ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ - "The phone is ringing like crazy," said Code Enforcement Officer Richard Rast after an article appeared in the AHHerald regarding murals the town wants taken down.
Rast issued a notice of violation to Teresa D’Aguanno for murals that were painted on the boarded up 1st floor windows of her building which faces Edwards Way alley between Railroad Avenue and 1st Avenue in the borough.
Atlantic Highlands Arts Council board member Caroline Northrop and local business owner, Meredith Peltz have collaborated on several arts projects in the community and were interested in bringing more outdoor art to the area. Peltz learned the D'Aguanno was interest in decorating the boarded windows in the alley. The team worked to bring together artists to do the project.
“Our friend Anthony WeirdEyeOne has been painting murals in towns all over New Jersey for years,” says Peltz—“We knew he would create something incredible and unique, as well as bringing in other amazing artists to participate.”
"WeirdEyeOne and three other artists—ChrisRWK, Jos-L, and ZeroPro—worked for hours painting their images, attracting loads of attention from passers-by as well as inquiries from other business owners to do more outdoor pieces," wrote Caroline Northrop in a recent article about the murals.
The violation was for non-approved signage. "It covers, graffiti, artwork. You need approval. You can't just change the outward structure of the building. There are limits on the number of colors (to 4) The signage has to have something to do with that particular building (or business)." said Rast, about the sign ordinance in town.
Is the artwork considered signage? "If it is on the side of the building, you are displaying it", said Rast.
Atlantic Highlands Municipal ordinance 150-31B says this about signs:
Prohibited uses shall include but not be limited to the following:
(1) All billboards, signboards, advertising signs and devices not expressly related to the business being conducted on the premises or otherwise specifically permitted by this chapter.
What is a sign? Does it have words on it? Is it just a symbol? Can it be anything?
"It could be anything," said Rast. "That is where it covers graffitti more than anything. But if we don't have that, we have nothing."
PHOTO: Teresa D’Aguanno stands next to her building as an artist works on a mural.
Asked who had complained about the artwork, Rast said "I don't know where (the complaint) came from." When pressed he said, "I don't give that out. It would lead to a neighborhood dispute. It just perpetuates the issue."
Mr. Rast spoke with Mrs. D’Aguanno by phone on Friday and told her that she would be getting a violation notice. She has 10 days to respond.
Efforts to reach Mrs. D’Aguanno for comment were unsuccessful.
"(The ordinance) is open to interpretation, but it is there for a reason. The avenue now is to go to the Planning Board and make application there and see if they will hear them and deal with it," according to the code enforcement officer.
The owner can appeal the decision of the Code Enforcement Officer to the Planning Board.
The Mayor and Council cannot operate on their own to change the ordinance, said Borough Administrator Adam Hubeny at last night's Mayor and Council meeting. Because signage is addressed in the town's development regulations, any proposed change to the ordinance must first go to the Unified Planning Board for their opinion.
The Planning Board will meet tonight at 7:30 PM at Borough Hall, 100 First Avenue.