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New Port Richey loves murals, but lets owners decide when they come down

NEW PORT RICHEY – A local artist’s approval to paint a mural on a downtown New Port Richey business set off a City Council discussion about legalities that had more to do with an outcry about another piece of wall art recently painted over.

In deciding on the new mural Tuesday night, Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey first touched on the painting over of a mural that has adorned a privately owned wall at 6307 Grand Blvd. since the mid-2000s. It long held the Karl Reef Bar and Grill, and is now a new eatery and bar called Bourbon on Main.

The mural was one of six listed by the New Port Richey Main Street organization as an attraction, with its vivid depictions of a busy New Port Richey street in the 1920s. Starkey said he has received “scrutiny” from people upset over losing the mural who misunderstood that it was a decision the Council controlled. The owners of Bourbon on Main made the call, Starkey said.

The newly requested downtown mural would be on the side of Fitzgerald’s Irish Tavern at 5811 Nebraska Ave. Local artist Jenny Pearl, along with endorsements from the New Port Richey Cultural Affairs Committee and New Port Richey Main Street, obtained approval to paint the mural, which will be a depiction of Tampa and Gulf Coast Railroad activity, according to Pearl’s application.

Murals are a big part of the visual landscape downtown. City Attorney Tim Driscoll said they are governed by the city’s land development code.

Oversight is limited, however, due to property and free speech rights, he said. The city ordinance’s only oversight on content is that “murals shall depict images, including but not limited to those that relate to either the history or culture of the City of New Port Richey or of its sister City or of West Pasco County or to the natural environment of any of them. Text, including the artist’s signature, is limited to two percent of the total mural area,” the ordinance reads. The ordinance also mandates maintenance requirements.

Outside those parameters, if the City Council approves a mural, the property owner decides what it will look like, where it will g, and how long it stays there. Driscoll didn’t advise adding parameters about how long an owner has to keep a mural.

“A private property owner has to have the ability to use that property,” he said.

Mayor Rob Marlowe said adding "in perpetuity” language to the ordinance would discourage business owners from having a mural.

“As much as I hated to see the one on Bourbon on Main painted over, which I thought was a bad decision, it was ultimately the decision of the property owner,” he said.