Have you heard about the Van Gogh-inspired “Starry Night” house in Mt. Dora? The home has become a local roadside attraction over the course of the past year.
When we first caught wind of this unusual code-enforcement story, it seemed to contradict the heart of this creative hub for artistic souls. Mt. Dora is truly one of the most artistic, quaint communities in the Sunshine State that prides itself on supporting the arts. The controversy not only grabbed our attention it garnered national publicity.
In a nutshell, homeowners Nancy Nemhauser and Lubomir Jastrzebski commissioned artist Richard Barrenechea to paint a plain masonry wall in front of their home on Old U.S. Highway 441 near downtown Mt. Dora. They have a 25-year old son with autism who is comforted by Van Gogh-inspired colorful designs which is what motivated them to paint the wall in the first place. Well, city officials didn’t agree with the family’s art selection. To make matters worse, they abandoned their original claim that the interpretation of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” was a graffiti code violation and determined it was an illegal sign.
They trampled the couple’s First Amendment rights by ordering them to remove the mural and threatening significant fines. It’s interesting to note that home colors and murals are not addressed in the City of Mount Dora codes. Additionally, this home is not in a homeowners association (HOA) and is not deed-restricted.
At one point, city officials told them the masonry wall had to match the house. The homeowners directed Barrenechea to carry the “Starry Night” theme over to their house as well.
Mt. Dora residents have shown their support by writing letters and sending emails to the homeowners, the artist and the city. In addition, an online petition by residents was created to urge city officials to keep the mural. The Change.org petition has garnered over 12,000 signatures to date.
The homeowners reached a milestone this week when the Mount Dora City Council voted unanimously to settle the lawsuit, allowing them to keep their mural. In addition, Mt. Dora Mayor Nick Girone provided them with a public apology.
“This is a huge win for Nancy and Lubomir,” Jeremy Talcott, attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, said. “The agreement is a total victory for their liberties and those of everyone in Mount Dora. The family will get to complete the mural, and the city will revise its unconstitutional sign code.”
The “Starry Night” house will be exempt from any current or future ordinances so long as they keep the murals in good condition. If they repaint, the homeowners will lose their exemption.
Nemhauser and Barrenechea said they are extremely grateful for the positive support they received from the community and beyond. They are ready to put the situation behind them and “live happily ever after” in their Starry Night house.
More information about Nancy and Lubomir’s story is available at pacificlegal.org/starrynight.