Man's quirky wall may prove no barrier to code violations

2012-03-13T00:00:00Z 2012-03-19T20:54:58Z Man's quirky wall may prove no barrier to code violationsVeronica M. Cruz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 13, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Gary Morrow, known as "The Wall Guy," has devoted the last five years to transforming what was once a cinder block wall surrounding his north-side home into a diorama of Southwest scenes.

The three-dimensional depictions forged from stucco, paint and whatever he can get his hands on include such familiar scenes as the Catalina Mountains, saguaros, a statue of St. Francis, an Anasazi village and even a pirate ship docked in his driveway last Halloween. The Star featured the wall in October in its weekly "Tucson Oddities" column.

But like the Walls of Jericho, Morrow's wall could soon come tumbling down as a result of a litany of zoning- and building- code violations and possible right-of-way encroachment.

Morrow calls the project "up-cycling" since all of his supplies are recycled materials, and he terms his work on the wall a form of "therapy."

"Whoever I need to talk to, whatever I need to do so I don't need to tear it down, ... I'll do whatever," Morrow said of what is becoming a mad scramble to save the wall, at 3674 N. Park Ave.

A notice of violation from the city arrived in Morrow's mailbox in early February, listing six different violations, five of which are related to the wall, after a complaint was made to the city's Department of Neighborhood Resources.

The infractions include unapproved accessory structures, excessive materials stored in Morrow's yard, electrical hazards, unapproved storage containers and the height of the wall exceeding 6 feet tall without a permit.

What the city calls accessory structures, Morrow calls a gazebo, water fountain and a deck, all of which are in various stages of completion. He's hoping to get a variance from the city that will allow him to keep the structures. He's also hoping the city will grant a variance for the height of the wall.

Materials stored in his yard used to decorate the wall take up far more than the 25 percent of outdoor space allowed for storage under city regulations. To clean them up, Morrow has gotten rid of some items and stored some in other places and with other people.

He is also working on getting a permit to keep three, large metal storage containers on the southeast corner of his property.

He says he's already taken down the several extension cords, exposed wires and Christmas lights he used to decorate the wall for the holidays, eliminating a potential electrical hazard.

Since the original violation notice was served, another, potentially more onerous problem has come up. The wall may be encroaching on city property, which could mean the entire thing would have to be moved, said Mike Graham, a city of Tucson spokesman.

Morrow said he just put his wall in the same place where a previous wall stood.

But when comparing aerial images of Morrow's wall, his property line and paving plans for the neighborhood, "there's a potential right-of-way violation," Graham said. A survey will be required to verify that possible violation, Graham said. If Morrow's wall is, in fact, encroaching on city property, he could apply to buy the right-of-way area from the city, Graham said.

Morrow said he is committed to doing whatever he can to preserve the wall, and several admirers of the wall are jumping on board to help him out.

Laura Huerta, her 19-year-old daughter, Trinda, and 11-year-old daughter, Marista, have helped circulate a petition to collect signatures from people who want to show their support for Morrow and the wall. Morrow calls the trio "Gary's Angels."

The Huerta family first saw the wall while driving through the neighborhood around the holidays.

"We came by and saw the wall, and we fell in love with it," Laura Huerta said.

When they heard about Morrow's city code problems, they knew they had to help.

The Huertas have set up an online petition at www.change.org called "Wall guy; Save the wall!" and they sometimes sit in front of the wall with a poster board with photos showing the wall's progress to collect more signatures from passers-by.

Trinda Huerta, a student at Pima Community College, has also made a YouTube video with a collection of photos she's taken of the wall.

"This wall just inspires me," said Trinda Huerta, who wants to become a photographer.

The messages left on a bulletin board range from "Save the wall!" to "God bless the wall guy" to "This wall is what makes my day everyday! Keep it going."

Morrow says he gets the most joy from helping to brighten up other people's day. "I like to create different things to make people happy," he said.

See the wall online

• To view a YouTube video of the wall, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=juznkXrpiD8

• To sign the online petition, go to www.change.org/petitions/wall-guy-save-the-wall

Now on sale

"Tucson Oddities, Too" is now available.

The sequel to "Tucson Oddities Vol. 1" features another 50 hometown oddities suggested by Star readers. Price: $14.99 plus tax.

A limited number of Volume 1 and 2 are available in a box set for $29 plus tax.

The books can be bought at the Star, 4850 S. Park Ave., or online at azstarnet.com/store (shipping and handling charges will be applied.)

Questions can be referred to oddity@azstarnet.com or 573-4232.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or 573-4224.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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