Cozy Inn files lawsuit against City of Salina over artwork on building

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – An attorney for a popular business in Salina filed a federal lawsuit against the city concerning an order for the business to stop an artistic project on the side of its building.

The restaurant’s owner said the city is restricting his First Amendment right concerning artwork on his building. The issue surfaced in November when the Cozy Inn, a staple of Salina’s restaurant community for more than a century, received pushback on its mural.

The City of Salina argued that the work isn’t a mural but a sign that advertises for the restaurant. And because it’s recognized as a sign, it must fit the required dimensions set by the city.

Cozy Inn Owner Steve Howard argues the project is a mural that represents the feeling of Cozy’s.

“The difference between signs and murals is not just bad policy, it’s unconstitutional,” Howard said.

The restaurant owner teamed up with the Kansas Justice Institute, which says the issue is what the city classifies as a sign and the regulations that follow.

“If the city thinks a mural pertains to the business, then it has sign regulations as opposed to an unregulated mural. [Howard] has every right under the First Amendment to paint his whimsical mural here on the side of the Cozy,” Kansas Justice Institute Litigation Director Sam MacRoberts said.

Salina Director of Community and Development Services Lauren Driscoll said the city was already planning to make changes.

“We updated our sign code last time, 2015-2016, so we did have the question of (the) Cozy Inn sign-mural question come up, and that kind of helped to elevate that on our schedule,” Driscoll said.

The City of Salina met last week to discuss its sign codes. The city hired a consultant and hosted a listening session for the public.

In a formal release, the City of Salina said it’s trying to establish sign regulations that are fair to all businesses, owners and tenants.

The attorney representing the Cozy Inn said Howard and the business want one thing from the lawsuit.

“He’s not suing the city for money, nothing like that. What he wants to do is finish the mural that he started back in November,” MacRoberts said.

The City of Salina said it plans to host another public listening session in May with hopes of finishing the sign code project in July.