Saugatuck City Officials Decide To Appeal Judge's Ruling Over Local Sign Ordinance
At Monday nigh’t meeting the Saugatuck City Council went into closed session and more than half an hour later opened the meeting to announce they will appeal an Allegan County judge’s ruling that the city’s sign ordinance is unconstitutional.
“The city is filing an appeal to preserve its rights and determine the impact on the community of the court’s ruling on its existing ordinance,” said Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier.
The case revolves around the conspicuously placed metal structures and multiple protest signs atthe home at 790 Lake St., in Saugatuck.
The homeowners assert their signage is art, while the city claims they are in violation of the city ordinance that regulates the number of signs a resident can place on the outside of their home.
On Wednesday, September 5, Allegan County District Court Judge Joseph S. Skocelas determined that a section of the city’s local sign ordinance relative to signs was unconstitutional, a ruling city officials thoroughly reject.
“The subject of the signs is not relevant, just the number of signs,” Saugatuck Planning Director Mike Clark told The Local Observer Monday.
And Harrier said he is very conscious of the fact that “the city cannot regulate opinion signs.” However, referring to the 14-month process the existing ordinance went through back in 2010 that involved input from business owners, community leaders and real estate agents, Harrier further noted,
“We didn’t put this sign ordinance together, the community put this together. This (ordinance) is what the community as a whole wanted.”
Life partners John Porzondek - a former Saugatuck City Council member who is again running for a seat on the municipal board - and James Serman have been very public and visible about not being pleased the city has not allowed them to place an awning on the second story of their home.
This is what the existing signs are apparently protesting.
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 Saugatuck’s rules regulating modifications to homes within the historic district.
City officials say they were responding to complaints from neighbors - one resident called it a “monstrosity” - when they issued the ordinance violation against the couple.
“This (appeal) is not about the property owners. We are really looking at how does it impact everybody else in the community,” said Harrier.
Both Porzondek and Serman say they have a right to put up their “artwork” and the judge’s recent ruling supports their position.
Shortly after the court ruling, Porzondek said the case was not about the awning, but about freedom of expression.
However, Porzondek did not say then why, during a pretrial conference with city officials prior to the judge’s ruling, he and Serman reportedly offered to drop their “sign/freedom of expression” case if the city would permit them to build the awning on their house.
The city officials told the pair they could not make such a deal as the issue had already been ruled on in court against the homeowners.