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Sign code change sought to ease Ashland art restrictions

ASHLAND — Developer and attorney Lloyd Haines has proposed a bypass procedure for the city's sign code that would allow more public art on private property.

Earlier this month, Haines and former City Attorney Mike Franell submitted a draft ordinance that would preserve the sign code's protections.

"We think we figured out a way to resolve this whole issue," Haines said. "This would keep the sign ordinance but create an exception to the sign ordinance."

Haines made news last year when he mounted large paintings on the underside of the Lithia Way bridge without city or Oregon Department of Transportation permission. He later had to remove the paintings because he broke city sign code rules, installed wiring for lighting without a permit and because the mounting bolts posed a potential threat to the bridge's engineering.

Haines said the draft ordinance would not apply to the mural project because it is about public art on private property.

Under the proposed law, a property owner and artist could temporarily or permanently donate, license or lease art to the city of Ashland. The donor would maintain and insure the art.

Ashland's sign code restricts murals and bans three-dimensional figures of people, animals or merchandise used as signs.

Recently, Ashland artist Kevin Christman was barred from installing an angel sculpture in front of Soundpeace downtown, where products with related themes are sold. The Public Arts Commission also discovered that popular figures like Alfredo the Waiter outside Wiley's Pasta and Truffles the giant teddy bear in front of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory are illegal. The city has not taken action against those figures.

With Haines' proposed rule change, property owners, artists or other donors would submit a proposal to donate art to the Public Arts Commission. The commission would hold a public hearing about the art and then decide whether to accept the proposal, accept it with conditions or deny it.

Ann Seltzer, city staff liaison to the Public Arts Commission, said some commissioners are concerned the proposal does not allow the public to have enough input in developing art projects.

"Under his proposal, the art is already done," she said. "At first glance, a couple of commissioners said, 'Where's the public in this process?' "

Haines said his sign code exception process applies only in specific circumstances, and is not meant to replace the city's re-examination of its sign rules or to apply when the city seeks proposals for public art projects.

Under the proposed exception process, art would still have to meet criteria such as that it be resistant to vandalism and weathering, display artistic significance and craftsmanship and not endanger the public.

The Public Arts Commission will likely review the ordinance at a meeting at 8:15 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 15, in the Siskiyou Room of the Community Development Department Building, 51 Winburn Way.

The City Council must approve any changes to the Ashland Municipal Code.

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