Lights out for illegal murals

Thom Larkin | Daily TidingsPassersby look at the murals bolted to underneath the Lithia Way overpass during the First Friday art walk.

Lloyd Haines has turned the lights off on the murals he illegally installed on the bottom of the Lithia Way overpass.

The eight murals were attached to the bottom of the underpass with concrete screws on Wednesday.

City of Ashland Building Official Mike Broomfield sent a letter to Haines on Friday directing him to immediately disconnect the power from the installation and obtain an electrical permit.

Haines had the murals by four local artists installed without first getting an electrical permit, or a conditional use permit that would exempt the project from the city's sign code. The overpass is under Oregon Department of Transportation jurisdiction. ODOT would have had to apply for the permits on Haines' behalf.

Haines disconnected the power to the mural project on Monday.

He and his consulting engineer are scheduled to meet with ODOT officials on Thursday about the project, which was installed without ODOT permission.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said that aside from asking for the power to be turned off, the city is waiting for word from ODOT about what to do.

"If ODOT wants to apply for permits and allow the art to stay, they can," she said.

On the other hand, the city is also waiting to see if ODOT will view the art as vandalism and file a complaint with the Ashland Police Department, Bennett said.

She said city and ODOT officials will likely talk on Thursday or Friday.

In addition to disconnecting the lights on Monday, Haines delivered a letter to city officials in which he said, "First, let me apologize for the ruckus I have created. Although I do want the City to modify its anti-mural ordinance, I did not intend to complicate the jobs of City employees. In retrospect, the manner in which I chose to address the sign code issue may not have been the best course of action."

Despite Haines' intentions, Bennett said the situation has created difficulties for city staff.

"We're all in an awkward place because Lloyd has put us there," she said.

Haines said in the letter that he had conferred with a structural engineer about the effect of the artwork and lighting on the structural integrity of the bridge. He said he has been assured there is no adverse impact on the structure.

"The engineer and I will meet with ODOT within the next few days to address any questions they have. Please be assured, the paintings will be removed immediately if there is a question of safety," the letter said.

In a phone interview, Haines said the murals weigh only about 400 pounds &

the weight of two or three people standing on the Lithia Way bridge. He said he does not believe the two-inch concrete screws used to fasten the murals to the overpass have damaged the concrete.

He said in his letter that the art is presented to the city as a gift, but if the city does not want the donation, he will remove the art.

"I certainly hope the City will accept the gift and benefit from the public art for years to come," the letter said. Haines also gave an overview of the mural project's genesis in the letter.

In 2005, ODOT issued a permit to allow for the redevelopment of the land beneath the underpass and surrounding area. Legal work included paving, a walkway, landscaping, fencing, electrical lighting and installation of picnic tables and the "We Are Here" totem sculpture. Since 2006, the area has been maintained and controlled by the city.

He noted that before the redevelopment, people slept under the overpass, drug needles were regularly found there and the area was not hospitable to the public.

"Since I made the improvements, the area has become a vital part of the downtown, with people using the urban park on a regular basis," Haines said in the letter. "This public art is the last piece of the puzzle and is the culmination of all the good work that has preceded the installation."

Haines owns the nearby Shasta Building, which he had built along with the redevelopment of the area.

In the letter he said he approached the Ashland Public Arts Commission more than a year ago about the project, but the commission backed out after learning about the rigorous planning process.

In addition to being a developer, Haines is an attorney.

Bennett said, "The frustrating part of it is that Lloyd is not ignorant of what the process and code requirements are. He's done projects before."

Under the Ashland Municipal Code, an artist who makes a sign for someone else without determining that a sign permit has been obtained has committed an infraction.

The four artists painted the murals in their studios.

Bennett said city officials are not blaming the artists for the illegally installed murals.

"We've had absolutely no discussion about enforcement action against the artists," she said.

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