It’s as if a HOA has taken over the town

A business in Rush City, MN had a mural painted on one wall of their building. I love these — a few places in downtown Morris have commissioned artwork for their buildings, too, and I think they help liven up the place. It’s a nice painting in Rush City, too.

And then the city slapped the business with a zoning violation and gave them ten days to paint over it. The rationale of Mayor Dan Dahlberg: anything that is not explicitly permitted is considered prohibited. That is absurd. It’s such an authoritarian interpretation of the law.

Mayor Dan is currently running for county commissioner. Smart move to plop out a stupid idea like that a few days before the election, Mayor Dan! The whole state is looking at you and wondering what kind of stupid rube gets elected to political position in that town.


  1. wzrd1 says

    I’d close my business and remove the entire offending wall, abandoning the property.
    While giving interviews on the hostility of the town to businesses owned by veterans…

  2. billseymour says

    IIRC, in T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, Merlin once turned Arthur into an ant to show him what such life was like.  In the land of the ants, “everything not forbidden is compulsory.”

    (I read that book when I was serving in the Air Force.  I remember that passage because I was once told, with all seriousness, that wearing the ribbon for my National Defence Service Medal on my blues was required because it was authorized.)

  3. Mark says

    Fun! Can’t wait until local businesses start to put up holiday decorations, especially religious ones!

  4. brightmoon says

    You should see some of the beautiful graffiti in Brooklyn. There used to be a about 10 ft long ( 3 meters) chameleon painted on the side of one building. I actually got off the bus just to take a photo of it. Bushwick in Brooklyn is famous for those art graffiti paintings . Look up Dasic Fernandez whose the only artist whose name I can currently remember .

  5. fusilier says

    Reads better in the original German: “Alle wass nicht pficht ist, verboten ist.”

    (I read it in an old Lester Del Ray short story, from the late 1940s or early 1950s; sorry I can’t recall the exact title.)


    JAMES 2:24

  6. says

    Offhand, I’m guessing some brittle right-wing fool made a hysterical stupid complaint about an anti-white, leftist, Antifa-thug graffiti, and the mayor had to look like he was “doing something about it,” and thus had to make up an official-sounding excuse to force someone to paint it over.

    The rule he’s citing kinda sounds like one of those (badly written) catch-all rules most likely meant to keep graffiti from getting out of hand without appearing inconsistent about what sort of graffiti was or was not acceptable.

  7. raven says

    … a few places in downtown Morris have commissioned artwork for their buildings, too, and I think they help liven up the place.

    Only a few?

    On the West coast, a lot of places have a lot of murals on their buildings these days.
    It’s not even a new thing any more.
    A few are controversial but most are just…murals.

    The rationale of Mayor Dan Dahlberg: anything that is not explicitly permitted is considered prohibited.

    Mayor fascist Dahlberg might not be on legal ground here.

    This could be considered a free speech issue.
    Or lack of due process. I doubt that there is any such law as, “what is not permitted is prohibited”. He is just making it up here.
    Or taking private property without compensation.

    I’d take the city to court here.

  8. Matthew Currie says

    I am all for decorative graffiti in cities. Several towns here in Vermont have this, and it brightens up the place greatly.

    However, I did long ago serve a long time on zoning boards and the like, and must add that there is at least a kernel of truth possible in this issue. The legal terms sound opposite to their generic meanings, but a zoning law is generally deemed “permissive,” meaning that it says “You may do so-and-so, and if it isn’t permitted here, it’s prohibited.” This is the opposite of a a law deemed “restrictive,” which says “you may not do so-and-so, and if this isn’t so-and-so you may.”

    So if there is a zoning law that says the town must approve the painting of murals, then the town is, unfortunately, probably in the right. Even if there is a rule that you can only paint your house one of 5 chosen colors, you must do so or ask for a special exception or a variance. But if this is the case, then all murals must be approved,

    And, again if this situation resembles any zoning issue I’ve ever dealt with in either Connecticut or Vermont, such approval must be explicit, specific, and open to dissent in each and every case, which would mean in this case that any non-compliant instance would require a hearing. And unless there is specific wording the law that defines a mural and enumerates allowances, this could be read to include everything anyone paints on any wall anywhere, including not only advertisements and artwork, but business names, exit signs, and the like.

    I’ve worked on the writing of zoning laws as well as the formal process of exception, and these things require a somewhat pettifogging particularity. If you have a sign ordinance, you have to say what size signs are permitted without a hearing, and if you want to forbid something within that size, you have to say what you’re forbidding. Everything not permitted is a special exception and requires a hearing, but permitted is permitted.

    It could get complicated, but I think if there is no explicit rule regarding the painting of murals, then the only recourse would be a complaint of unsuitability, eyesore, etc., and that would not fall into the category of an automatic take-down order, but require a hearing.

    On the more abstract subject, I wonder why anyone who is not a bigot or a racist or something the word for which polite people use asterisks would demand the removal of this particular mural. If I were in the position of the business in question, and the town prevails, I’d look into malicious compliance alternatives. Is there a law against, say, a huge flag? Decoration of an awning? Unless this is Vermont, for example, a business with a little clout could buy billboard space, and erect a billboard with the picture on it, and declare on it that the town fathers hate this mural, etc. If other businesses support this one, then all those that do should bombard the zoning authorities demanding the time and paperwork and labor of explicitly approving every single thing that even hints at similarity. I need to repaint a brick in my back alley. Here’s the paperwork, I need a hearing. I need your written permission to put a poster in my window. I have a lost dog notice. Please approve the wording. In writing, signed.

    I hope the town authorities in this case end up choking on their stupidity.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    In the Soviet Union, anything that was not explicitly permitted was forbidden.
    It makes sense for the MAGA pols to mimic the commies. They have already mimicked the agitprop principle of truth being subordinate to the needs of the Party.

  10. pilgham says

    Ironically, “anything that is not explicitly permitted is considered prohibited”, is the restriction usually applied to government actions, not the general public. Government is supposed to keep in its own lane and only use powers it is given. The public is given the opposite rule, free to do anything that isn’t illegal. The Mayor is confused. I have no idea if the zoning issue is legit though.

  11. says

    The Mayor may not be the problem here. Per his statement

    As the Mayor of Rush City, I’m going to ask our City Council to have an open conversation about how we can clarify and address shortcomings with the Code. At a personal level, I believe the mural is a well-done piece of artwork and deserves more positive attention.”

    And with a town of only ~3000 people, my guess is (small town politics being what they are) it’s a (or some) busybodies on the council or in the office stirring it up.

  12. Matthew Currie says

    WRT zoning, in the places I’ve been, and I think in general, local zoning is adopted democratically, but once in effect it is, in essence, delegating a certain police power to the town, and the town in turn to the state (which sets some standards). So the basic idea that a zoning ordinance can tell you what you may or may not do in certain places is likely legit. That said, it’s very likely the town in question has some kind of sign ordinance, and very likely that it does by necessity allow some kind of signage as well as public art. If there is, in fact, a law that regulates murals or public art, it must follow some code. The possibilities, I would expect, would run something like this:

    no regulation. Do what you want, public nuisance or offense a matter of suit after the fact. The “forbidden unless permitted” rule applies only to things the statute takes control of in the first place. You do not need zoning permission to mow your lawn or to put a jack-o-lantern on your doorstep just because there is no lawn mowing or pumpkin-displaying clause in the statutes. That would be really really stupid, obviously. Not to say the obviously stupid would deter some busybodies from invoking it….

    2: regulation with a default specification for acceptance. Thus for example, you would need no permit to put a shingle on your law office door, an exit or entrance sign, and whatnot. Some regulation of size or content etc. would be likely. Other signs forbidden or subject to….

    3: regulation with a default permit granted. In this case, all signs would require a permit, but the permit would likely be a “shall issue” kind of permit within a certain range, granted by default unless there’s a reason not to. If it’s not granted, or if a granting is contested, there could be an appeal, otherwise the judgment stands. The statute would make some distinction between this type of case and the next.

    4: regulation in which for certain things there is always a hearing. Usually reserved for signs above a certain size or type. A big gas station tower, a theater marquee, and that sort of thing. This kind of expected special exception would require a public hearing, even if it’s usually granted. A reasonable case would get a grant. A mural might fall under this heading, but might not, depending in part on how the ordinances address and define signs and public art.

    5: No allowance in statute. To get around that would require a variance, always a hearing. One would have to prove the law is unreasonable or confiscatory as applied.

    This is more or less how it works in Vermont. IN Connecticut, 3 through 5 were more or less conflated into a variance, with a slightly flexible difference between what was called a “yard variance,” which would be in the 3 to 4 range, and a “use variance,” which would almost never be granted because it would inherently challenge the ordinance itself.

    Whatever the details here, I’m betting that not everything that could be technically called a mural in town has been vetted by the rule suddenly pulled out of some official’s circular receptacle, especially if any advertising is allowed. In most reasonable jurisdictions, when something not according to code occurs, and it’s not a purposeful violation (for example doing something after being told you can’t), then one would be given a reasonable time to come into compliance. So, for example, if the mural required a permit and a permit was not sought, it would be bad policy to order it down and good policy to tell the owner he has a certain time in which to pursue a permit in whatever way is customary.

  13. Rich Woods says

    anything that is not explicitly permitted is considered prohibited.

    Thank you for that, Emperor Napoleon. Your exile is in the post.

  14. Tethys says

    This article makes it sound as if the Mayor is fascist, but it was the clerk who quoted that ‘the city code outlines the guidelines for what is permitted, and anything else is not allowed without a variance.’

    That’s fairly standard city code.

    The local ordinance clearly states that a variance must be granted before a mural is put on the wall. The salon owner neglected to do that, despite being aware that the mural required a variance.

    Thus they got the ten day notice to comply. A meeting with the council is the usual option at this point.

  15. StevoR says

    I wonder if they could appeal and have the planning permission backdated?

    Or copy the artwork and replicate it maybe a whole large number of times? Or / and turn it into a sculpture too?

  16. Matthew Currie says

    Of course if, as the later report suggests (including a time frame rather than a takedown), it’s a matter of a missed permit, the whole thing could make a noise like a hoop and roll away, as the Zoning Board of Appeals, or whoever handles variances, could simply look at the application and approve it, with the usual stern “next time get a permit first”. There certainly can be no doubt about what the work will look like when it’s done.

    Various possibilities would exist if it goes wrong to stick it to the bigots, but no need to start flights of malicious imagination if it’s just a bureaucratic bungle.