Court Order Be Damned: Homeowners Put Awning Back Up Without Judicial OK
The Saugatuck “awning boys” as some city residents have dubbed them are back at it having once again erected the controversial structure on the second-floor overhang of their home at 790 Lake St.
The problem this time for the two homeowners - John Porzondek and Bryan Serman - is that they appear to be in violation of an earlier Allegan County District Court order that told the pair to remove the structure in 2011.
A check with the court found no new court order allowing the men to put the awning back up and city officials once again say they will bring the matter before the judge that made the earlier ruling.
If the judge finds Porzondek and Serman willfully violated his court order, he could once again order its removal and possibly fine - or even sanction the men with jail time - for their actions.
The homeowners prefer to call the awning a “garden umbrella”, but either way it appears they once again want to test the legal authority - and patience - of Saugatuck city council members.
However, this time it appears the life partners are thumbing their noses at a county judge.
Many citizens have also contacted Saugatuck City Hall, along with The Local Observer, wondering how someone can so blatantly disobey and disregard a lawful order of the court.
“If they are allowed to get away with this, what kind of message does this send to others, including our children, that just because you don’t agree with a court order by a judge, you can just ignore it,” said Sarah Landers of Saugatuck Township.
“What these two (expletive) are doing is telling a judge to stick it up his rear-end and that just cannot be allowed if there is to be any respect for the law,” she added.
The awning has been a center of dispute in the community for years.
For their part, city officials are not backing down and say they plan to take the matter up with a judge once again.
“This is a clear case of contempt of a court order,” said Council Member Barry Johnson. “I think the judge should be made aware of it.”
The awning was erected in 2009 without an application to the city’s historic district commission. A later application for the awning to the commission was denied. The property owners appealed the decision to the state’s review board for such matters, which affirmed the commission’s denial.
After an appeal by the owners to the Allegan County Circuit Court in 2011, the court affirmed the state board’s decision and the district court ordered the awning to be removed in 2011.
Porzondek and Serman didn’t take their legal loss in stride and move on.
The pair placed the metal skeleton of the awning in their front yard and called it a 29-by12 foot sculpture.
They hung several signs on the framework chastising the city, calling for elimination of the Saugatuck Historic District Commission, and more.
The “artwork” drew protests from nearby neighbors, other city residents and even visitors to the area, many who called it an eyesore.
The city answered back by saying the two men had violated Saugatuck’s zoning ordinance regarding signage, which only allows three signs on any one property at a time.
The city issued the owners a civil infraction for the signs — but the district court later dismissed the citation. In his dismissal, Judge Joseph Skocelas called the city’s sign rules in its zoning ordinance unconstitutional and blatant censorship.
The city initially wanted to appeal that decision, but decided it would be too costly for city taxpayers and let the issue rest.
The city leaders made it clear, however, that the sign ordinance issue in no way has any bearing on the court order forbidding the men from erecting their awning or “garden umbrella.”
On Thursday, Dec. 18, the City Council discussed the return of the awning at its working session. Neither Porzondek nor Serman attended the meeting.
Prior to that meeting, Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier brought the matter city attorney Crystal Morgan who stated in a Dec. 17th letter the city had four options it could pursue:
1. File a motion in district court requesting a hearing for a judge to determine if the property owners were in contempt of court
2. Issue one or more new municipal civil infraction tickets to the property owner alleging violations of the historic district regulations,.
3. File a lawsuit in circuit court seeking an injunction for removal of the awning.
4. Or take no action at all.
Council Member Mark Bekken said should the city decline to act on the reappearance of the awning — which has been proven to violate city ordinance — the city might as well “roll over and play dead every time someone violates an ordinance.”
New council member Ken Trester addressed both sides of the issue, saying, “I understand that people can’t just flaunt laws openly, but on the other hand people say it doesn’t look that bad and we’re just creating a whole bunch of conflict in the community.”
Saugatuck Mayor Bill Hess told his fellow council members that he’s spoken with the property owners, as has Harrier.
“With all of this work, all of a sudden they put the awning back up. It’s like a big, ‘screw you,’” Hess said, who then apologized for his language.
Serman later told a reporter that the use of the word “awning” was inaccurate because the structure was not attached to the home and that it should be called a “garden umbrella.” He then declined further comment.
Whether Serman thinks there is a legal difference between an awning or umbrella and that somehow gives him and his partner a legal right to once again erect the structure on the home in violation of the past court order, remains to be seen.