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Town of Paonia ponders painted street project

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Photo by Tamie Meck Lauren Ziccardi, a teacher with The Learning Council, gives a presentation on a proposed street art project to the Paonia board of trustees at the July 14 town meeting. The proposal, and an associated draft policy specific to street pa

A proposal for a public art project in Paonia, and a draft of the policy that would allow it, has raised both praise and complaints from citizens and members of the town board of trustees.

The Learning Council submitted a proposal to the town for a street art mural on Fourth Street between Poplar and Box Elder avenues, adjacent to Paonia Elementary School. The mural would be applied directly and permanently onto the street surface. TLC is modeling the project after similar programs in Portland, Ore., and other cities.

In a presentation to town trustees, TLC teacher Lauren Ziccardi explained that the organization approached PES last spring for suggestions on a partnership project. PES staff suggested something that would improve safety for students. Both agreed on the street art project and brought teachers, parents, artists and neighbors on board.

Ziccardi said the project is about neighbors getting to know neighbors and is intended to promote collaboration, decision making, conflict resolution, and to enhance the local culture and neighborhood.

The group did its homework in considering all aspects of the project, including safety and legal issues. The Colorado Department of Transportation informed them that the local governing body would have the final say on such a project, said co-presenter Kristen O'Brien with Solar Energy International, and made suggestions on the best materials to put on the street surface.

The final design, a peony flower, was chosen from more than 70 design submissions. The design, said Ziccardi, is intended to reflect the values of pride and love of natural beauty. Referring to policies adopted over the last 20 years by Portland, the group worked with the town to draft a painted street project-specific public policy, which was also brought before trustees.

The group presented with its application four sheets of signed petitions, mostly from neighbors within a two- to three-block radius of the school, a copy of the design, a proposed timeline, certificate of liability insurance from TLC, and a letter of support from PES principal Sam Cox.

Barb Heck lives near the proposed site, and spoke in favor of the concept, calling it "a real positive step."

Three residents spoke against the project. "I don't want it," said Sue Strong, who has lived adjacent to the school for 37 years. "I am totally against it for a million different reasons." Strong said she also contacted CDOT about the proposal. CDOT "says there's not supposed to be anything distracting" unless it involves safety, said Strong. She said she is in favor of moving the mural to the school parking lot, and that better patrolling of the street, a 15-mph zone, would better serve to slow traffic.

Referring to it as a "muriel," Constantine Hirschfield said he lives within three blocks of the project and that no one asked him about it. "...it is ugly, it does not have anything to do with school at all," said Hirschfield.

Prior to the presentation, trustee Suzanne Watson expressed concern that the town is not fully considering the consequences of passing the draft policy, which she said doesn't address the town's liability. Referring to Portland's policy, she said they deal with the issue of public art in general through an encroachment permit, which releases the town from liability. Watson expressed concern that the project would be a distraction to drivers and a safety issue, that neighborhood concerns aren't being fully addressed, and that allowing the mural to be painted on public property is a "government taking of streets."

"I don't think this process should be dumbed down for Paonia," said Watson.

Town manager Jane Barry disagreed that the policy is being dumbed down and said that the group, the town and trustees have worked "countless hours" together to address all of the concerns raised in the draft. She urged Watson to hear the proposal before making a final judgment.

No formal action was taken on either the project or the draft policy, which is subject to public comment and revision. Both are expected to come before town trustees for a vote at the July 28 public meeting. The application first requires approval of the town's public works committee.

If policy and application are approved, the group plans to paint the mural Aug. 15-16. It will be dedicated to all involved, and especially the children, said Ziccardi. "Our hope is that they can come back year after year and see how it changes ... and how they've helped shape our culture."

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