Auburn Forms Art Study Group

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BY HANNAH LESTER

The city of Auburn is in the process of forming an art-related study group, which will look at changing the zoning ordinances in the city of Auburn.

Recent news has citizens up in arms that the Auburn Zoning Board has called for the removal of a mural on Opelika Road, located on the side of the Bedzzz Express.

The mural depicts ‘Greetings From Auburn’ with each letter showcasing a different part of Auburn including Chris Davis, former Auburn running back in the Kick Six in 2013; Momma Goldberg’s and Chicken Salad Chick’s logos; Jordan-Hare Stadium; Samford Hall; the lathe; and Bo Jackson. The background of the mural includes Aubie, an Eagle, Toomer’s Drugstore and the Auburn Oaks, rolled in toilet paper.

The mural, according to the zoning board, violates city ordinances.

The mural was unveiled in fall 2021 and has already become a spot for instagram-worthy photos.

In early February the board voted against the mural.

Tuesday night, however, during the Auburn City Council meeting, Ward 3 Council Member Beth Witten initiated a discussion on community art and murals in the city.

“I wanted to just ask this body to consider look at how art interacts in our community and how we either allow an individual, a business or even possibly our own municipal art to be displayed throughout our community,” Witten said.

The mural itself was not brought up during the meeting but it is the subject of much online discussion and debate.

“We’re not here to discuss any specific mural cases but there has been a question as to what our ordinance says and I want to make sure everyone understands, when we have a law in the books, such as an ordinance, the city doesn’t get to pick and choose, as we just discussed with noise complaints, which ordinances we enforce and which we do not,” said City Manager Megan Crouch. “We have to enforce them all.”

Crouch said the city council could not change the ordinance immediately on Tuesday night.

Witten said she does believe that Auburn is pro-art and listed a few organizations that help keep the city arts-invested such as the Auburn Arts Association or the Jule Collins Smith Museum.

“What I’m asking us to discuss is art without being contained in four walls, but maybe on the outside of a wall, or in a right-of-way or a public or private space,” she said.

Planning Director Steve Foote spoke on the zoning regulations in the city.

The Planning Commission looked at mural and art research in 2021, Foote said, and considered the creation of an arts commission.

He defined mural and said that murals are not allowed by zoning if they fit the definition of a mural. There is no process in place for residents, artists or businesses to apply for creating murals in the city.

“City council has the ability to initiate a text amendment to the zoning ordinance, as does the planning commission,”  he said. “And that would be something that would be worked on by staff, presented to the Planning Commission, they would make a recommendation that is forwarded to you and then, of course, you would have to adopt an ordinance to change the zoning ordinance.”

The council decided Tuesday night to form the art-focused study group on Mayor Ron Anders suggestion.

“Allow this group … to spend some time over the next 60 or 75 days engaging with our planning staff, engaging with our parks and rec, engaging with people in our community who are interested in this and help us understand how we could make it happen,” Anders said.

The group would return to the council with recommendations, Anders said. The council was amenable to the idea.

SABRE FINANCING:

The Industrial Development Board is partnering with Sabre Finance following a vote from the Auburn City Council Tuesday night. The partnership will offer opportunities for financing for local businesses.

The partnership, with the Birmingham-based organization, will create an SBA Loan Fund and add a certified community development financial institution (CDFI) to the city.

“The city of Auburn Department of Economic Development, in order to make funding more accessible to minority-owned business and start-ups, began discussions with Sabre Financing regarding locating a branch of their operation in Auburn, Alabama,” said a memo from City Manager Megan Crouch.

CDFIs are focused on business development.

“CDFIs can help bridge the financing gap when a project presents a higher risk profile than a traditional lending institution is comfortable funding,” the memo said. “CDFIs often serve the community by supporting the needs of growing businesses, minority-owned businesses and startups who might be strapped for cash.”

The goal, according to the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 ensures that those in need of funding can receive it “without bias.”

“A CDFI in the market would be able to assist businesses in situations where financing gaps might exist, where additional equity isn’t available or where smaller, short-term solution for working capital shortfalls are needed,” the memo said. “… With the city’s increased focus on driving entrepreneurial growth, as well as Auburn University’s robust development of entrepreneurial programming, the Auburn market is ripe for entrepreneurial activity.

“… We continue to see businesses start in Auburn and grow in Auburn. We now have an opportunity to have those very same businesses financed in Auburn as well.”

As part of the agreement, the Industrial Development Board will provided over $150,000 to Sabre Finance.

Additionally, the city of Auburn will allocate part of the Urban Development Action Grant paybacks to be used in the loan reserve. The Industrial Development Board is asking for $75,000 from the Urban Development Action Grant funding.

“Sabre is excited by the prospect of working with the city of Auburn’s Economic Development Department,” said a document from Sabre.

OTHER BUSINESS:

– The council approved a contract with Eye Partners, P.C. for a sublease for the relocation of CityCare for just under $51,000.

-The council suspended its rules to move the process of interviews up to fill a vacant planning commission seat.

– The council approved a contract with Gulf Coast Truck and Equipment Company Incorporated to purchase a 2023 Mack LR64 2849 Autoreach 28-yard Automated Side Loading Refuse Collection Body for the Environmental Services Department for over $309,800.

– The council approved a contract with South Dade Air Conditioning and Regrigeratoin, Inc. for a multi-use path on Martin Luther King Drive and SR-14 for over $766,200.

– The council approved a contract with Spire Alabama, Inc. for extending natural gas services to the Auburn Soccer Complex for over $19,000.

– The council approved rights-of-way, various draining and utility easements for Chapel Heights, LLC. for property southwest of the intersection of Pierce Chapel Road and Lee Road 027.

– The council approved a statutory warranty deed for lots 6 and 8 of Tucker Heights Subdivision for the North Auburn Housing Development Corporation.

– The council approved an annexation of 3 acres for Everett and Mary Ann Williamson for property on the east side of Society Hill Road.

– The council fixed the costs for weed abatements for two properties: 937 Alan Ave. and 515 Byrd St.

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