For all of the regulations that are placed on the historic district in Annapolis, what you can paint on the exterior walls of your property isn't one of them.
The recent approval by the Historic Preservation Commission of a mural to be painted on the southwest side of the Chez Amis Bed and Breakfast on 85 East St. has raised concerns for area residents about a lack of regulation.
"I am very sympathetic to the concerns raised by the public, but I really don’t know the basis on which we would deny this application based on the guidelines," commission member Bronte Jones said.
The mural will create the illusion that there is a window box, bicycle and wisteria along a blank stucco wall of the bed and breakfast. Neighbor Jerry Anderson said it's not that he finds the mural objectionable or in poor taste, it's that he worries about what other people might decide to paint on their homes.
"The commission is going to be very hard pressed to deny anyone else that comes in and asks for a similar request," Anders said. "Is the commission going to put itself in the position of deciding of what is good art and bad art and what is good speech and bad speech?"
Another neighbor Mary Koenigshoff compared approving the mural to opening Pandora's box. She worried that people would start painting all kinds of strange or potentially offensive things on their homes, and the commission would be unable to stop it.
Koenigshoff said that murals could deter visitors to the historic district because they would detract from the authentic character of an 18th century neighborhood.
"This is not Charleston; this is not St. Augustine; this is Annapolis. Where else are you going to find an active 18th century neighborhood where people live and work?" Koenigshoff said. "People come here to see something they can’t see someplace else, which is an 18th century neighborhood."
Commission member Kim Finch said she's mindful of the free speech issues that could arise, but she asked residents to keep in mind that paint is easily reversible. If the commission developed rules at a later date that would require this mural or any other mural to be removed, it would not be a long, complicated process.
Terry Averill, a former commission member and architectural historian, supported the mural: "We have lots of buildings that are ketchup red, fuchsia pink or lime green, and those may not be my first choices but it’s only paint."
Chez Amis' owner Elly Tierney said she felt it was important to get the commission's blessing although applying paint to your house or business does not require commission approval.
"I wanted consensus of the neighborhood," Tierney said. "I wanted to follow the Democratic process here as best as possible."
Tierney's good-faith efforts could ultimately result in the creation of new regulations for the historic district.
Commission chair Sharon Kennedy said when the application first came in, the city struggled with how to evaluate it because unlike signs—which are regulated for size, color and overall design—"we don’t have guidelines regarding art."
"I do think we need to be thoughtful about whether we need guidelines," Kennedy said.