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Mount Pleasant controversy over Moe's mural nears conclusion

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 final decision appears close on the fate of a rule-breaking restaurant mural that prompted town zoning changes and a debate about public art.

The large mural at a Moe's southwest grill was ruled a violation of the town's sign ordinance in 2016, and an appeal was narrowly rejected by the town's Board of Zoning Appeals in December, prompting an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas in March.

Now, an undisclosed settlement agreement has been proposed, and Town Council is expected to hear the details in a closed-door meeting with its legal team Tuesday night. The big unanswered question is the fate of the mural.

The mural, painted on the side of the restaurant on Houston Northcutt Boulevard by internationally recognized Portuguese artist Sergio Odeith, includes no words but large head-and-shoulders portraits of Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon and Al Capone. It was declared a violation of the town's sign regulations due to its size, and the fact that town rules at the time counted anything meant to attract attention as a sign. 

More recently, the mural at Moe's became one of the "offbeat tourist attractions" listed by the online guide

Franchise owner Cary Chastain could not be reached for comment by phone or email. In December at the Board of Zoning Appeals hearing, he expressed an aversion to legal proceedings.

"We sell burritos. We’re not litigators," Chastain said.

But once the board voted down his appeal, Chastain's only remaining way to challenge the sign violation was to file an appeal in Charleston County's Court of Common Pleas.

The changes to the town's sign regulations don't undo the earlier ruling on the Moe's mural. The proposed settlement agreement came after Chastain's company requested mediation, while filing the court appeal.

"There is a settlement proposal that came out of mediation that will be considered by (Town) Council during executive session on June 13," said Julia Copeland, a partner in the law firm that handles town business, in an email.

The town's sign regulations in 2016 also tripped up another new restaurant that was preparing to open on Coleman Boulevard. Smoke restaurant had a local artist paint a mural on the side of its building, only to later learn that the mural exhausted the square footage the restaurant was allowed to use for signs, temporarily preventing Smoke from putting up a sign for the restaurant.

In April, council voted to change the sign rules, to treat non-commercial signs — including murals — differently. Smoke restaurant was subsequently allowed to put up a regular business sign in addition to its mural of a marsh scene.

"It couldn't have worked out better," said Smoke restaurant partner Roland Feldman. He said it seems unfair that Moe's mural is still in limbo because of regulations that have since been changed.

"That’s ridiculous. That’s like keeping people in jail after pot is legalized," he said. "I hope they get to keep it. It’s a beautiful mural."

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

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