The mural at Moe's in Mount Pleasant (copy)

The Moe's franchise on Houston Northcutt Boulevard in Mount Pleasant sports a mural that was cited by the town in 2016 as a violation of business sign regulations. A settlement approved June 28 allows the mural to stay. File/Leroy Burnell/Staff

MOUNT PLEASANT — A large outdoor mural at a Moe's restaurant, which launched a debate over public art after it was declared a violation of town zoning rules, will be allowed to stay.

A settlement was approved in Charleston County court Wednesday, resolving the zoning rule dispute that started in November. No money will change hands, and the mural won't have to be painted over.

It began because the town's zoning rules made no distinction between business signs and art. 

"Anything that attracts the attention of anybody is a sign," Mount Pleasant Zoning Administrator Kent Prause said at a hearing in December, after Moe's franchise owner Cary Chastain appealed the zoning violation Prause issued.

The restaurant on Houston Northcutt Boulevard narrowly lost the appeal to the town's Board of Zoning Appeals, on a 4-3 vote.

At that hearing, Board of Zoning Appeals Chairman Mason Smith warned that if the Moe's mural were allowed to stay then "anybody who wanted to could go on the side of a building and paint anything they want, of any size they want. Is that what we want for our town?"

The BOZA decision, upholding Prause's ruling on the mural, left no option for the town or the restaurant but to resolve the dispute in the Court of Common Pleas.

"I never really had a problem with the mural," Mayor Linda Page said Wednesday.

While the Moe's case remained unsettled, Town Council in April changed the zoning rules to allow some murals. The Moe's mural violated the old zoning rules, but would not violate the new ones.

Trenholm Walker, a lawyer representing Chastain's company, said the mural does not promote the restaurant.

"They're just heads," Walker said. "They're not eating burritos."

Recently, the mural at Moe's became one of the "offbeat tourist attractions" listed by the online guide RoadsideAmerica.com. The mural was painted by internationally-known Portuguese artist Sergio Odeith.

In December, Prause argued the famous three figures portrayed in the mural — John Lennon, Al Capone and Marilyn Monroe — were connected to the restaurant brand, because Moe's is an acronym for "musicians, outlaws and entertainers." Chastain said he had the mural painted because he thought the side of the restaurant's building was unattractive, and it wasn't tied to a marketing effort.

Following the settlement approved Wednesday, Page said: "I think the bottom line was, as long as Lennon isn’t holding a burrito, it’s alright."

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Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com

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