Sonora Planning Commission meetings are typically quiet, low-attended affairs, unless there’s a dispute over an unpermitted mural on the side of the city’s new brewpub.

More than 60 people attended the commission’s meeting on Monday night in the Sonora City Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall, with a number of them having to stand in the hallway.

Most were there for a public hearing to determine whether the mural that depicts brewing equipment painted on the side of the Sonora Brewing Co. building at 28 S. Washington St. would be allowed to remain.

City officials recommended that the commission approve the mural, though the Tuolumne Heritage Committee submitted a letter in opposition before the meeting.

The commission ultimately voted 4-0 for the mural stay up, but not before more than a dozen people expressed their support.

Thomas Silva, the owner of the brewery, said he didn’t know he had to get a permit for the mural.

“I was born here,” Silva said. “I would truly never do anything to hurt the City of Sonora.”

Supporters of the mural included downtown merchants, art advocates, and residents who believe the mural enhanced the town’s image.

Lisette Sweetland, executive director of Tuolumne County Arts, said she believes the area is sorely lacking public art like the mural.

“Art is what we need,” she said.

The only person who spoke in opposition was Sharon Marovich, chairwoman of the Tuolumne Heritage Committee.

Marovich said the city’s sign ordinance doesn’t allow murals to be used for advertising, which the brewery’s mural does.

“You’ll be setting an unfortunate precedent that could lead to more applications for product-based signs masquerading as murals,” she said.

The committee was particularly concerned the mural would stand in the way of its ultimate goal of getting the city recognized as a national historic district, which would be a “high honor and one well worth protecting.”

Marovich said the committee suggested a compromise that would allow “enough” of the mural to remain up and incorporate the brewery’s logo, while meeting the city’s requirements for signs.

“Where we’re coming from is — that’s a sign, not a mural,” she said. “We simply do not want to see modern product-oriented murals in our historic district.”

The commission didn’t put any additional requirements on Silva, but Commissioner John Richardson requested the owner put a sign for the business somewhere near it.

Richardson said putting up a sign would benefit the business by letting people know its there, while also satisfying one of the Heritage Committee’s requests.

All of the commissioners expressed disappointment that the proper process to get the mural approved ahead of time had not been followed.

Commissioner Gary Anderson said he grew up in the Mother Lode and remembers it being common to see advertisements for products and businesses painted on the sides of buildings.

“It kind of bothers me we’re regulating a period where they didn’t have regulation,” he said, which drew loud cheers and applause from most in attendance.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.














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