The price tag is steep. The City of Mount Dora has not reconsidered its claim that the Starry Night mural painted on the wall and back of a home along Old Highway 441 is illegal signage. The city labeled it such even though there are no words on the painting or an artist’s signature.
Instead of staying the fines until the appeal is heard, today a second magistrate hearing resulted in the homeowners, Nancy Nemhauser and Lubomir Jastrezbski, being slapped with a $3,100 fine while they wait for the appeal process to play out. The magistrate, who is contracted by the city, could have levied fines over twice that amount.
Despite Mount Dora’s reputation as an art community, the city originally cited the artist’s interpretation of van Gogh's painting as a graffiti violation then abandoned that claim.
Not overlooked by residents critical of the city’s handling of the case are the prominent illegal signs just a couple of blocks away on three commercial buildings. One illegal sign on the side of a building is the size of a billboard and has remained in place for years. Across the street is another illegal off-site sign that is erected annually to promote the owner’s tenants. Additional violations are the conspicuous, over-sized posters in a vacant building's windows which were installed several months ago on the same main thoroughfare of downtown.
The owner of those three properties, Main Street Leasing, has made significant donations to the city and has not experienced the same swift enforcement as the homeowners. Instead the city decided to pause enforcement of MSL's violations until they can review the code. The homeowners were not given the same consideration.
The homeowners' attorney, Laura Hargrove, stated the case involves significant First Amendment and private property rights issues, in addition to the city's selective code enforcement.
The house is not located within a homeowners association, so no deed restrictions apply for paint colors or murals. According to the city during the first magistrate hearing, there are also no city codes for residential paint colors or murals.