Illegal murals can go back up

Murals that were illegally installed and had to be taken down from the underside of the Lithia Way bridge can go back up.

An Ashland City Council majority voted on Tuesday night to allow businessman Lloyd Haines to eventually return the murals to the location near Water Street.

Securing proper city and Oregon Department of Transportation permits will take about two to three months.

In 2007, Haines commissioned four local artists to create eight murals that he had installed under the bridge, in part to protest the city's restrictive sign code. He acted in violation of city laws and without the permission of ODOT, which has jurisdiction over the bridge. Haines was ordered to have the murals removed.

But the City Council did ask him to go before the Ashland Public Arts Commission so that commissioners could review the project. The commission recommended that the murals be reinstalled if certain conditions are met, including that Haines pay planning fees and cover the cost of reinstalling, maintaining and insuring the art.

The City Council agreed with those conditions on Tuesday.

Haines had asked the City Council to waive the planning fees.

On Wednesday, he said he would abide by the conditions set by the City Council and Public Arts Commission, including paying the fees.

Haines said he has spent about $50,000 on the project and likely will spend another $10,000 to have the murals and a lighting system reinstalled.

The city is reviewing its sign code, which restricts murals and other forms of public art. Haines worked with former City Attorney Mike Franell to draft a sign code bypass procedure for public art that is under consideration.

"I think we're going to get to the place where we are truly an art-friendly town," Haines said.

Councilor Alice Hardesty, who is the council liaison to the Public Arts Commission, said Haines did not begin the project in the correct way.

"Nobody is trying to say this is a great way to select public art, to say the least," she said, but noted that the Public Arts Commission felt the murals were an improvement to that location.

In 2006, Haines legally added a path and landscaping to the area under the bridge that had been frequented by transients and was littered with drug paraphernalia. He also commissioned a totem pole sculpture above the area. The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department added picnic tables beneath the bridge in 2007.

Mayor John Morrison said that the mural project got off on the wrong foot, but Haines did apologize and agree to go through a formal process before the Public Arts Commission.

"If we didn't feel there was a possibility of a positive outcome, we should not have asked him to go through the process," Morrison said.

Councilors Cate Hartzell and Eric Navickas said they could not support letting the murals be reinstalled because of the way Haines hung the murals without review by the Public Arts Commission or permission from the city of Ashland and ODOT.

"I don't like the way the process has moved forward," Navickas said. "It's against my ethic for public space and public process."

Councilors Hardesty, Kate Jackson, Russ Silbiger and David Chapman voted to allow the murals to be hung again. As the mayor, Morrison votes only to break a tie.

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