New Hampshire donut shop painting sparks lawsuit over free speech

Conway, New Hampshire –

Sean Young, the bakery owner, said last spring that a high school art student painted a large blank wall in his doorway a mountain of chocolate and strawberry donuts, blueberry muffins, cinnamon rolls and chocolate donuts with the sun shining on them. I was thrilled to have covered it with a picture of. other pastries.

The display received rave reviews, and Young was looking forward to working with the school to further the mural project at a roadside bakery in Conway, New Hampshire.

The town’s zoning board then got involved and decided that the pastry painting was advertising, not art, and could not be left alone because of its size. Faced with the possibility of , Young accused the town of violating his free speech rights.

The painting can stay where it is if it depicts an actual mountain rather than a pastry reminiscent of a mountain, or if the building isn’t a bakery.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Young said, “I used to say that it would be art elsewhere. ‘Here it’s not art.’

“Towns shouldn’t have the right to police art,” he said.

The controversy has left residents of the town of 10,000 grappling with major issues of creativity and freedom as they try to maintain a rural character. Like other White Mountain communities that draw skiers, nature lovers and shoppers, Conway is under development pressure and fears that concessions to commerce will change what they hold dear. Filled with signs controversy.

Many, including members of the zoning committee, praised the students’ colorful creations, but said the rules had to be followed, even if they were old and outdated. About 90 square feet (8.6 square meter) mural is four times the size allowed by the signage code.

In keeping with the long-standing democratic tradition of New England town meetings, residents last week considered how to define signs before finally voting down the change. A local newspaper said the proposed language was not clear. Ultimately, a judge may have to settle what remains an open debate in town.

“Those guys were made with heart,” said retiree Steve Downing. He thinks the painting should be preserved.

“Everybody has to follow the ordinance,” said Charlie Burch, a former U.S. Forest Service official. “And it was done by the students, it was well done and I give them a lot of credit…if you have the ordinance ‘One for all’ That’s where we are. You can’t. Really make any exceptions or everyone else will want them. ”

Art teacher Olivia Benisch, who worked with three students on the project, apologized to the board in September for not conducting “due diligence” to ensure the mural was compliant. Did. She did not respond to interview requests. But she told board members she needed a way to give students the opportunity to create positive public art works “without upsetting the law and authority,” according to the town minutes.

A lawsuit filed by Young in January alleges that the town is unconstitutionally discriminating against him.He asked a judge to stop the town from enforcing its signage code.

And now other companies are embroiled in controversy.

Long before Pastry’s paintings were installed, the town had allowed other murals to be installed in the local shopping center, but in December, the town announced that three of those works would actually be larger than their size. I discovered that it was a sign that violated the restrictions. They go before the zoning board on Wednesday.

Young, represented by the Virginia-based Institute of Justice, sought $1 in damages. Meanwhile, as a fundraiser for his high school art club, he wore his T-shirt with “This is Art” on the front and “This is a Sign” on the back of the roadside “Leavitt’s Country Bakery” sign. for sale.

“As Conway officials confirmed, the town does not consider a painting to be a ‘signature’ if it does not convey what town officials perceive to be a commercial message.” is aware that any mural depicting anything related to business is a “sign”. This is discrimination by the government based on the content of the speech,” he said.

According to the complaint, the definition of town signage is “incredibly broad” and the code makes no mention of murals. , or posts to promote, announce or identify the purposes of any person or entity, or to communicate information of any kind to the public, whether commercial or non-commercial. ”

Board member Luigi Bartolomeo believes pastry painting is art, not advertising. He said he agreed with a local lawyer who called.

Bartolomeo, who recently retired, said: However, Board Chairman John Corbus said the board must cooperate with voter-approved ordinances and there is a process to change them.

“If they had a seasonal mural on the wall, a covered bridge, sunflowers, etc., and it didn’t represent your business, it could be a respectable piece of art. It’s more sexual and it’s not interpreted as a sign,” Corvus said at a meeting in August.

He told Young, “I understand art. If you look, you see mountains, but the general public sees donuts in front of bakeries.”

“I think most people said it was art,” Young replied.

The board dismissed Young’s appeal and concluded that the lack of display would not harm the bakery.

“This distinction between murals and signage shouldn’t be a problem,” Institute attorney Betsy Sands said in a news release. There is nothing that distinguishes between expressions.”

The town and Young agreed in February to suspend court proceedings pending a vote on a revised definition that would allow the painting to survive, with the possibility of fines and charges. He lost in last week’s election by voting against by 805 to 750 votes, according to . The judge now wants to hear both sides by May 10th.

“We are ready to keep moving forward,” said Young.

Town manager John Eastman declined the interview and questioned Town attorney Jason Dennis.

The Conway Daily Sun provided that analysis in an editorial last week. Country Bakery and Settlers Green. Suggests towns how to hold back enforcement until a clearer definition is created to address “art.”

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