Come March, customers and visitors of downtown Mount Dora just may find parking a little easier. That’s the month when the city is expecting to begin a four-hour time limit on free street parking in its downtown core. The area’s public parking lots and parking garage, as well as other street parking will continue to provide free, unlimited parking for patrons requiring longer periods.
The goal is to make downtown’s scarce parking more convenient for visitors and customers.
The free four-hour parking is currently planned for every day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The citation amount is tentatively set for $25; however the details still have to be finalized with city staff and the Mount Dora City Council.
The program will roll out once all signage is in place and ample notification has been given to the public and businesses, which is estimated to be sometime in March. The city’s planned valet parking service could begin at the same time or shortly thereafter.
Once the four-hour parking is implemented, the City will continue to monitor and document concerns or issues to ensure the change is effective and runs smoothly. The area’s parking enforcement will be handled by downtown’s new dedicated police officer and supported by rest of the department.
For several years, much of downtown’s most convenient street parking has been occupied by business owners and employees, which contributed to frustrated customers and visitors circling the area like vultures to snag a rare spot.
Past efforts to curtail the problem were met without success and the issue has likely been exacerbated with the increased number of restaurants which employ more staff that require additional parking. In years past, the parking shortage was only felt during the tourist season, but last year patrons found it increasingly difficult to park even in the slow summer months.
Mount Dora visitors and customers that seek free parking with no time limits will still have that option available in all the downtown public parking lots and the parking garage on Donnelly Street. Additionally, street parking that isn’t in the immediate downtown core will also have no time limits.
The city also has anelectric parking shuttle program on the table to transport visitors from parking lots in other parts of the city into downtown. The new vehicles, similar to golf carts except with more seats, will take three months for delivery after the manufacturer is given the green light.
ABOVE: Lubomir (Lubek) Jastrzebski (left) and his wife Nancy Nemhauser (right) with their son. Photo courtesy of Pacific Legal Foundation.
It was the obvious next step. With no code on the books for murals or home-painting and a ruling their wordless mural was an “illegal sign,” it was easy to forecast the homeowners’ appeal. Given the constitutional issues at stake, it was only a matter of time before the legal cavalry would come. Now they have arrived.
Homeowners, Nancy Nemhauser and Lubomir Jastrzebski, are bringing a court challenge to these alleged violations of their constitutional rights of due process and freedom of expression. The couple is now represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, a national non-profit with a record of winning constitutional cases brought before the Supreme Court and the fortitude to see the case through the legal system. Due to the merits of the case, the homeowners are being represented free of charge.
It all started when the drab, white concrete wall outside their home was peeling. The couple responded enthusiastically when an artist offered to adorn it with a mural based on a famous Van Gogh masterpiece.
After city officials told Nemhauser no permit was required for a painting on a wall, they eagerly gave the go-ahead to the artist, and he began work on his vibrant depiction of “Starry Night.”
ABOVE: Rear of home backing up to Old Highway 441
“We have been preparing this house as a home for our adult autistic son. The murals are bright and cheerful. They lift his spirits – and ours,” said a humble Nemhauser, who along with the rest of her family is typically very private. “In the event our son wandered and became disoriented or frightened, we hoped he could articulate that he belongs at the Van Gogh house so responders could help him find his way home.”
A 2012 study funded by Autism Speaks found that nearly half of all children with autism wander. The behavior increases with the disorder's severity, and researchers say the reasons for this behavior include the child's love to explore and run or his need to escape uncomfortable sensory stimuli or anxious situations, or a desire to pursue something of interest. Half of the study’s parents said that to them, wandering is the most stressful behavior of their autistic child, due to the inherent dangers attached.
ABOVE: Front of home that is visible to neighbors is not painted with a mural.
When the mural's paint was dry, the family couldn’t have been happier with the result. The same wasn’t true for the City’s code enforcement. Although Mount Dora touts itself as a town that supports the arts, local officials ostensibly turned into art critics upon seeing the painting. They decided the mural wasn’t permissible after all, although there is no ordinance governing aesthetic standards for painting homes, walls, or other structures. Instead the City provided a shifting cluster of reasons to order the mural removed.
First, the City’s code enforcement officer labeled it “graffiti” and directed that the wall must match the house. The family responded by adding a mural in the same style to the sides of the house behind the wall. However, during a September 14 magistrate hearing, it was revealed the City has no such code, despite widely disseminating information to the contrary.
Undeterred, officials branded both murals as prohibited “signs” – giving the broadest possible interpretation to the city’s vague sign code. Even though the regulators’ open-ended reading of the law could effectively label any form of outdoor décor a “sign,” a city magistrate, contracted by the city, sided with the enforcement officers. The magistrate ordered that the murals be painted over – and hit the family with a $3,100 fine.
PLF attorney Jeremy Talcott, who is representing the family, believes the homeowners are victims of a local regulatory process without clarity or predictability.
“The city’s vague sign law gives code enforcement unbridled discretion, and with Nancy and Lubomir the enforcement officers chose to interpret it in the most sweeping way conceivable. A law so ill-defined that no one can say for sure what it does or doesn’t allow is no law at all,” said Talcott.
Public information requested from the City for this article was not made available. The City’s attorney declined to comment citing the pending litigation.
“Pacific Legal Foundation fights for individual liberty, including constitutional guarantees of due process and freedom of expression,” said PLF President and CEO Steven D. Anderson. “This mission requires challenging arbitrary abuses by unelected bureaucrats. We look forward to vindicating these vital principles.”
ABOVE: The west-facing side of the mural
The saga continuesFebruary 1 after the City’s attorney requested a rehearing for additional fines, according to Talcott. The public hearing begins Thursday at 9 a.m. at Mount Dora City Hall.
“By seeking large fines the City is trying to force Nancy and Lubek to destroy the mural before a judge has had a chance to rule on whether or not the sign code can be lawfully applied to it," said Talcott. "The homeowners have a right to judicial review of the alleged violation, especially considering the fact that the city relied on a new and novel interpretation of their sign code at the code enforcement hearing."
“The bureaucrats used this vague ordinance as license to behave like art censors, imposing their aesthetic likes and dislikes on Nancy and Lubomir,” he said. “If government is going to restrict people’s expressive rights, there must be a powerful, predictable, clearly articulated justification, not simply the whims of regulators.”
As a result of the public outcry over the city’s stance on the issue, an online petition garnered over 5400 signatures in support of the homeowners. Meanwhile, other Lake County cities and businesses have jumped on the chance to show their support of art and public murals. Downtown Eustis now has two murals by the same artist and Leesburg just approved hiring the artist to do a mural in their downtown.
“The whole experience with these bureaucrats is a literal nightmare. In fact, it brings back haunting memories of my life under communism in my native Poland,” said Jastrzebski. “ I immigrated to America 45 years ago to escape communist oppression in Poland. I have been a proud American citizen for decades, and the reason I came here is the rule of law.
“In America, bureaucrats are supposed to follow clear legal rules, not make the rules up as they go along. And America is supposed to stand for freedom of expression, not arbitrary censorship by bureaucrats," said Jastrzebski. "Reasonable regulations are necessary and fine, but there must be due process – and that’s the principle we’re fighting for, on everyone’s behalf.”
Several area churches are opening their doors as a refuge for individuals and families vulnerable to freezing temperatures set to affect Lake County this week.
The cold-weather shelters will be operating during the overnight hours, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Wednesday, January 17 and Thursday, January 18 at the following locations: · LifePointe Church, located at 3551 E. Orange Ave., Eustis · First Baptist Church of Mount Dora, 1000 E. 1st Ave., Mount Dora
Warming stations have also been established at two locations, and will operate on Wednesday and Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.: · Salvation Army, 2605 South St, Leesburg · The Open Door, 115 Citrus Ave., Eustis
“We rely on our local non-profits and religious-affiliated organizations to help with humanitarian efforts during these types of cold-weather events,” said Tommy Carpenter, Director of Lake County’s Office of Emergency Management.
Florida Division of Emergency Management is reminding residents of the importance of the ''Five P's" of cold-weather tips. 1. Protect People: Remember to dress in layers and wear a hat and gloves. Try to stay out of the wind and to stay dry. 2. Protect Pets: If cold weather is in the forecast, be sure to bring outdoor pets inside or give them a warm shelter to stay in. 3. Protect Plants: Cover cold-sensitive plants to protect them from the dangerous temperatures. 4. Protect Pipes: Cover pipes and allow outdoor faucets to slowly drip to prevent them from freezing and breaking. 5. Practice Fire Safety: Use safe heating sources indoors. Do not use fuel-burning devices such as grills; they release carbon monoxide, which is a deadly gas. Also, make sure to use space heaters according to their instructions and be attentive to open flames.
For non-profit and religious organizations who wish to offer sheltering assistance, email Lake County Emergency Management at email@example.com.
By Marc Crail Mount Dora Councilman, District 4 Representative
There were 2 meetings today, a work session from 3:00 to about 5:15 and then a "regular" meeting from 6:00 to 9:45. It was a long evening!
I'll tell you about a few of the most important items but once again please remember that what follows are my take and I'm only one council member. Not everyone might not agree with me. You've heard that from me before.
The Work Session included discussions about our Strategic Planning process, the proposed new Public Works Building, a downtown parking update, a policy review as well as a proposed Charter Review process. These were all discussions only, not action items tonight.
The "regular" meeting featured 2 new development resolutions.
The first and by far the longest discussion was about a developer's request for changes in the use of property located outside of Mount Dora near the Publix shopping plaza and the Stoneybrook residential development just across the Orange County line along U.S. Rt. 441. You might be wondering why an Orange County development outside of our city limits is any of our business. It is our business due to a longstanding (1996) JPA (Joint Planning Area) agreement we have with Orange County because we provide water, sewer utilities to Stoneybrook Hills. The property is currently approved to be used for 7.5 acres of office buildings and 280 homes on 56 acres of 55+ age restricted homes. Now the developer has requested to change the 7.5 acre parcel from office space to retail commercial space which we eventually approved on a 7-0 vote.
He also wanted to change the 280 homes for residents 55+ on the remaining 56 acres and instead build 500 non age restricted apartments or condos which would nearly double the density from about 5 homes per acre to over 9 homes per acre. The buildings would be at least 3 stories high. Most of us were worried about the density issue and that request was denied in a 6-1 vote with only Mayor Girone voting to approve it. Because Orange County officials have already approved both of the developer's requests, the proposal may well be revised and is likely to come back to us at a later date for reconsideration.
The second development is named Mount Dora Landings. It will include 129 single family homes on 34 acres (about 4 Energy Star rated homes per acre) to be located on land that is currently an orange grove at the top of Grandview. We approved a zoning change from
R-2 (single family or duplex) to Medium Density Residential (only single family homes). The homes will sit on 50' lots. We think this community will be a good addition to Mount Dora. The homes will be at least 1250 sq. ft. and will all include garages and buffered perimeter green space. This passed on a 7-0 vote.
Since yesterday was Martin Luther King Day I thought I'd share a few of my favorite quotes from Dr. King who was my childhood hero.
"The time is always right to do what is right."
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." and my personal favorite,
"Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend."
What a great orator he was! Thanks as always for the opportunity to be your District 4 City Council Representative.
The heart of any downtown has issues and opportunities distinguishing it from other parts of the city. In an effort to assist downtown Mount Dora, the city’s police department has assigned an officer specifically for the area.
Mount Dora Police Department Corporal Jessica Howell will be responsible for law enforcement and community relations within the quaint downtown. Her daily mode of transportation will be a Segway, the highly maneuverable, two-wheeled, electric vehicle. It’s expected to arrive in a week, until then she will be patrolling on foot and occasionally in a police vehicle.
“As the position continues to develop so will my duties and responsibilities,” said Howell.
Mount Dora Police Department is still working on where Howell will be based downtown, however she is already working in the downtown area without an office. Currently the officer is familiarizing herself with the merchants, shops, parking areas, and the downtown Community Redevelopment Area by meeting merchants and conducting foot patrols within the assigned area.
Howell will work a flexible forty-hour schedule downtown with times and days that accommodate the unique needs of the downtown area.
The officer is not new to the city. She has been with MDPD for over eleven years. Howell worked as a patrol officer for 6 years followed by three years as the North East CRA officer. During that time Howell initiated and developed the Citizens Police Academy, as well as MDPD’s participation in several community outreach projects. She was promoted to corporal in 2015 and was reassigned to the patrol division.
By Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative
I sincerely appreciate your interest in your Mount Dora City Council meetings. I must reiterate that I am just one of seven members so what you read here are my observations and may not represent City Council as a whole.
Tonight's agenda was fairly light in terms of resolutions but there was good discussion on some upcoming items that will be dealt with in the next few meetings.
After our last meeting I reported that although we as a group had supported the Service Line Warranty Program when it was proposed to us in the spring, a very poor rollout of the program had convinced me that we should terminate our participation in it. I didn't think that any amount of "re-dos" could correct it. This evening we voted unanimously to give notice to the company that we will be ending our participation. That notification process might take a month or two but in the meantime there will no more solicitation letters.
During the City Council Work Session on December 14 which I was unable to attend, a delegation of owners of Mount Dora Bed & Breakfasts presented their concerns regarding what they see as an unequal playing field from short term rentals that are most commonly known as "AirBnBs". Their concerns ranged from a lack of licensing at many "AirBnBs" to possibly not paying taxes, or undergoing safety inspections as well as parking and noise issues. One couple who operates an "Air B&B" in town provided us with information outlining their efforts to comply with all applicable state and local rules. Apparently, there are now more than 200 short term vacation rentals in Mount Dora but only about 25 of them are licensed under Florida Statutes. Our discussion tonight also revealed that in 2009 the Florida Legislature preempted cities from adopting some types of local ordinances concerning short term rentals. This is an ongoing discussion but it was clear to me that we will be limited in or options going forward. I'm hopeful that we can somehow figure out a way to address the legitimate concerns of B&B owners while operating within state law. Stay tuned for more on this topic.
On Sunday January 28th there will be a "Latin Festival Fundraiser" to benefit residents of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands who sustained property damage in recent hurricanes. The event will be from 3:00-7:00 p.m. on the 4th Ave pedestrian mall. It will feature food, drinks and music. It sounds like a worthy cause. Please plan to attend.
Linda Bokland was appointed to the Police Pension Board and Jim Murray was appointed to the Fire Pension Board.
Here's a good quote from Mark Twain. "Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astound the rest."