MOUNT DORA, Fla. (FOX 13) - A Central Florida home is at the center of a standoff between the city and its owners.
The city says the home’s exterior paint - a mural of Vincent Van Gogh's iconic “Starry Night” – amounts to graffiti. The homeowners say forcing them to paint it over violates their First Amendment rights.
Homeowners Nancy Nemhauser and Lubomir Jastrzebski painted their Mount Dora home and the concrete barrier near the roadway so their adult son, who has autism, could find his way home were he to wander away.
But the city of Mount Dora, Florida says the blue and yellow swirls covering their home violates code and fined them $100 a day, up to the value of the home, until the mural is painted over.
The family now owes more than $10,000 in fines as they fight to keep the artwork.
“Mount Dora is supposed to be an artsy city,” Nemhauser said. “Unless you have a house that has a wall painted with Van Gogh.”
The homeowner's attorneys filed a temporary restraining order against the city to stop the ongoing charges.
They say they told the city their plan before the project even began and were told by three city employees that no special permits were required to begin painting.
“We are not in a homeowner's association and we don't have to comply with the strict guidelines that homeowner's associations put on their residents,” Nemhauser said.
The couple has been vocal about the unintentional battle they’ve entered, fighting back against the city with a lawsuit in federal court that claims their First Amendment rights are being violated.
They say it's normal to hear shouts of support from gawkers and see dozens of fans posing for pictures in front of the home, often leaving notes of support behind for the artwork that even includes scenes from Mount Dora hidden inside.
But critics say the house is a distraction to drivers.
“I don’t like the portrait of Van Gogh. I think it’s very haunting. If you look at his eyes as you're going around the corner, it's kind of frightening,” said neighbor Dawn O’Rourke.
Mount Dora has until the end of the week to respond to an amended complaint the homeowners filed, and an attorney serving as outside counsel for the city said she cannot comment on the ongoing litigation.