Scottsdale halts The Maverick Mural as access, color scheme draw concerns

A graphic rending of what The Maverick Mural could look upon completion. (Submitted graphic)

A red, white and blue mural honoring the state of Arizona and late Sen. John McCain has been halted at the request of Scottsdale City Council until a review of the decision is completed.

On Tuesday, Jan. 8, Scottsdale City Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield made a motion to initiate a formal review of the Development Review Board’s Dec. 20, 2018, decision regarding The Maverick Mural’s color scheme. The motion carried 5-2, with councilmembers Virginia Korte and Linda Milhaven dissenting.

The project has simultaneously been halted until the review is concluded, which is estimated to be scheduled for a February City Council meeting.

Scottsdale City Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield at the Jan. 8 public hearing at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Artist Aaron Bass says some work has already been started on the wall at 4235 N. Marshall Way, but it hasn’t come without complications as a neighboring business owner called the Scottsdale Police Department several times in one night.

The project itself lies along the north side of a commercial building, placing it right on the site’s property line. The location of the mural abutting the property line poses a challenge for accessibility, and installation and maintenance of the mural requires crossing onto the parking lot of the adjacent property and its associated airspace, a December city staff report states.

Without the permission from the adjacent property owner, physical trespass onto the parking lot to access the mural for installation and maintenance is a concern; in addition, the mural may attract tourists and onlookers who may seek to cross onto the adjacent property to view the mural up close.

During the City Council meeting, Ms. Littlefield didn’t speak on her desire to review the DRB decision — other than she sees this as a policy decision — and it isn’t a feeling about the actual mural of Sen. McCain.

Scottsdale City Attorney Bruce Washburn prefaced the vote by clarifying a DRB decision doesn’t happen often, citing the last one being in 2010. He said the council will look at The Maverick Mural’s application, such as DRB would, and make a ruling following the DRB guidelines — focused on limited scope of architectural design and layout or proposed plans.

Scottsdale City Attorney Bruce Washburn, who oversees the legal proceedings of the West’s Most Western Town. (File photo)

“In this matter, I know there’s been quite a bit of public discussion about concerns of an adjoining property owner and property rights — I don’t mean to minimize those concerns in any way — but I did want to make the point that those were not concerns the DRB was authorized to take into consideration, so the council would be operating under the same limited scope of review,” Mr. Washburn explained.

The DRB is a volunteer board comprised of five community members, one City Council representative, and one Planning Commission representative. Ms. Korte is the current council representative, while Kevin Bolinger is the planning representative at this time.

DRB member Tammy Caputi was the only person who voted against The Maverick Mural on Dec. 30.

The architect and designer of the mural is Mr. Bass, along with Thamarit “Tommy” Suchart of Chen & Suchart Studio. Eric Marvin is the property owner.

In honor of “The Maverick”

The three men responsible for the mural raised more than $20,000 earlier this year through a Kickstarter campaign to create the art piece.

Access to the creation of The Maverick Mural has drawn the chagrin of an adjacent property owner. (Photo courtesy of Matt Winquist)

The mural is proposed to be comprised of 30,000 pictograms representing the five Cs of Arizona along the north façade of an existing downtown Scottsdale commercial building, which will face toward an existing parking lot on the adjacent property.

The five Cs of Arizona are: Copper, cattle, cotton, citrus and climate. These pictograms will form an image of Sen. McCain and the state of Arizona flag when viewed from a distance.

Its location is across the street from the Bob Parks Horse Fountain.

During the Dec. 30 DRB meeting, Mr. Bass described the painting as a “paint by numbers” type of project, which creates the larger images comprised of thousands of tiny symbols.

Three colors are utilized for the mural: Red, white and blue. The wall had already been painted white, and Mr. Bass says the red and blue will take up approximately 45 percent of the 30-foot-tall, 141-foot-long wall.

In staff’s analysis to DRB, it recommended approval of The Maverick Mural, stating it conforms to the downtown urban design and architectural guidelines by addressing the applicable objectives outlined in the Marshall Way — Craftsman’s Court Urban Design Objectives.

The objectives include promoting the identity of the district as an arts and gallery district.

“It’s just a giant blank white wall that is front and center to the fountain, it’s a very perfect location for this nature,” Mr. Suchart said.

Mr. Bass says he has gained a right-of-way permit to do the work, which had been planned to be completed in the middle of the night, after business hours.

“We’re extremely disappointed, but at the end of the day we’re going to continue to honor the late Sen. McCain and his legacy,” Mr. Bass said after the City Council’s decision to pause the project. “We’re really trying to promote and commemorate the veterans serving our country now. We’re going to keep fighting and working towards our goal.”

At this time, the mural has about a 12-foot section finished that goes the full 30-feet in height, Mr. Bass said, as well as work along the bottom of the wall.

“We’re working at night time when there’s no cars there,” Mr. Suchart explained. “We’ve offered him compensation — he’s accepted compensation in the past to renovate the property, the parking lot surface. We thought we’ll offer him a little more this time for his inconvenience. He doesn’t want to accept that for whatever reason.”

After the DRB voted in favor of the project, the artists went to the site to take some measurements, Mr. Bass says, when the police were called on them several times.

“SPD said we’re well within our rights, we’re not being a nuisance, doing our business as we said we were. Everything we were doing was reasonable,” he said.

Mr. Bass says they worked until about 2 a.m. that night, at which point the police officers had come by a few times. Finally, the officers asked them to end their work for the evening because they’d received too many phone calls.

The seal of the city of Scottsdale. (File photo)

Red, white and blue

In December, the Development Review Board looked at The Maverick Mural’s application for about 50 minutes, including hearing public testimony for and against the project.

City Planner Andrew Chi presented the project for the board, outlining the elements of the mural and the Marshall Way —Craftsman’s Court Urban Design Objectives and guidelines. One guideline noted, that the mural doesn’t adhere to, is the requirement for “light earth tones.”

“The Development Review Board needs to consider that the mural adheres to these guidelines since it’s not meeting the light earth tone requirement and the pedestrian nature of the guidelines,” Mr. Chi said. “The mural needs to comply with the Old Town Scottsdale Character Area Plan. It does.”

Mr. Chi said city staff has met with the adjacent property owner, who stated the challenges of access and trespass.

Former Scottsdale City Councilman David Ortega spoke on behalf of the neighboring property owner, Dewey Schade, at the DRB meeting. Mr. Ortega says Mr. Schade and himself are both longtime supporters of Sen. McCain.

“The property is within inches of his property,” Mr. Ortega explained, noting that Mr. Schade owns fives buildings and six lots in the area. “This parking lot is a vital part of his property. He has leases with his tenants to park there. You have everything from pick-ups to Porsches; they’re all expecting to have a safe and trouble-free parking location.”

Mr. Ortega questioned the method of which the paint would be applied to the wall — paint brush or sprayed — in addition to what machinery or equipment will be used, and what will be the maintenance plan for the mural.

“All murals will deteriorate, and we expect this one too as well. In this case it becomes a target because it’s also representational of, in their words, Sen. McCain. So this mural, for better or for worse, could be vandalized,” Mr. Ortega said.

“Mr. Schade’s property could be harmed by this. He generates millions of dollars from his properties; so the adjacent property can still rent their property whether there’s a mural on the site. My friend, and client, Dewey Schade is saying ‘no,’ invasion of his property can cause monetary damages to his properties.”

DRB Vice Chair Joe Young noted that the building in question looks like it had recently been renovated and repainted. Mr. Marvin, the owner, said it had been recently repainted, and Mr. Schade accepted payment at that time to complete the work.

(File photo)

“We did pay for access — [we] would have been happy to pay for access on this occasion, however, for whatever reason, Mr. Schade does not want to do that — [he] does not want to engage in some sort of agreement where I move onto his property to allow Mr. Bass to execute,” Mr. Marvin said.

City staff representative Steve Venker says access to the north wall of the building will have to be through an agreement between the two property owners, but the city does believe the mural can be placed on the wall.

Mr. Bass explained they are trying to access the property from the right-of-way and the sidewalk.

“We want to use an articulating boom to span from one side to the other, so we never have to step foot on Dewey’s property,” Mr. Bass said. “It’s purely about — we don’t want to invade his property — it’s just about us wanting to put it on our private property.”

Ms. Caputi says the DRB meeting was to discuss the color.

“This mural is very red and very blue, I think that definitely needs to have a little conversation,” she said. “The red and blue seem very stark — is it allowable?”

Mr. Venker says it’s up to the board to decide if they’re going to approve the proposal, or they could ask the applicant to look at other colors. Mr. Venker did say that red, white and blue are identified in the city guidelines as accent colors.

“When we first looked at this, the amount of actual color that’s on that white field, the wall, is like 40-45 percent of color. That from the distance begins to affect the pastel characteristics of the mural — some of those colors are overwhelmed by the white background and they’re very faint from a distance, but up close some of the parts of the field are very intense,” Mr. Venker explained.

“So it’s a matter of understanding — and the colors, it may still be a hue, a red hue and a blue hue, but they might be more characteristic of reds and blues that we see in the desert than on a Crayola drawing.”
Ultimately, the mural passed DRB 6-1.

A single voice

Ms. Caputi, the one dissenting vote at DRB, says she voted no on the McCain mural solely based on DRB principals.

Tammy Caputi

“I think the case was complicated because the artwork involves Sen. John McCain, who was a great American and a great Arizonan who served his country heroically and deserves to be honored, but perhaps this particular mural was not the appropriate format,” Ms. Caputi said in an emailed response to questions.

“A vote against the mural has nothing to do with the subject matter, but it was difficult for people to separate the issues, I believe, since it’s emotional.”

The DRB commissioner says the specific issues she saw were clearly outlined in the DRB agenda on Dec. 20. She described that the red and blue colors proposed for the mural are not light earth tones that reflect the Sonoran Desert palette, and may not be appropriate within the context of the Marshall Way — Craftsman’s Court design guidelines.

She also says the scale of the mural encompasses the entire façade of the north elevation of the building, which diverts from the pedestrian experience encouraged within the district.

“The location of the mural on the north side of the building abutting the property line poses a challenge for accessibility,” she said. “There were concerns from the adjacent property owner about how the building wall will be accessed to paint and maintain the mural, and possible trespassing onto the parking lot by pedestrians to view the mural.”

Ms. Caputi says she thinks the City Council was justified in their decision to take another look at the DRB’s review.

“I am fully in support of public art and in honoring Sen. McCain, but I think this particular mural needs further discussion for the reasons I’ve outlined. I voted no because I think these are valid concerns that need to be addressed further before giving the project a green light,” Ms. Caputi says.

“I think the City Council was justified in voting to view the decision and take another look. The mural is very large and bright and will be with us for a long time; let’s make sure we get this right and with the community on board.”

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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