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Billionaire’s Vancouver mural prompts graffiti gripes

A man walks along the waterfront as a graffiti mural, centre left, commissioned by Lululemon founder Chip Wilson is seen on the seawall at his home amongst graffiti painted by unknown people on the seawalls of other homes in Vancouver, on Tuesday November 5, 2013.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Lululemon founder and billionaire Chip Wilson generated grumbling from some neighbours during the six years he spent building his $35-million house spread across four lots on Vancouver's Point Grey Road.

Now he seems to have done it again after commissioning several graffiti artists to paint a mural on the seawall in front of his house to cover up persistent, spray-painted scrawls.

That mural generated a complaint to the city from an unknown citizen, which triggered a response from the engineering department because it turned out that Mr. Wilson didn't get a development permit as required. And, since the city encourages murals, but not those that have graffiti-like elements, there's a possibility Mr. Wilson could be asked to alter it.

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"We have asked in the past that one other one be changed, in the Downtown Eastside, because of stylizing graffiti on it," said Peter Judd, the head of Vancouver's engineering department.

The city's integrated graffiti-management task force will make the call on whether the mural, which was spray-painted on the 60-metre seawall in front of Chip and Shannon Wilson's house two weeks ago, will need similar amendments.

Mr. Judd said Mr. Wilson's effort is far from the only case where people have put up murals in public places without the necessary permit. There are about 100 unpermitted murals around Vancouver at the moment, he said, which city staff are dealing with.

People often don't realize the city's sign bylaw requires them to get a permit and that the bylaw prohibits certain things: any racist or hate message; commercial advertising; and anything that looks too much like graffiti. If those conditions are met, everything is fine.

"We do encourage murals because it helps discourage graffiti," Mr. Judd said. "That area where [the Wilsons] put the mural, that for sure is an area where there is a problem with graffiti."

The news about the Wilsons' seawall-beautification efforts came to light when local graffiti artists were interviewed as they worked on the $7,000 project.

So far, the mural hasn't generated a huge outcry from neighbours. Several people who live within a few blocks of the house said they didn't even know about it or they thought that some artwork might improve the seawall. They were more relieved that, whatever Mr. Wilson is doing, it no longer involves the trucks, crane and construction activity that the house project generated for the past six years.

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But Lesley Donaldson, who had just spotted pictures of the new mural on her phone, was less enthused. "I understand that he had a good motivation, but I don't like it. When I first read that it was going to be a mural, I thought it was going to be charming. I don't like this."

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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