Monday, January 19, 2009

Code enforcemeng gone amuck in Clearwater

CLEARWATER - When code enforcement officers went fishing for violators, they hooked a real lunker named Herb Quintero, owner of the Complete Angler tackle shop.

The result was a months-long battle over a 400-square-foot mural showing an underwater scene flush with game fish. Quintero calls the mural on the side of his business a work of public art. The city calls it an illegal business sign.

The fight landed in court, and Quintero continues to stir public opinion in his last-ditch effort to shake the code enforcement hook.

The controversy has prompted one city official to call for retooling the ordinance.

Quintero said he bought the run-down building, 705 N. Fort Harrison Ave., in December 2007 and invested more than $500,000 in renovation.

"It was an old dilapidated fruit stand," he said. "Now, it's one of the nicest tackle stores around."

Just after opening in February, Quintero commissioned local artist Matt Evansen to paint a mural.

"This is a blighted area of Clearwater," Quintero said. "It's always been a very bad area. I tried to improve it by adding artwork and cleaning the place up in general."

Within a couple of months, city inspectors noticed the mural.

"They came by and cited me for double signage," Quintero said.

The mural's size and content are at issue, a city spokeswoman said.