Orlando Sentinel (Florida)
BYLINE: Stephen Hudak, Staff Writer
CLERMONT — An auto mechanic embroiled in an ongoing land-use dispute with Clermont has refiled a lawsuit against the city in federal court, asking a judge to prevent city officials from enforcing a new sign ordinance.
Wayne Weatherbee, owner of Bee’s Auto, contends the new measure is as flawed as the city’s former sign ordinance because it infringes upon his constitutional right of free speech.
The new ordinance strictly classifies “political” signs as only those that advertise a candidate or cause “subject to election.”
The core dispute involves property across the street from Bee’s Auto downtown.
Weatherbee bought that site in 2006 for $250,000 from A and S Automotive, according to Lake County property records.
Clermont officials say he must obtain special permission from the city because new auto-repair businesses are not permitted in the central business district. Weatherbee disagrees, arguing that the site was an automotive-repair and storage facility for more than 30 years, and the land use never changed.
Weatherbee put up a dozen plywood signs on that site several years ago to protest the city’s position.
Fined by the city, Weatherbee successfully challenged Clermont’s old sign ordinance two years ago in federal court and was awarded $62,000 in attorney fees by a judge. The city then rewrote its sign ordinance.
Under the new measure, Weatherbee’s signs would fall under a “noncommercial” designation, which would require him to take down at least nine.
In the refiled lawsuit, Weatherbee’s lawyer pointed out that the new ordinance — which was drafted with legal assistance from the Florida League of Cities — does not limit holiday lights or seasonal decorations and therefore provides less protection for political speech than for “a Valentine’s display.”
The lawsuit asks for the new sign ordinance to be declared unconstitutional and seeks attorneys’ fees.
It also asks the court to declare that Weatherbee has a “vested right” to use the property as an automotive service and storage center and award him compensation and damages from the city. YES
Copyright 2012 Sentinel Communications Co.