Mural plans could hit a snag

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FILE PHOTO

FILE PHOTO

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Plans to put up the city’s first mural on the side of Keizer Florist are going at full speed.

However, a speed bump could slow the process.

Last summer, mayor Lore Christopher worked with Keizer Art Association (KAA) to get the project going. A large, three-part mural is being put up on the west side of the Keizer Florist building, located at 631 Chemawa Road NE.

KAA volunteers met in November to review submitted entries and chose artist Colleen Goodwin-Chronister to do the mural. As proposed, the center portion of the mural will be 22 feet by 12 feet, with the two outer portions being 5 feet by 12 feet each.

If all goes according to schedule, the wall would be prepped in February and March, with the actual painting set to begin in April. The project would be wrapped up in August.

That is, if all goes according to schedule.

The speed bump came during last month’s Keizer Planning Commission meeting, when city attorney Shannon Johnson went over the topic of sign code revisions.

“There was a recent request to put up a mural on the Keizer Florist building,” Johnson said. “The mayor asked me, ‘It would be no problem, right?’ Actually, it is. I drafted the sign code back in 1990. Murals are included in what the definition of a sign is. Up until the last few months, (murals) have never been an issue because no one wanted to put one up.”

Johnson said a city can’t regulate the content of a sign but can put restrictions on the size, so the fear at the time was a future mural could be used as a way around sign regulations and thus be turned into a large advertising sign.

Since murals are currently considered signs by city rules, a large mural would be outside the size limitation and thus would not be allowed.

Johnson has reviewed Portland policies, as that city allows murals as public art.

“I’m recommending a city art program,” he said. “The city would either own the property or, in this case, give an art easement. The city can approve the art. Fair and objective criteria would be used.”

Commissioner Hersch Sangster, who pointed out there is a mural at McNary High School, had a question about approving the exception.

“What does the city get out of it?” Sangster asked.

“Public art, like the statues on River Road,” Johnson responded. “It adds to the quality of life.”

Johnson said it would be up to the Keizer City Council what would be allowed, but his prediction was murals as advertisements would not be allowed.

“I could see a battle later,” he said. “If someone came in with a plumbing business and wanted to draw pipes with prices, my guess is it wouldn’t be approved.”

Nate Brown, director of Community Development for Keizer, said while decisions could be subjective, any proposal would need to meet a simple criteria.

“It would have to be of good design and good artistic integrity,” Brown said.

Brown noted specifics will be hammered out by councilors.

“We’re creating the door,” he said. “The development code now says no large murals. They are prohibited now. What you’re doing tonight says there’s an exception to that. The appeal and the administrative effort is something council will have to wrestle with.”

The proposed ordinance was approved. Johnson expects the issue to come to council this month and is hoping for approval in late January or early February.

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