Mount Dora mayor will apologize to 'Starry Night' mural owners as part of settlement

Mural will be grandfathered into future ordinances

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist, Jennifer Ortega - Reporter

MOUNT DORA, Fla. - The owners of the Mount Dora home swathed in a mural based on Vincent van Gogh's "The Starry Night" painting have reached a settlement with the city which includes a public apology from Mayor Nick Girone and $15,000.

The painting, inspired by the 19th century post-impressionist Dutch artist, was completed last summer on a house along West Sixth Avenue in Mount Dora owned by Nancy Nemhauser and Ludomir Jastrzebski.

Last July, the code enforcement department sent a notice to the owners, saying the painting was distracting to drivers on Old Route 44 and violated the city's land development code. The homeowners were fined $100 a day for the mural, which was capped at 31 days. In all, the city had issued more than $10,000 in fines when the homeowners filed a federal lawsuit. The owners said that forcing them to paint over the mural would violate their 1st and 14th Amendment rights.

A similar mural, painted by the same artist, Richard Barrenchea, just 16 miles away, was welcomed in Leesburg.

[PICS: Mount Dora mural]

On Tuesday, the homeowners and the city reached a compromise, bringing the yearlong lawsuit to an end and allowing the mural to stay.

Nemhauser couldn’t stop smiling after the settlement agreement.

“We’re saddened that we had to go through this process, but we’re happy that the city has come to understand that this is going to be beneficial for us all,” Nemhauser said. “We can go about our regular lives and continue on getting the house done. We were concerned about not being able to seal it and having it deteriorate, so we’ll be able to do that now.”

As part of the agreement, the homeowners and Girone will host a joint news conference at City Hall Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. where the mayor will apologize to the property owners.

The city will also pay Nemhauser and Jastrzebski $15,000 through Mount Dora's insurance carrier and close out the code enforcement lien on the property.

Also as part of the settlement, Nemhauser will serve on the city's newly formed special code advisory committee.

The homeowners have 180 days to complete the mural, which can stay as long as it is maintained. The mural will also be grandfathered into any future city ordinances or codes, according to the final settlement documents.

The local artist who painted the mural, Richard Barrenchea, said he’s happy his work gets to stay.

“It’s not only for me, it’s representing art, and it’s free expression of art, and mostly freedom for homeowners, for everybody,” he said.

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