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A spirit that is not afraid

City Council launches study group for more public art

<p>Auburn's City Council meets in the City Council Chamber at 141 N. Ross St. on May 4, 2021.</p>

Auburn's City Council meets in the City Council Chamber at 141 N. Ross St. on May 4, 2021.

At Tuesday night's City Council meeting, Beth Witten of Ward 3 continued the discussion on the Bedzzz Express mural and the zoning ordinance for community art. Witten and Mayor Ron Anders will create a committee to evaluate and present changes to the City’s zoning ordinance. 

The “Greetings from Auburn” mural was unveiled on the side of the Bedzzz Express on Opelika Road in November. The mural features prominent landmarks of Auburn including Samford Hall, Momma Goldberg’s, Toomer’s Drugs and other recognizable figures. 

The mural violates the City’s zoning ordinance which lists murals under the prohibited signage section. Auburn’s Board of Zoning Adjustment denied a variance to maintain the mural on Feb. 2. The board voted 3-2 in favor of the variance, but state law dictates the board needed four votes to approve the variance. 

Both Witten and City Manager Megan Crouch said the discussion surrounding public art is not new to the City as in 2018 the council approved the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Master Plan which is a 20-year plan improving the quality of the City’s parks, recreation, arts and cultural programming. 

Witten said in her experience with art and through research it is important to her and believes the Auburn community is pro-art. 

“What I am asking us to discuss is art without being contain in four wall, but maybe on the outside of a wall, or in a right-of-way or in a private space,” Witten said. “There are benefits to that.” 

Witten said that the zoning ordinance surrounding signs is an unintended consequence and wants to look at ways to address the process by which art can be put up in public places. 

Anders said that he had been in discussion with Witten and Crouch about the subject and suggests creating a study group made up of council members and planning staff dedicated to understanding the benefits of public art and how to go about allowing art in public spaces. 

“I do believe this is an idea whose time has come and it’s time for us to really dig in and understand it,” Anders said. “I do believe it’s also an idea that needs some guardrails kind of built to how we’re going to do this, how will we authorize it, how will we proceed with it.”

Anders said once members of the committee have been selected, the group will take 60 to 75 days to gather information and report its findings back to the planning commission. 

Council member Kelley Griswold of Ward 2 brought in Chief of Police Cedric Anderson to discuss the number of noise complaints during the Committee of the Whole. 

Auburn Police Department has responded to over 5,000 noise complaints since 2017. City ordinances regarding noise complaints adopts state statutes that lists “makes unreasonable noise” under disorderly conduct. 

Anderson said they receive noise complaints that range from people walking heavily through an apartment to parties. 

Anderson said the complainant or police officer responding has to be able to articulate what makes the noise unreasonable whether it is the time of day, type of language or any range of things. 

“When you look at the disorderly conduct statute, it’s pretty simple, straightforward,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t have page after page of definitions and it is not a whole lot of hoops to jump through when all you have to do is prove the unreasonableness of the noise.”

The police department deals with noise complaints by having a responding officer go out and locate the source of the noise and the person responsible is given a warning the first time and an opportunity to lower the noise. The person responsible is warned that if an officer has to return the source of noise will be shut down and any subsequent complaints will require the office to issue a non-traffic citation or make an arrest for disorderly conduct. 

Anderson said that out of 5,400 noise complaints one percent of those complaints are not handled properly by the police department. 

“So we have something in place that works for us and it has worked for years,” Anderson said. 

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