'Airstream Ranch' is art, says lawyer fighting code enforcers

Frank Bates stands in front of his version of the famous “Cadillac Ranch.” The 7 1/2 Airstream trailers are planted in a field in Dover near Exit 14 of Interstate 4.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Frank Bates stands in front of his version of the famous “Cadillac Ranch.” The 7 1/2 Airstream trailers are planted in a field in Dover near Exit 14 of Interstate 4.

DOVER — The half-buried trailers greeting motorists on Interstate 4 won't be unearthed without a fight. Frank Bates has until midnight Sunday to remove "Airstream Ranch," the 7 1/2 trailers that stand like leaning dominos a block from his business, Bates RV.

"It makes a statement, and I think that is the purpose of any art," said attorney Luke Lirot, who represents Bates in an ongoing fight with the county.

Standing before the trailers nose-diving into the ground, Lirot said Friday that Bates will not seek to change the property's agricultural zoning, which officials accuse Bates of violating with his monument.

Code enforcement officials in March gave Bates 30 days to remove them or face fines of up to $100 a day. Bates presented experts who said the display was a work of art.

Bates will appeal the decision in circuit court and ask the county to suspend any fines until the matter is resolved, Lirot said.

Since his troubles with the county came to light, Bates said he has received dozens of supportive e-mails from around the country. He modeled the display after Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, where vintage cars have been partially buried in a nearly vertical position since 1974.

Bates compared his plight to the owners of Carhenge, 38 rusty cars taken from junk yards in the late 1980s in rural Nebraska and arranged similarly to England's Stonehenge. Residents fought that, too, but the assembly of junked autos still stands.

More than a dozen people, many of them Bates RV employees, wore white "Save Airstream Ranch" T-shirts as Lirot made his case Friday. Bank officer Kris Bond of Palm Harbor wore one of the T-shirts, too. Bond said she noticed the Airstreams from I-4 and rallied after learning they could be removed.

"It's so appropriate for what it represents," said Bond, 43.

Some of his neighbors have called the Airstreams an eyesore and the source of unwanted traffic. Lirot said critics should lighten up.

"Probe within your heart what the artist was trying to convey, and you'll get it," he said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (813) 661-2431 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

'Airstream Ranch' is art, says lawyer fighting code enforcers 04/11/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 10:46am]

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