Mount Dora officials cite safety concerns over 'Starry Night' mural

House painting along West 6th Ave called a distraction to drivers

By Cathleigh Winningham - Producer

MOUNT DORA, Fla. - The city of Mount Dora says a controversial mural painted on a home is causing a safety issue.

The mural, inspired by 19th century Post-Impressionist Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, was completed last summer on a home along West Sixth Street in Mount Dora. 

The homeowners, who loves van Gogh's "Starry Night," hired an artist to paint the wall in front of their house because it was "plain." Afterward, they asked the artist to paint the house so it would match.

In a letter released Tuesday night, the city cited traffic concerns near the home, saying the "Starry Night" mural is distracting drivers.

Richard Barrenechea, the artist who painted the mural, said he believes city officials are just making another excuse and prolonging the months-long controversy.

"It's always been slow here (Old Hwy 441), not just because of the mural," Barrenechea said. "The mural is beautiful. I think it's made the town more interesting. It's a plus for the town."                     

City officials told News 6 that there have not been any recent crashes near the home, but they made the move to be proactive.

The city has claimed for months that the artwork is a violation of a city ordinance. A magistrate ruled earlier this month that the homeowners will be fined over $8,000 for the mural and $100 per day until it's removed. The total fine is now more than $10,000.

The homeowners' attorney, Jeremy Talcott, said the appeal in state court will be voluntarily dismissed, but an appeal will be filed next week in federal court.

"The city’s statement completely misses the point. Regardless of support or opposition to the Starry Night display, there is no ordinance prohibiting an artistic mural in Mount Dora. The fact of the matter remains that the mural does not fall under the sign code, which Mount Dora is using to try and destroy an artistic mural that they don’t like," he said. "The city is trying to rely on traffic concerns, despite the lack of any evidence that those concerns are real. But even if they were, those concerns can only be used by government to justify general laws that apply to everyone, not to justify arbitrary action against a single family."

Below is the full news release issued by the city of Mount Dora.

"The city of Mount Dora thanks all who have voiced their support or opposition to the residential property at 306 West 6th Avenue, which depicts the owner and artist’s rendition of Van Gogh’s Starry Night and other images.

"Our city values art and embraces our art community with a long history of strong support.  We also recognize that art is a subjective matter which people can be quite passionate about.  The responses from our residents and visitors to our city have run the gamut about this depiction.  Unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful at finding common ground with the homeowners.

"The city has concern that the striking and bold depiction on the outer wall and outside of walls of the two-story home may present a distraction to safe vehicle operation along the street which fronts the home.  The home is located in a residential neighborhood, on a two-lane right-of-way which connects Mount Dora to Eustis and Tavares, via a very heavily traveled Old Highway 441.  There are no sidewalks along the front of the wall and there is a steep drop-off directly across the road from the residence.  There is also a sharp turn in the roadway as drivers travel in and out of the downtown corridor, as well as, a change in the speed limit.  There is no safe place from which pedestrians can view the home from the street and no place for a vehicle to pull over, slow down or stop.  

"Another concern of the city is balancing the interests of the property owners in our residential neighborhoods, given that there are strong feelings and reactions to the current exterior presentation.

"The residential areas that are outside of the commercial district of Mount Dora enjoy the uniform neighborhood settings with well-maintained structures and landscaping; whereas, the commercial district of Mount Dora allows for a different appearance and presentation.  Together the residential and commercial areas make up the unique, southern charm that our city council has worked very hard to protect.  

"It is not the city’s intention to prevent anyone from enjoying art, but it is the city’s intention to protect the safety of everyone who lives in Mount Dora or comes to visit and to preserve the residential character of our neighborhoods.  We would hope our citizens would stand behind the city when it comes to making sure everyone is safe and content with their surroundings.  We would also invite anyone who has never been to Mount Dora to come and see all the wonderful attractions, restaurants and shops the city has to offer."

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