The Leesburg Town Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the creation of a pilot program to develop guidelines for allowing murals on private businesses outside the historic district.
The program will include the formation of a taskforce to be comprised of Councilman Ara Bagdasarian and one member each from Leesburg’s Commission on Public Art, Economic Development Commission and the Board of Architectural Review.
The group will develop guidelines and make recommendations to the council about the potential impacts, costs and benefits of such a program.
Compared to some neighboring localities, like Purcellville and Frederick, Maryland, Leesburg’s mural policy is relatively narrow, limiting such works to public buildings. But after the popularity of murals in public spaces like the town parking garage, the council considered opening up the requirements this year.
Many on the council agreed that more murals could bring creativity, tourism and business. Vice Mayor Fernando “Marty” Martinez brought up the vibrant mural culture in places like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and towns in the Southwest.
“If we could apply some of their history…to ours, I can’t see us not having a win-win situation,” he said.
The logistics of the program, however, were not so clear-cut. Councilwoman Suzanne Fox expressed concern about the potential double standard of allowing murals in the H-1 historic district when architecture and design standards in the area are already strict. Others expressed concern about First Amendment rights, maintenance and overwhelming the Commission on Public Art with mural reviews.
In the resolution passed Tuesday night, council members addressed a few of the concerns that had been raised. Private residences cannot put up murals, and building owners will be responsible for the creation, expense and upkeep of the mural. Murals must also be removed after six months.
For Henry Fonvielle, president of Rappaport, the company that manages Villages at Leesburg, murals have long been part of his plan to create a public art program around the retail center. While Villages at Leesburg regularly schedules events with sculptors and musicians, murals would add another level of public interest.
“It adds so much texture and interest to the property,” Fonvielle said. “[Villages at Leesburg] has a lot of walls, a lot of blank space. I think it would be a wonderful add-on to the arts for the town of Leesburg.”
Fonvielle said that once Leesburg allows murals on private businesses, he would gladly work with the public art commission to select local artists and arrange rotating or more permanent mural exhibitions for the development’s walls and parking garages.
Mayor Kelly Burk agreed that done right, murals could make a positive impact on Leesburg.
“I think that the murals have been a great addition to the town so far, and I do think they’re an economic driver. I think people do come to see them and stay for lunch,” Mayor Kelly Burk said. “I just think we have to be really careful. We don’t want to end up having them everywhere in places that we don’t want them.”
The subcommittee will meet for at least six months to finalize the guidelines, and will report back to the council on their progress after four months.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of Henry Fonvielle. The story has been updated with the corrected spelling.