University Park Neighborhoods hopeful mural at Valley Middle School gets city approval
Having the mural at Valley Middle School means an ordinance to amend city code would need to be approved first.
GRAND FORKS – Those involved in the University Park Neighborhoods, a group of UND grad students and residents who discuss ways to improve the University Avenue Corridor and build community in that neighborhood, are hopeful a mural at Valley Middle School will gain approval from the city.
Shilo Previti, a teaching assistant professor at UND, and Renee Cardarelle, a visiting professor in public administration and political science at UND, have been coordinators for the University Park Neighborhoods since the project first started gathering input from residents last year . Both said the mural would create an aesthetic change for the school, which Previti said is a congregating place for many in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“One of the things the neighborhood really wants to do is some beautification projects, and murals came up as one of them,” Cardarelle said. “In particular with Valley Middle School, because there’s just a lot of things in the community that suggest it doesn’t have the most positive image. It’s an older building, it’s got some concerns with it. They’re hoping to put up a new building.”
Having the mural at Valley Middle School means an ordinance to amend city code — relating to murals in residential zones — would need to be approved first. That process goes to the Planning and Zoning Commission for recommendation and then to the City Council for final approval. At present, murals are only allowed in commercial and industrial zones in the city.
While Lewis and Clark Elementary School has a mural, City Planner Ryan Brooks said the mural was already in place before city code no longer allowed murals in residential zones.
A request from the school district to amend city code — and thus allowing a mural at Valley Middle School — was presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission on April 5, and the City Council on April 17. At both meetings concerns were brought up about maintenance of the mural and what the mural would entail. Additional concerns surrounded potential complaints that could come from residents and how many other entities within a residential zone may also request murals.
“It becomes a real sticky wicket, and in my opinion, we’re just better off following the rules that our Planning Commission, their mural committee, came up with and the City Council affirmed. That’s why we went through the process,” City Council President Dana Sande said at the April 17 council meeting.
Ultimately, council members voted 3-2 to give preliminary approval to make the amendment. The item will go back to the Planning and Zoning Commission on June 7 for a public hearing and recommendation. Council members will then make a final decision.
Cardarelle and Previti said they didn’t anticipate the number of questions and concerns that would be brought up at the meetings. Both said several of those concerns mentioned were also addressed by the coordinators of the University Park Neighborhoods.
“The last thing that we want to do is to have people feel this overwhelming concern,” Cardarelle said. “We want to reassure them that this is supposed to be a happy community activity (and) not a divisive one. We want to hear all voices. All voices are important.”
It's possible students at Valley Middle School would determine themes for the mural. Local artists would be hired to create the designs, and residents would then vote on their favorite.
Previti said the mural design would be submitted to the Planning and Zoning Department to go through the city’s process, and would be painted on a board that could be removed from the building.
Brooks said the department is limited to what it can regulate for murals, though the school district would have the ultimate say on what the mural could or could not include.
Under city code, murals can’t contain advertising or other commercial messages, nor can they include material considered to be obscene or offensive. The code also requires that murals are maintained by being free of dirt, debris, vandalism and graffiti.
With the idea having been brought forward by residents in the University Avenue Corridor, Cardarelle and Previti said they hope more residents will be able to share their input on the mural at the June 7 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, and in turn provide more input to the City Council.
“We really want the residents to be able to explain to them that they are interested,” Previti said.