Art or advertising? Michaud Flooring defends mural

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Columbia - posted Tue., Jan. 22, 2013
A lot of the controversy regarding the mural at Michaud Flooring centers on the distinction between advertising signage and artwork. Photos by Melanie Savage.
A lot of the controversy regarding the mural at Michaud Flooring centers on the distinction between advertising signage and artwork. Photos by Melanie Savage.

The mural that wraps around two sides of Michaud Flooring on Route 66 in Columbia is undeniably eye-catching. Measuring 13 feet high and encompassing a total of 970 square feet, the mural depicts Mitchell Hanson, the son of owner Lynne Michaud-Cray, working with a roll of red and white sheet vinyl. “Last spring we were approached by an art student from Eastern [Connecticut State University] to do a mural on the building,” said Michaud-Cray. “I wasn’t aware that I needed to get a permit for it.”

Craig Dziekan, the student in question, was attracted by the freshly-painted yellow building, which he saw as the perfect canvas for his art. Michaud-Cray, discouraged at the time about the slow economy, said that Dziekan was “like a breath of fresh air.”

“He was just so full of enthusiasm, so positive,” she said. And the mural, by drawing attention to the building, has helped to revitalize the family business founded by Lynne’s parents, Al and Norma Michaud. “We’ve had so many people stop in to say that they love it,” said Michaud-Cray. “We have people come in from out of town to see it. I’ve even had people tell me that they’ve altered the way that they drive to work in the morning so they can drive by the building.”

Michaud-Cray said they first started to hear that there might be problems when the mural was going up. “We offered to stop painting it several times, but were told to go ahead with it,” she said. But a formal complaint was filed, bringing the matter to the attention of Zoning Enforcement Officer John Valente. Valente has since resigned his position as ZEO.

According to Richard Nasiff, Jr., chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, the gist of the problem is that any graphic on a building is currently considered a sign. There are limits to the size of a sign, depending upon the zoning of a building’s location. In a manufacturing zone, the Michaud mural is limited to 201 square feet. Nasiff said that the town very much wants to resolve the issue in a cooperative way. “[The Michauds] have been very nice and we want to promote an opportunity of cooperation with businesses,” he said.

After Michaud-Cray’s husband, Merlin Cray, approached the commission, he was told that the best way to handle the issue would be to come up with a zoning regulation change. “We just want a local business to feel that if they’re pursuing a solution, we’d want the code enforcement officer to work with them,” said Nasiff.

Cray and Michaud-Cray are seeking assistance in coming up with a regulation variance. While they have every intention of working toward a solution, they have no intention of painting over their mural. With the names of Al and Norma presiding over an image of the grandson, “It’s kind of like the first generation is looking down over the third while the second generation keeps it going,” said Cray. In fact, said Michaud-Cray, she has plans to cover more of the building. With the Airline Trail running behind the business, she said she’d like to see more artwork on the back of the building. She is confident that the business and the town can work out their differences. “We don’t want to give the impression that the town is against us, because they’re not,” said Michaud-Cray. “It’s the regulations that are against us.”

Michaud Flooring has a petition up on Facebook seeking support for the mural. The business is also seeking advice from people with knowledge regarding zoning regulations. Sign the petition at https://www.facebook.com/michaudflooringandcarpeting, or call 860-228-2383.


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