Last week's federal court ruling tossing out Wag More Dogs' First Amendment case against Arlington County has started the clock on the mural's removal — or transformation, as Wag More Dogs owner Kim Houghton sees fit.
What does that mean for the mural depicting colorful dogs, paws, and dog bones? It'll probably stay covered with a tarp, for now. But some semblance of a deadline looms: Hougton told county officials last year, before she took her case to court, that she would notify about how she planned to make the mural legal under Arlington County code by April 1, 2011.
Houghton paid $4,000 last year to have the mural painted on the side of her dog grooming and boarding business in Shirlington, but the county found that the painting constituted an illegal commercial sign. She plans to appeal the Feb. 11 ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissing her case. How that will affect her April 1 deadline, however, she's not sure.
Houghton has several options. She can either paint over the existing mural to remove the illegal sign, or add wording above the mural stating "Welcome to the Shirlington Community Canine Area." (The mural overlooks the county-owned Shirlington Dog Park.) The county also suggested she change the mural to remove dog-related themes.
Houghton hasn't decided what she'll do if her appeal fails, however. Adding the words would cost her about $7,000, she says. "I don't have $7,000 lying around," she adds.
"If i had the money to do it, I would have done that, and been done with this," she says. "But when you’re painting on cinder block wall, four-foot high letters 20 feet up, 60 feet long, it’s not cheap."
If she decides to keep the mural and add the wording, she says, she would hope to reach some kind of compromise where the county pays for the lettering. "If this becomes their informational sign, personally I think they should pay," she says.
Her attorney, Robert Frommer from the Institute for Justice, says that he hopes the April 1 deadline won't be enforced while an appeal is ongoing. Zoning administrator Melinda Artman says that there is no violation that's been filed against Wag More Dogs, and that even if the tarp remained after April 1, the store would technically still be compliant.
Wag More Dogs will appeal the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit sometime in the next 30 days, Frommer says.