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Monkey Mural Triggers Online Petition, but Officials Say It Only Needs a Permit

Frozen yogurt shop Kocanut Joe's was informed by the City of Fort Mitchell that the mural on the business's outside wall may be in violation of the city's zoning code and that a permit for the mural may be required.

The mural was made by local high school student Lindsey Prince, who spent over a month working on the art.

The issue was brought to  Planning & Development Services which will now review the mural and determine whether it is a sign for the business and if so, if it exceeds the city's zoning codes for signs.

“In the Neighborhood Commercial (NC) zone, they are allowed to have a certain number of signs of a certain size and type,” said Martin Scribner, Director of Planning and Zoning at PDS. “I think there are two questions: is this mural a sign? Does it meet the definition of a sign by the code, and if it does, would they be able to keep it based on size and number of signs that they already have? But we have not determined any of that yet.”

Kocanut Joe's General Manager Austin Smith told The River City News that he does not characterize the artwork as a sign for the business.

“The issue that I was told is that it might be too big of a sign, which I responded that we don't see it as a sign. It's a piece of art, a mural. When you go to other cities like Covington, they have much bigger ones than we do,” Smith said.

Kocanut Joe's has started an online petition to build support for keeping the mural on the wall. The petition states that PDS may force them to paint over the mural, but both Ft. Mitchell Mayor Jude Hehman and Scribner, do not think that is the case.

“Kocanut Joe's just didn't get a permit,” Hehman said. “It's kind of good business. There are other businesses that have to get a permit. All he needs to do is go to the Planning Commission and get a permit. That starts the process in order to do it. I don't think anybody in this part of the process is making him paint it over. I think it just needs to adhere to the rules of getting a permit.”

Smith said that as soon as Prince was finished painting the mural, he was told it could not stay. “It took her about 62 hours and as soon as she finished it they said that we weren't allowed to have it and that we would have to paint over it,” he said.

Kocanut Joe's previously ran afoul of the city zoning code when it placed customer seating outside but the business appealed, allowing the tables and chairs to remain as they are. Smith said that PDS has not yet officially sent a notice to the business, but that if it does, he definitely plans to appeal.

Hehman and Scribner, though, say the easiest solution would be to go through the steps of simply obtaining a permit.

“It's no different had it been Kroger, Remke, or Greyhound Grill,” Hehman said. “If I would have gone to Covington, Fort Wright, Fort Mitchell, they all have the same rule. They just need to get a permit for it.”

PDS received the inquiry from Ft. Mitchell two days ago and took pictures of the mural on Wednesday. Scribner emphasized that, contrary to the online petition's wording, PDS was not responsible for initiating the review.

The review process will take a couple of days, Scribner said. “By Monday or Tuesday, we will have determined which direction we'll need to go in,” he said. “The easiest answer is maybe we don't have to do anything. I think at the very least, they'll need a permit.”

Nonetheless, Kocanut Joe's is confused and surprised that there is an issue with the mural.

“We just don't really understand why it's a problem,” Smith said. “Everybody loves it, people take pictures in front of it. All of the feedback we've had about it has been absolutely amazing. This issue has become very big, very fast.”