Battle brews over skyline mural at Oakley Skyline

Published: Aug. 11, 2011 at 8:29 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2011 at 10:50 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - There's a battle stewing between the owner of a local Skyline Chili, City Council and the Department of Planning and Inspections.

Steve Misleh owns the Skyline on Madison Road in Oakley. He wants to expand his restaurant while preserving its iconic 1940's mural of the Cincinnati skyline.

"Skyline started in the 40s," Misleh said. "1949. My parents lived in that neighborhood which was called "the bottoms." In the 40s. It's very sentimental."

He's received a unanimous go-ahead by the Oakley Community Council. Cincinnati Council members Leslie Ghiz, Amy Murray, Wayne Lippert and Charlie Winburn were on hand on Thursday morning to give their support, as well. However, city window transparency requirements would require the mural to be removed from his renovation plans.

"Our family is going to spend over $250,000 in this expansion/renovation," said Misleh. "Not one cent is coming from the city. They don't get a lot of brakes these days. Everybody wants something from somebody. We're not asking anything of anyone."

He is asking the city of Cincinnati to allow him to keep his mural. Misleh said it's the focal point of the restaurant and too large to move to another part of the building.

He said his family contacted the Department of Planning in June and hoped they'd be able to start work this week and finish the project by Labor Day. Misleh said he closes his restaurant only four days a year so timing is everything. Misleh planned to close the restaurant for a total of six days to finish this renovation and expansion.

Misleh said they didn't hear anything until a month later when the city told him he was in an "Urban Overlay" district which requires the front of the building to have a certain amount of glass. Right now, there are two windows on both sides of the mural, but the city wants a third one.

"It has nothing to do with safety," said Misleh. "It has nothing to do with anything other than the City Planning and Zoning Department wanting more glass."

And more time to hold a public hearing.

Misleh said that would delay construction and costing him more money. He said pushing back his renovation for a public hearing will cost an additional $10,000 to $20,000.

"This is exactly why businesses and residents are leaving our city," said Council Member Wayne Lippert. "I mean our city government should be working with the private sector, businesses like Skyline. Small businesses are the engine of growth. Our city should not be the roadblock to the growth."

Council Member Leslie Ghiz agreed.

"If he was asking to put neon signs out front and X-rated, you know, whatever, I would have an issue with that," said Ghiz. "But all he's wanting to do is do exactly what, essentially what it looks like now, just bigger."

"We're in a $33-million deficit," said Council Member Amy Murray. "What we need to do to get out of this deficit long term is grow our way out. We can't spend out way out. We can't cut our way out. We need to grow our way out of this long term, and supporting businesses in Cincinnati is the way to do it."

On the other side, FOX19 spoke with City Solicitor John Curp over the phone. He said this is nothing personal, but rules are rules. Curp added that the city is not denying Misleh his right to keep his mural, but the "proper procedure" must be followed.

Misleh said he wants an answer by the end of Thursday. He said he's even considering scrapping the entire project.

Curp did tell us the public hearing has to happen, and with enough time to allow the city to inform his neighbors. The public hearing has been scheduled for August 24th.

Misleh said he doubts he'll then have enough time to finish construction over the Labor Day weekend. That's when a majority of his employees have planned vacations. Misleh said that's why he figured the holiday would be the best time to close the restaurant.

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