Art, sign or something else?

Home owners in Mount Dora, Florida have been fined more than $10,000 for refusing to paint over their home and outside wall with a solid color. Currently, a version of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” completely covers the house and wall in order to make it more memorable for their child, an autistic adult. Originally, the home owners had the outside wall painted like the Van Gogh piece. In September 2017, the city said the house and wall had to match, so they had the house painted like Starry Night as well. The city initially referred to it as graffiti, then it questioned whether it should be considered a sign. Neither definition fit, but the city insisted it violated city code as a distraction to motorists.

An April 24, 2018 article in the Lake County News reported, “Mount Dora officials say the “Starry Night” home of Nancy Nemhauser and Lubomir Jastrzebski violates city code, but attorneys for Nemhauser and Jastrzebski recently received a temporary injunction from a federal judge to stop $100-a-day fines by the city, saying their First Amendment and due process rights are being violated. The dispute was featured on NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday morning, drawing national attention to standoff in the Lake County.”

Orlando Sentinel columnist Lauren Ritchie wrote, “This is a property rights issue easily fixed by the city changing its intrusive codes. Unfortunately, the dispute over the reproduction of Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” on a house and wall is a sign of a troubling trend — that of municipalities starting to act like homeowner associations.”

In February 2018, the judge halted the recurring fines and ruled “It is in the public interest to temporarily restrain enforcement of the underlying sign ordinances in order to avoid the chilling of the First Amendment rights of all individuals in the City of Mount Dora.”


Wade Swormstedt

Wade Swormstedt

Wade is Executive Director of the Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry. Formerly he was Editor and Publisher of Signs of the Times magazine.

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Posted in 1st Ammendment / Freedom of Speech, Blog, Blog Rhetorical, News, Sign Codes, Wall Signs.