Chagrin Falls' Valley Art Center mural goes to zoning appeals board after it is ruled a sign

Is it art, or a sign?

CHAGRIN FALLS,Ohio - UPDATE 10/23/2013:

In a Wednesday evening Chagrin Falls Zoning Board appeals meeting at 8 p.m., the Valley Art Center's appeal to keep their mural was denied. Their petition for a village variance to allow them to keep their mural up on the side of their building was also denied.

Valley Art Center Executive Director Maryann Breisch said they will now take the matter to city council to be heard on Monday October 28, 2013. If a formal application to present their case on that date is not accepted due to time constraints it may set for later date in front of council.

Breisch said they are still hoping to work it out with council, but if not their attorneys are prepared to take the matter to Common Pleas Court in an attempt to save the artist's work.

While the appeal was denied due to its designation as a sign, therefore too large under the current zoning code, the denial also has been part of village authorities to quash petitions for other mural projects taking over historic areas of Chagrin Falls. Chagrin Falls Village Chief Administrator Ben Himes said Tuesday that requests by other groups had been denied in the past.

If all legal attempts to save the mural are exhausted by the Valley Art Center, the work may have to painted over in a worst-case scenario. 

The previous story published 10/22/2013  can be found below:

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What began as a mural to beautify the side of the Valley Art Center in Chagrin Falls, quickly turned into a disagreement about what constitutes as art or signage conveying a message on a business building.

Chief Village Administrator Ben Himes explained his position as the Chagrin Falls Village's director of the zoning board of appeals by phone to NewsChannel5 Tuesday afternoon.

"The zoning code designates any visual communication as a sign," said Himes. "A sign has to be within a specific size, which is 12 square feet. The sign at the Valley Art Center is definitely much larger than that."

While the size of the mural is without question much larger than 3 feet by 4 feet, the size limit zone-wise, but Executive Director of Valley Art Center Maryann Breisch says it's a work of art, without any words identifying the art center's name. The two are at an impasse, a formal appeal brought by the Valley Art Center will be heard by the zoning board at 8 p.m. Tuesday. They are also asking for a variance if the appeal as art, not a sign, is voted down.

"We view what we have done as a mural, a painting, as a work of art. The Village has pointed to a rule that the sign that we have painted is too big. So, they define it as a sign. We define it as artwork, or a mural," said Breisch.

The mural was brought as an idea by local artist Lissa Bockrath. The east-facing wall was in disrepair so badly she had to do something as it was being prepped for one color of exterior paint. She decided to run with an idea through latex paint that would showcase five separate artists' work hanging in a gallery, seemingly three-dimensionally behind a brick wall that had fallen away.

"Chagrin has a lot of historic brick buildings and I wanted to use that. This was just a concrete wall so I wanted to use the brick idea to blend it in to the mural with mine and four others' work as a canvas for the paintings, but we had to stop. I'm hoping we can get started again before the snow starts," said Bockrath. "My whole goal as an artist was to give back to the community and the Valley Art Center."

If the Valley Art Center is not given a variance, it can go to the Court of Common Pleas. Both sides are hoping to work it out.

"The problem is we can't seem to find a way to approve this so far because we have not approved other petitions for mural paintings in the past, one by the Boy Scouts to paint walls behind the Giant Eagle," said Himes.

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