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Statuary violates Ashland's sign code

ASHLAND — Truffles, the giant teddy bear in front of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory; Alfredo, the waiter outside Wiley's Pasta; and the lion at the door to The Black Sheep pub may add to Ashland's charm, but there's one big problem: They're illegal.

Ashland's sign code bars businesses from using statues, caricatures or representations of people, animals or merchandise as signs.

The fact that violations abound throughout town came to light in November when sculptor Kevin Christman went to the Ashland Public Arts Commission about his proposal to install an angel sculpture downtown in front of Soundpeace.

He and the commissioners learned that the statue could not be allowed because Soundpeace sells merchandise with similar angel motifs. Commissioners also learned about the broad ban on representations of people and animals.

Barred from Soundpeace, the angel sculpture is on display through December at Bohemia Gallery & Framing, 222 A St.

City of Ashland Permit Center manager Adam Hanks said city workers have been aware of the illegal figures in town, but have been too busy enforcing other sign code violations to take action.

"The longer it goes on, the harder it is to enforce. That doesn't mean it's legal," he said. "It could just mean we haven't had time to deal with it."

Julie Wiley, owner of Wiley's Pasta on Ashland Street, said Alfredo the waiter has stood outside the restaurant for four years. Discovered at a yard sale in Medford, Alfredo is a movable statue and goes in at night for safekeeping.

Wiley said she has already jumped through hoops to meet the city's sign code, which includes a ban on neon and restrictions on sign size and placement. She said she didn't realize that Alfredo is illegal.

"I think it really impedes our free expression as business owners," she said. "Long live Alfredo!"

Wiley said she thinks Ashlanders enjoy seeing Alfredo and other figures in front of local businesses.

"These icons, they become endearing to the public. It becomes like our home environment," she said.

Truffles the teddy bear has had an even longer tenure in Ashland than Alfredo the waiter.

Jeff Compton, owner of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory downtown said he has had a bear out since he bought the store eight years ago. He actually rotates three giant bears out to a bench in front of the store so that the stuffed animals can be taken to the dry cleaners. Truffles is secured to the bench with a leash to prevent theft.

"He is our mascot. He gets quite a lot of reaction. We suspect he might be the most photographed thing in town," Compton said. "I cook by the window and it's fun to watch the kids come by. Some are afraid and some give him a big hug. It's the same with dogs. Some are afraid and start growling."

Compton said he went to the city for permission before he put out the two benches in front of his business. He measured them to make sure they met minimum clearance standards for the sidewalk.

Compton estimated that in a quick walk around Ashland, he could probably find 10 figures in front of businesses that violate the city's sign code.

Hanks, the city permit manager, said the city will send out notices about sidewalk obstructions. Statues, extra chairs, landscaping pots, newspaper racks and other objects have proliferated. Some business owners may need to apply for encroachment permits.

But if a business owner applies for an encroachment permit for a figure that violates the sign code, the city may not want to issue a permit, he said.

Hanks said he lives in Ashland and recognizes that enforcing the law against figures that have earned a spot in people's affections is difficult.

"But what's on the books is what the community in the past has said they want," he said.

Ashland's sign code restriction was meant to block installation of imposing advertising icons like Bob's Big Boy mascots and the towering bird in front of the Black Bird Shopping Center in Medford, Hanks said.

Compton said he agrees that the city has to have some guidelines on signs and figures, otherwise things will get out of control.

"Exactly where to draw those lines, I don't know," he said. "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

Ashland's sign code attracted attention for its restrictions on murals after attorney and developer Lloyd Haines mounted paintings in September by bolting them into the underside of the Lithia Way bridge. He did this and installed mounted lighting without city of Ashland or Oregon Department of Transportation permission. The murals later had to come down.

The Public Arts Commission has drafted a Public Arts Master Plan that is scheduled for review by the City Council on Tuesday. The council's meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

Vickie Aldous is a staff writer for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

With his arms open and welcoming, “Alfredo” stands in front of Wiley's World on Ashland Street.