as the original Medina sandstone or brick.

“The zoning regulations really don’t have enough meat in it for approval or denial,” Dieter said.

The Form Foundation is proposing this mural behind 428-436 Main Street on the opposite wall of the Canalligator. Chris Piontkowski has proposed this design using local, native species of pollinator flowers.

Here is how the wall looks right now.

The board wants to hear from the community about public art in the historic district. The board will be accepting comments in writing by Aug. 17. There will be a public hearing and special meeting of the Planning Board on Aug. 18 to discuss the issue.

Planning Board member Mary Lewis, owner of a downtown floral business, said she wants the community to have a chance to voice any concerns about the public art. She doesn’t want to rely only on the online petition or “Facebook comments.”

Her floral business used to have its backdoor in the alley with the Canalligator and where some of the murals are proposed. She said added traffic in the alley from visitors could make it difficult for those businesses.

Part of the projects could be promoting where to park and encouraging people to walk to the sites.

John Dieter of the Planning Board said the current regulations don’t address modern art in a historic district.

Dieter said the Planning Board needs to consider what is acceptable in the district based on the zoning and if the project has an impact to other businesses. He said the board doesn’t feel qualified to judge the quality of the art.

That’s why he is in favor of Medina having a Public Arts Commission to review the projects. It would function in a similar way as the Medina Tree Board, where people with that expertise helped plan the village’s urban forest.

For now, the pressing issue is whether the public art can be allowed in the district.

Larissa DeGraw, one of the Planning Board members, said she is in favor of the projects in the alley.

“This is an acceptable place where it doesn’t impede on the architectural features,” she said.

Now of the murals are proposed on a front façade.

“This is out of the way in a blighted place,” she said. “These aren’t historic features that we’re tasked with protecting.”

She thinks the murals are ideally located to get people out exploring another part of Medina near Main Street.

“It’s like a treasure hunt,” she said.

Chuck Tingley has proposed this mural – “Fake It Til You Make It” – on the back of 410 Main Street. The mural would go from the floor to the top of the cinder block wall. The mural sends a message of the importance of self-confidence in relation to the pursuit of one’s dreams.

Dieter agreed the concept of public art is good for Medina and will bring a new energy and group of people to the community. However, the board will be setting a standard with how it reviews the three murals proposed in the district.

“We’re not denying there is work to be done,” he said.

The Planning Board voted to ask the Village Board to “vigorously pursue changes to the local law, removing the obligation of the Planning Board to review and render decisions on matters of public art.”

The Planning Board favors the creation of a Public Arts Commission with members having credentials to review public art projects.

Hungerford said the three projects are all paid for and the artists could get started right away. He said the three new murals and the Canalligator would likely stay up for two years before being replaced with new ones.

He urged the board to approve the projects and embrace modern art. He cited a village slogan on signs, “Roots in the Past, Eyes on the Future.” He believes the art doesn’t compromise the historic district at all, and will be a big benefit to the community.

“The question is do we want to clean up banality?” he said. “The point is to brighten up the town in an interesting way that is modern.”

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