Salina residents react to federal lawsuit over Cozy Inn mural

SALINA, Kan. (KAKE) – In a city known for its bright and vibrant murals downtown, one wall at a popular burger joint is stirring up controversy after the city forced the owner to stop painting, and now, the case is in federal court.

“I hadn’t seen it before. So, I just wanted to come by and take a look at it and see what the issue was about,” said Loren Laird.

Like many Salina residents, Laird made a trip up to The Cozy Inn on Tuesday after hearing it’s suing the city for making it stop painting halfway through putting up a burger-themed mural.

And, like many residents after seeing it, he says he’s not sure what all the fuss is about.

“It definitely complements downtown. Take a look at all the other murals that are going up. They’ve redone a lot of the grain mill elevators. Murals downtown actually really look good. I think it adds to the whole downtown effort,” Laird said.

Lawyer Sam MacRoberts is representing Cozy Inn. Monday, he filed a federal lawsuit against the city.

“Really, what’s happening is the city is saying that if a mural pertains to a business, then it’s not really a mural, it’s a regulated sign. But if a mural doesn’t pertain to a business, well, then it’s an unregulated mural. But in our view, that violates the First Amendment. And in our view, that’s unconstitutional,” said MacRoberts.

City Manager Mike Schrage responded to the lawsuit Tuesday, saying:

“The City of Salina has been notified that it has been named as a defendant in a federal district court civil lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of certain aspects of the City’s sign code and its application to a partially installed painted wall sign at The Cozy Inn. Although the City believes its current sign code enforcement is legally justified, there have been ongoing conversations about The Cozy Inn sign as well as possible policy changes the community may wish to undertake while providing for the administration of any proposed exceptions or policy changes in a fair and impartial manner community-wide. In establishing sign regulations, communities are attempting to set up a set of standards that can be equally and fairly applied across all property owners, businesses, tenants, etc. that are within the same zoning district. Nationwide, this has frequently resulted in regulations similar to what Salina has in place that establish a ratio of signage numbers and size based on building or street frontage to maintain a level of proportionality to the building. The City of Salina has been very deliberate and consistent in its regulation of signs in the community in light of the applicable case law regarding the standards by which signs and commercial speech may be regulated. The City believes its sign code and administration of the sign code are compliant with the volume of court cases that exist on this topic. Over the last decade, the regulation of signage and public art has become an increasingly challenging discussion for communities across the United States because of differing opinions on what is art and what is commercial signage. The City previously committed to enlisting the services of a sign code consultant as a subject matter expert to assist with conducting community listening sessions and drafting possible policy-based amendments for further consideration in response to community input that is received. Wendy Moeller, Principal/Owner of Compass Point Planning, has been retained by the City and 5 stakeholder meetings were held on February 15th & 16th including a public listening session for the public at large. There will be additional public meetings conducted as part of this project.
Interested parties can email questions and comments to [email protected]. They may also receive project notifications by subscribing to the “sign code” email list at”

In the meantime, residents like Laird say they hope they won’t have to keep looking at a half-finished mural for long.

“I hope it could be resolved that the owner gets to put up the mural, and the City of Salina takes a closer look at their policy,” said Laird.

MacRoberts says the lawsuit has nothing to do with money, and the only thing its demanding is that the city let the owner finish the painting.