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Mural decision heads back to the historical drawing board

May 29, 2003|BY CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Mural, mural on the wall, was this the fairest decision of all?

The question of whether a large mural can be painted on the side of a downtown historic building seemed to be answered three weeks ago. Martinsburg City Council members said they could neither approve nor deny the project, since nobody filed a formal appeal to the 4-3 Historic Preservation Review Commission's vote in favor of the mural.

So, the mural seemed to be a go.

Since then, though, the city's attorney has changed his tune. According to Mike Covell, the city's planner/engineer, after Oakley Seibert reviewed the ordinance that defines the structure of the commission, he realized that a majority of the commission's members - not a majority of those who attend a meeting - must vote in favor of a project.

Because the commission is comprised of nine members, five would have needed to vote for the project, said Covell, who also provides support to the Historic Preservation Review Commission.

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The project will be reconsidered at the historic review commission's next meeting, which is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 232 N. Queen St.

The mural, which will depict a local marching band that performed in Martinsburg from 1896 until the 1930s, is scheduled to be painted on the side of a brick building at 124 S. Queen St.

Opponents of the mural say it will detract from the building's historical character. Proponents call it a gift to the city that will draw people downtown.

Don Wood, a historian who is on the Historic Preservation Review Commission, has been outspoken in his opposition to the mural.

"I think it's trashy," Wood has said. "It's trashing one of our beautiful landmarks."

Matthew Grove, an architect who was on the design committee for the mural, speaks favorably of it.

"We really see this as a rich project, one that really does contribute to the downtown," Grove has said.

No other projects should be affected by the recently realized requirement that a majority of the historic commission's members vote for a project, Covell said.

Most votes are either unanimous or have just one or two minority votes, Covell said. The close vote on the mural, which was taken last summer, is an anomaly, he said.

The commission was created at the same time as the city's historic district, which was sometime in the 1970s, Covell said.

A $15,000 arts grant will be used to pay for the mural, which will be done by Hagerstown artist Bettina Messersmith.

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