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Clearwater not sure of next step in debate over murals

CLEARWATER — Now that the city has lost its fight against a fish mural, what now?

The City Council on Monday approved a $55,000 settlement in a federal lawsuit brought by the owners of a local bait and tackle shop that has a mural of game fish painted on an outside wall.

Then council members wondered: What next? Will the city still try to enforce its law against businesses' murals? Should it?

The answer from attorneys: We'll get back to you.

Herb and Lori Quintero, who own the Complete Angler at 705 N Fort Harrison Ave., contend that their mural is a work of art, not a sign. The city fined them, claiming the painting was an unauthorized sign and a code violation.

The dispute landed in federal court, where initial rulings by two federal judges led Clearwater's attorneys to believe the city was likely to lose a trial. So they negotiated a $55,000 settlement, which will pay the Quinteros' legal costs. And the mural stays.

A city law forbids murals on the outside walls of a business depicting a product the business sells. This is the second time a business owner has successfully challenged this in court.

Council member George Cretekos asked whether the city should take any steps to amend the law.

City Attorney Pam Akin said Clearwater's lawyers and planning staff are studying how other cities deal with murals. "We will at some point be coming back to you," she said.

Mayor Frank Hibbard voiced a concern that if the rules are loosened, then "certain types of establishments" could be able to put up their own wall paintings. "Fortunately we don't have many adult clubs left in Clearwater, but I don't want those types of murals," he said.

Council member John Doran said he had never been a fan of the law forbidding murals, and it had been awkward for him to defend it as a City Council member. He said the city needed to revisit its sign code.

"I am a sign anarchist," he joked. "I love signs."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Clearwater not sure of next step in debate over murals 08/03/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 3, 2009 8:21pm]
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