Homeowners honor 20th anniversary with mural, city says it's not allowed

A St. John's family painted a mural on the side of a building, but murals aren’t permitted on residential buildings with four or fewer units. The owners said neighbors supported the idea, but one person argues the painting looks like kids jumping off the St. John’s Bridge. (SBG photo)

A St. John's family is working with the city of Portland to make sure their 20th wedding anniversary gift isn't ruined.

"I never really understand why people, you know, purchase such beautiful art and then keep it tucked away in their house for one person to look at," said Amy Occhialino, who lives in the St. John’s Neighborhood, said.

As the anniversary date drew closer, The Occhialino’s decided regular gifts simply wouldn’t do.

"Our gift to each other was a gift to the community," Occhialino said.

The result is a mural. It’s bright yellow, and shows people flying through the sky. The St. John’s Bridge is in the background. The piece of art covers the outside of their home.

It’s a scene that’s hard to miss, and one most of the neighbors welcome.

"Oh, I love it,” Georjean Wilkerson, who lives in the neighborhood, said. “It's beautiful.”

"It seems pretty sweet, like they're probably doing it for their kids a little bit, too," Tim Cannan, who lives in the neighborhood, said.

The couple wanted to put it up so the kids in the neighborhood were inspired to dream. There’s a school a few blocks down the road from their home, so they know it’s a popular place for families to walk by.

"It's imaginative, and I think it adds to the neighborhood,” Wilkerson said.

"It's not a negative thing, so I couldn't imagine negative, but you know how people are," Cannan said.

But for one person, the mural is anything but magical. There's a rule that "murals are not permitted on residential buildings with four or fewer units."

So, one person called the couple out, saying they didn't have a permit, and that the mural showed kids jumping off the St. John's Bridge.

Occhialino said she and her husband knew of the rule, but she said, the city said the couple should be okay if they got their neighbors' approval. They said they did that.

The couple is now working with the city, and hope to change the ordinance.

As far as the meaning of the mural, Occhialino said the person simply misunderstood.

"It's supposed to depict children flying under the bridge, like in a dream,” Occhialino explained.

The couple does think the person who complained may have seen the mural before it was fully completed, leading them to think it was depicting something else.

The rule about the murals dates back to 2009. In explaining the rule, Susan Ellis, a senior planner with the team that implements the Mural program, referenced this document, which on page nine says, “Since the intent of the mural project is to allow works of art that are a community asset, murals placed on single-dwellings or small multi-dwelling structures would not serve this purpose.”

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