Cozy Inn mural to stay unfinished pending lawsuit

SALINA, Kan. (KWCH) – For now, the painted display on the side of a popular Salina restaurant will remain unfinished as a dispute between the owner and the city remains unresolved. The issue goes back to November when the city ordered Cozy Inn owner Steve Howard to take down an unfinished mural.

Viewed as a sign rather than a work of art, the city said the mural doesn’t comply with city code. The city said it can’t give Howard a free pass, in fairness to other businesses.

Howard filed a federal lawsuit against the city. An attorney representing him said the measure is violating the restaurant owner’s constitutional right of free speech.

Early this month, the Salina City Commission hired legal counsel to advise the city in response to a federal lawsuit filed by the Cozy Inn owner.

At that time, Salina Mayor Bill Longbine said the city was exploring all options relating to the Cozy Inn’s lawsuit. He said the city doesn’t want to force the Cozy Inn to remove its mural, but it has to be fair to all businesses.

“The government can’t treat speech differently and murals are a form of speech based on the content of that speech,” said Jeffrey Shaw, the Kansas Justice Institute attorney representing Howard.

Longbine said the city hired a law firm that specializes in sign code. He said the city could go in a couple of directions: file a countersuit against the Cozy Inn or change the sign code to allow the mural.

Revisiting the issue Monday, the Salina City Commission provided a statement that essentially lays out that there won’t be any action taken until there’s a resolution to the lawsuit against the city. The statement, written by the city’s legal representation, clarified that Howard and his restaurant “will maintain the status quo of the sign located at 108 N. 7th Street (in Salina).” and “will take no further action to modify or complete the sign during the pendency of the civil action.”

The statement also clarified that the city “won’t take any enforcement action against [the Cozy Inn]” “during the pendency of the civil action.”