Lake Street Protesters Told To Remove Most Signs Or Face More Legal Action
Some members of the community are calling the framing and signage in front of 790 Lake St. in Saugatuck, a “monstrosity” and are asking the city to immediately remove them, while the property owners responsible for erecting the display call it “art” and invoke the First Amendment to defend themselves.
Using ordinance codes, city officials refer to them as “opinion signs,” and asked property owners and life partners John Porzondek and James Serman to remove at least 11 of the what they have identified as a total of 14 signs, per the city’s violation notification of July 3.
The city gave the couple until this past Monday, July 8 to move on that request, but the couple have not done so.
Among the dizzying array of featured decorations on the front lawn is a central bush, circular in shape, decorated with what appears to be rolling eyes and horns on the top. Multiple and in different colors, the signs have different messages: from, “They did a McClendon on our property,” to “SHDC historic/ fix the fraud!,” and also “Return our roof,” to “WTF!!, ” and so on.
Asked about that last message, Porzondek told The Local Observer it was not referring to that vulgar phrase so often used by texters in abbreviated form meaning, “what the f—-,” but rather it meant, “Wait, Think, and Forgive.”
He explained, “I am forgiving them (city officials). They are stepping in my home.”
Those not familiar with the history of tensions and legal wrangling between city officials and the couple may not know that the dispute goes back to 2009.
The signs on Porzondek and Serman’s front lawn are protesting the city’s historic district regulation that does not allow the property owners to put up an awning umbrella on their second floor deck.
The spark began when the couple failed to file a formal request - and receive written approval from the SCHC as mandated by local law - to put up the awning.
Both men knew SCHC approval was required for certain changes they wished to make to the exterior of their home at that time as they did apply for and received SCHC approval for other renovations.
Asked Monday what the city would do if the property owners did not take down the signage, Saugatuck City Planning Director Mike Clark told the newspaper, “We will proceed with further code enforcement action, including but not limited to civil infraction tickets and legal action.”
Porzondek, a former Saugatuck City Councilman, concedes he himself is repulsed by his own “art,” but was compelled to do the signs.
“All I want is my umbrella (to be able to install it on the second floor porch of his home) and them (city officials) to leave me alone.”
He and Serman have led petitions drives to have the Lake Street area removed from the historic district and eliminate all together the commission entirely.
The couple have lost all their appeals - including in court - on the matter.
In 2011, for example, in a failed appeal, the Allegan County circuit and district courts ordered the property owners to take down the canopy that was installed on the front of the two-story house.
That ruling came after the couple’s appeal before the state historic district commission also failed when it upheld the local Saugatuck Historic District Commission’s denial for the awning.
In 2013, the couple again attempted to install what they referred to as a “freestanding repurposed awning,” arguing it acted as an umbrella, and as such was lawful under city code standards.
They took that structure down as well when the city told them it also a violation, a move Porzondek now says he regrets.