Saugatuck City Council Decides Not To Appeal Judge's Ruling In Sign Ordinance Case
The City of Saugatuck will no longer fight an Allegan County District Court’s ruling that a section of its sign ordinance is unconstitutional.
Saugatuck City Council members changed their minds and voted Monday night to not file an appeal of the earlier court decision following an approximately 30-minute closed session.
The ruling pertains to the house at 790 Lake St. which is owned by John Porzondek and James Serman.
The homeowners lost a years-long battle with the city over not being granted permission to build an awning on the second floor of their residence. That decision by the city was later upheld by the courts.
The couple subsequently posted more than a dozen signs on a metal awning framework which they put in their front yard.
City zoning officials said a current Saugatuck ordinance limits outdoor, non-political signs to three per property at any one time.
The owners claim their display of signs in front of their home - apparently protesting city’s regulations - is art while officials argue the two men are simply using the “ostentatious” display to publicize their unhappiness with earlier court decisions they lost over the awning issue.
“While the city disagrees with the district court’s decision (by Allegan County District Court Judge Joseph S. Skocelas on Wednesday September 5), the council has determined that it is not in the city’s best interest to pursue the appeal.
The cost to the taxpayers coupled with the uncertainty of the result and the likelihood of additional, lengthy appeals beyond circuit court level (regardless of which party prevails in the circuit court) weigh in favor of withdrawal,” according to a statement released to the media by council on Monday.
The decision is very different from the September 22 announcement following another closed session then when council announced publicly it would appeal Skocela’s ruling.
The city would do so, it was stated, on the grounds it wanted to “preserve its rights and determine the impact on the community of the court’s ruling on an existing ordinance,” according to Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier.
Citing complaints from neighbors about - as one nearby resident put it - the “monstrosity” the multiple protests signs and metal structures presented at 790 Lake St., the city issued ordinance violations against life partners Porzondek - a former Saugatuck City council member who is again running for a seat in the municipal board for the November election—and Serman.
The partners were unresponsive to the city’s concerns, at which point the city pursued legal action only to have Skocelas dismiss the city’s lawsuit citing the unconstitutionality of the Saugatuck ordinance.
“During the judge’s statements at the end of the hearing, he noted that a limitation on the number of opinion signs limits a person’s right to free speech and is thus unconstitutional.
The judge went on to explain that “it does not matter if it is one or 100 signs, cities can’t regulate the number of opinion signs,” Saugatuck Planning Director Mike Clark, who issued the ordinace violation against the couple, told the Observer Newspapers.
Porzondek and Serman have continued to be very public and vocal about the fact that the city has not allowed them to place an awning on the second story of their home.
It is an issue that has gone through several court battles, but the final ruling sided with the city’s determination the awning was in violation of city’s rule regulating modifications to homes within the historic district. Despite the two men’s claims they were defending the right to show their “art”, they reportedly tried to cut a deal with the city during a pre-trial conference that if they would be allowed to construct an awning, they would take the signs down.
A city attorney had to inform them the previous legal ruling prohibited any deal such as that.