Size Matters: Angry Cactus Fails Approval Again
Size does matter, says Design and Historic Review Commission (DHRC) member Eric Eggemeyer, who took new issue with a proposed cactus sculpture for the planned “Angry Cactus” Tuesday, when entrepreneur Timothy Condon presented new renderings for his restaurant’s signage.
At the previous meeting, commissioner’s tabled action on the item, requesting to-scale renderings of the proposed sign and suggesting the design itself be reworked due to personal opinions shared by commissioners who felt the sculpture might be misconstrued as “phallic”, “kitsch”, “offensive” and “cartoonish”.
In keeping with the DHRC’s requests, Condon approached the board with updated renderings Tuesday that had been drawn by an architect and which offered two alternatives to the previously-proposed drafts. One of those drawings kept the cactus on the rooftop but adjusted the shape and smirk of the original drawing and the second placed the new cactus on a recessed canopy above the door.
Condon’s submissions, which included a three-foot sculpture he commissioned by an artist that was still under construction, were well received by commissioners initially, who responded well to his taking the board’s recommendations seriously.
“I think everybody appreciates that you did take our feedback seriously and did attempt to address all of those concerns,” chairwoman Ashley Young-Turner said. “Certainly what has been submitted today is something we can actually look at and actually work with, which is great.”
After making a brief presentation on what he hopes to offer at his location, Condon told the board that of the renderings he’s submitted, he prefers the one with the canopy, which is also the most preferred option among 80 percent of respondents to a LIVE! survey conducted Monday.
“I would like to add that out of the alternates we have, I do like the one that he (Condon) prefers,” commissioner Gary Donaldson said. “And I do think this sculpture has probably helped us some actually see what that is. I don’t have any problem with approving what he’s asked for here.”
“I agree with Gary,” said commissioner David Mazur. “I think you did a great job with the presentation.”
At only 15 minutes in, Condon appeared to have satisfied the board and garnered support, however one commissioner was still not happy with the design.
“It looks a lot better from what you brought to us today, Mr. Condon,” said commissioner Eric Eggemeyer. “I’m impressed with the canopy, I’m impressed with the whole building, the style and design of what you’ve done to it versus what we had before. I’m not an advocate of having this thing downtown. I love your ability and your desire to create something totally unique…if anything states about your personality or what you’re capable of doing, it’s your food. I can’t get behind this as far as having the design. It doesn’t keep with our historic design within the district.”
Despite having been granted a variance for the 12-foot sculpture by the planning commission, and despite the height of the statue never having been brought forth as an issue, Eggemeyer stated that his biggest problem with the sculpture was the size, but that he does believe that Condon and his restaurant are what is needed downtown. The cactus, he said, just doesn’t fit.
“I’m a little hesitant on having a cactus, to me, that looks more like, something that it should be, I don’t know, Vegas,” Eggemeyer said. “It just doesn’t fit in the downtown district.”
Referring to several comments on social media as of late, Condon made mention of local downtown establishments with existing signage that one could argue is less than historical. Naming the Sassy Fox, Fat Boss’ logo, Grinner’s Cheshire cat and the Dead Horse as examples, Condon stated he wanted to add diversity—both in an artistic manner, but also in opening an establishment that is not a bar.
“What I’m hearing is this is too unique for downtown ,and I think that needs to be addressed,” Condon retorted to Eggemeyer’s Vegas statement. “This isn’t too unique for downtown, I just happen to be someone who thinks outside the box a little bit, who pushes the envelope on what can be done. That’s called progression.”
In response, Eggemeyer countered that the board certainly does not aim to thwart creativity and inhibit growth, but added that everything needs to meet certain standards to ensure success in the district. He repeated that the size was the problem for him and didn’t feel that Condon’s success will be measured by a sculpture atop his building.
Looking for another angle on the issue, commissioner Sandra Morris mentioned that San Angelo is trying to participate in the “Main St. USA” program, an initiative set up for municipalities’ old town districts to preserve historical integrity. She asked Condon how his design fits into this scheme.
“When we talked about the signage, we took that into consideration,” Condon responded. “The corner awning was something that was specifically brought in that plan. They want to see more corner entrances with grand entrances…lots of stone in the architecture, lots of outside-of-the-box signage.”
“Sometimes when we have these conversations we forget what’s actually downtown,” he continued. “I know from Jeff’s (Fisher) previous presentation, there were multiple pictures of current signs and…none of them have historical significance.”
Still concerned about historical elements, Morris replied: “Many of those signs happened downtown before downtown San Angelo joined the Main St. USA program, though. And many of them were grandfathered in.”
“Keep in mind, I’m asking for half of the square footage that Twisted Root was approved,” Condon said.
“It’s not the size,” Morris replied. “It’s not the size.”
But it was the size. Immediately after Morris’ and Condon’s dialogue came to an end, Eggemeyer picked up again how big the sculpture was and said he didn’t want anything downtown to catch the eye “that much”. He then suggested the problem may be the fact that the sculpture is 3D.
“You were referencing Sassy Fox and Dead Horse,” Eggemeyer said. “They don’t have a dead horse, they don’t have a picture of a fox that’s sassy. It’s a painting. It’s not a 3D model like we’re talking about. It’s getting cartoonish…it’s getting, I don’t know, it’s not setting the precedents of what I feel like downtown needs to look like.”
With the focus once again shifting to the size of the no-longer-phallic cactus, Condon explained why he’s seeking the sculpture as opposed to a 2D painting. Referencing the drawings, which depict a line of trees on both sides of the building, and with the knowledge that the property line abuts the building, Condon stated, “We are competing with these trees”.
A two-dimensional sign, Condon said, would not be visible on the façade of the building without cutting the trees down, and to be quite honest, he said, he’d like to keep them.
“The property owner planted these trees,” he said. “To be honest with you, his recommendation was ‘cut down these trees so we can have a better look at the exterior of the building’. I don’t want to do that. I want to let those trees grow, quite honestly. But we only have a small area to deal with. There’s no place on the building at all anywhere to put this sign…If we were to put signage on the building on some other spot, it’s going to be covered by those trees. So we can cut down those trees. If you guys want, we can cut down those trees…”
Condon said he didn’t come to the meeting with the anticipation of discussing the size of the sculpture, but the design of it, but Eggemeyer was relentless in his demand for a smaller, less eye-catching cactus in front of the establishment.
“If I’m not allowed to put a sign on my restaurant, we’re not going to open,” Condon said finally.
“I’m sorry if you think that a sign is going to keep a restaurant from going—I’m sorry you’re making a choice,” Eggemeyer replied. “That’s not the board’s choice, that is you as a business owner’s choice to do that.”
Eggemeyer reiterated that the board was not attempting to inhibit growth in the downtown area, but that they are tasked with making sure design elements fit into the historical district’s plans. He said he doesn’t want to cut any trees down unless integrity or foundation issues with an existing structure demand it, and scolded Condon about “putting words in their mouths”.
The discussion continued with some back and forth between Condon and Eggemeyer, who attempted to negotiate the size of the structure. Condon was granted 12 feet by the planning commission and dropped it down to 10 for the sake of compromise. Eggemeyer then stated six feet would be better for him, and with some resistance—noting the height of the building at 24 feet—Condon shrunk down to eight feet.
After an hour and 20 minutes of discussion, chairwoman Ashley Young-Turner called for a motion, which was first made by commissioner David Mazur, who sought to approve the sign at eight feet with stipulations previously presented by the planning commission. Commissioner Margaret Mallard seconded, and Young-Turner abstained, due to previous allegations of a conflict of interest.
Sandra Morris and Eric Eggemeyer voted against the signage. A third commissioner, Gary Donaldson, who had said 15 minutes into the presentation he saw no problem with approving the sign as presented (and at 12 feet tall), also voted against approval. Donaldson remained fairly quiet throughout the meeting and had not indicated that size was an issue for him at any point.
Following the denial of the current request, Margaret Mallard made a motion to table the request, which was seconded by Donaldson. All others followed suit.
None of the board members were willing to comment after the meeting. During the meeting, no member of the commission addressed the concerns of the previous meeting regarding the aesthetics of the new renderings as pertains to their complaints then.
Condon was upset after the meeting, stating that “this is turning into municipal red tape and it’s getting out of hand. All over two feet”.
The response from board members was described as “political puppeteering”, Condon said. Condon expressed that he finds it silly that it has taken so long and so much effort to achieve, essentially, nothing, which is halting construction and slowing opening dates for his restaurant.
“We’re going to try and make Mr. Eggemeyer happy and we’re going to try look into the sign ordinance and make sure that they’re happy with the size of the sign,” he said of his next step. As of now the cactus will once again go before the board for the proverbial hatchet-job next month.
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