In response to the Valentine's Day school shooting in South Florida, principals of Lake County’s public middle schools and high schools will each be organizing a group of students at their schools to discuss how the students wish to express themselves in the wake of the tragedy. The goal is to support the students and their collective voice. “Whatever the students come up with, the idea is for everyone – including teachers -- to be able to participate if they choose to do so,” said Sherri Owens, Lake County Schools Communications Officer. The National School Walk-Out for students, teachers, parents and others is March 14. It is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. across all times zones in the country and will last for seventeen minutes --one minute for each of the South Florida victims that perished. The school district is providing students the opportunity to decide how they want to express themselves that day in a manner that allows school officials to maintain accountability for them. “Some may decide to walk out into a courtyard or field on campus, and that would be included as part of the plan they share with the principal,” said Owens of the students’ potential participation. The school district already has several letter writing projects underway and banners that have been signed by students to be sent to Broward County to show support.
Yesterday attorneys for the homeowners embroiled in the “Starry Night” mural dispute filed suit in Federal Court against the City of Mount Dora for allegedly acting unlawfully and violating their clients’ constitutional rights.
Today US District Judge James S. Moody Jr. granted a temporary restraining order against the city to place a hold on fines until a federal judge has an opportunity to resolve the alleged constitutional issues raised by the actions of the city. The fines are now in excess of $10,000 and were increasing by $100 daily.
Jeremy Talcott, an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) which has a winning track record of constitutional cases brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, said the foundation accepted the case pro bono due to the merits and facts of the case. The PLF is arguing that banning the mural is an abusive interpretation of the city’s sign ordinance and violates the U.S. Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The city originally cited the mural as a graffiti, but later changed course and defined it as an illegal sign. Under the code interpretation adopted at a magistrate hearing, anything that attracts attention to itself can be considered a “sign” under Mount Dora’s sign code. That could include yard statuary, holiday decorations and other items.
According to Talcott, the Supreme Court has been skeptical of sign codes that distinguish signs based on content, that prohibit too much speech, or give city officials too much discretion.
In a statement last week, the city did not reference the sign violation, but rather stated the mural is “distraction to safe vehicle operation,” although no related accidents had been reported.
After the original citation, the homeowners incurred the additional expense of extending the mural onto the house after being erroneously informed by the City that the wall was required to match the house.
“Together the residential and commercial areas make up the unique, southern charm that our city council has worked very hard to protect,” read the City’s statement. To date, the Mount Dora City Council has never adopted a code that regulates murals or paint colors in residential neighborhoods.
“Unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful at finding common ground with the homeowners,” wrote the City in an unattributed statement last week. The homeowner in question, Nancy Nemhauser, was astonished by that claim.
"What was the city’s attempt at finding common ground? Was it serving us with a citation, telling us we had to obliterate the painting that is so meaningful to our autistic son, asking for the maximum fine possible, or their asking for a rehearing with ever-growing fines--while other homes with paintings are not cited?" said Nemhauser. “We are not aware of any attempt by the city to find common ground. It's very disappointing to read such fiction from city officials."
Digging in its heels has proven costly to the historic Central Florida city, albeit the biggest losses haven’t been monetary. Mount Dora has endured months of negative press and the federal case could drag that on for a year or more. Meanwhile, the public has expressed overwhelming support on social media for the homeowner’s property rights and the mural. Separately, over 10,000 people have signed an online petition asking the city to keep the mural which was painted by a local artist.
The City was served with the complaint yesterday and has 21 days to respond. The response could either be a motion to dismiss the case or denial of the allegations in the complaint.
The federal case could be resolved by a speedy final judgment from the district court in approximately six months, or it could stretch into a year or more, depending on the various court processes. Talcott has stated PLF is committed to the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
As local folklore goes, "Old Joe" was a stand-out. He was a legendary alligator that patrolled Lake Dora at the turn of the nineteenth century.
The record-breaking, fifteen-foot reptile was rumored to have eaten small animals and even some livestock. Captains of the paddle-wheel boats that steamed across Lake Dora were reportedly familiar with Old Joe, the largest, fiercest and most respected gator on the lake.
Thank to two donors, who wish to remain anonymous, a cast copper replica of ‘Old Joe” will be placed at the entrance of the city's Palm Island Park just south of the lighthouse. The sprawling park includes a recently renovated boardwalk where visitors often see large alligators in their native habitat.
Old Joe was cast at American Bronze Foundry in Sanford with a cost of $52,000 and was donated to the city. The generous donors wanted to give something back to the community in a way that can be interactive and long-lasting while showing the personality of the city.
Old Joe will have a public unveiling on February 20 at 2 p.m. in front of the Palm Island Park at 411 S. Tremain Streeet, after which visitors can view the legendary gator and have a fun photo op.
ABOVE: Wekiva Parkway project at SR 46 and US 441.
Crews are scheduled at night to close State Road 46 from east of Round Lake Road to Swan Road from Wednesday, February 7 to Friday, February 9. The closures are from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in order to continue bridge work as part of building the Wekiva Parkway.
During the closure, traffic will be detoured via Round Lake Road, Wolf Branch Road and County Road 437 to get back to SR 46. A portion of SR 46 between CR 437 and Swan Road will be open to local traffic only.
Flaggers will direct traffic and electronic message boards are posted to alert drivers. Bad weather or other unforeseen circumstances could delay or prolong work. Motorists are urged to use caution in the construction area for their safety and that of the work crews.
The Central Florida Expressway Authority began construction May 2, 2016 on Wekiva Parkway Section 2C. This $49.48 million section stretches from the Lake County-Orange County line to a planned loop interchange at SR 46 east of Round Lake Road. This section is slated to open to traffic in April of 2018. See renderings
Once completed, the 25-mile parkway will complete Central Florida’s beltway, while helping to protect the natural resources surrounding the Wekiva River. Here's the 20 things you need to know about the Wekiva Parkway.
By Marc Crail Mount Dora City Council Member, District 4
You understand that my reports to you are for your information only and I am only one member of City Council. I don't want anyone to think that my views are in any way representative of City Council as a whole. Fair enough? I've selected a few of the items we acted on or discussed this evening that I think you might be interested in.
We gave preliminary approval to a major expansion of Waterman Village. Waterman Village has acquired nearly 37 acres on the east side of Donnelly Street directly across the street from their existing campus. They plan to construct an additional 240 units including a 48 bed Memory Support Center, more duplex/quad independent living apartments as well as a 4 story building with independent living apartments. There are plans for a golf cart and pedestrian bridge arching over Donnelly Street connecting the existing facilities with the new ones. I think this is a great idea and a much needed expansion as they currently have a waiting list of over 100 who would like to move into Waterman Village.
We approved the purchase of about $83,000 worth of personal protection equipment often called "bunker gear" for our fire fighters. The safety and well being of our fire fighters is critically important and instances of cancer among fire fighters are on the rise probably because of the increasing use of plastics and other man made materials in furnishings and fabrics in our homes. They deserve the best equipment we can provide for them as they risk their lives on a daily basis to protect our property and our lives. The funds will come from our Fire Assessment Fee. Money well spent in my opinion.
Tonight we finalized a resolution dealing with short term vacation rentals. This resolution will help regulate these rentals and clearly states our support for local Home Rule which is currently under assault by some members of our state legislature.
The long awaited downtown parking plan continues to evolve and is moving closer to implementation after a decade or more of study and discussion without much action. The parking plan has several facets including some areas where parking will be limited to 4 hours, shuttle service from lots to and from the core downtown businesses, valet service, better signage and more. These components will be rolled out over this year. While not everyone will like every part of the plan, we will implement it and make changes and tweaks along the way. I think that once all the moving parts are in place we will have made good progress on a difficult problem. Stay tuned for more information over the next couple of months.
I've reported to you before about the major collapse of the roadway on Magnolia Ending cul-de-sac in the Dogwood Mountain neighborhood. This is another complex problem that must be attend to asap. City staff reported this evening that progress has been made in design of a wall to stabilize the embankment, permitting and clean up of the effected wetlands area nearby and survey work at the site. There is a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) funding bill that has been favorably reviewed by federal authorities and is due to be voted on by Congress this Thursday, February 8. If that funding reimbursement is approved as we hope it will be, the work should begin in March and should be completed before the rainy season begins in mid-June. There is a contingency plan just in case we don't receive USDA funding. This is a top priority for both residents of Magnolia Ending and city staff. An update meeting for neighbors will be held soon. I don't have a time/date for that meeting yet but neighbors will be notified about that meeting very soon.
Thank you for allowing me to help represent you on Mount Dora City Council. We all face very tough issues in our personal lives and as a city. I am comforted by the words of L.R. Knost who wrote; "Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you."