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Appeal court upholds restrictions on yard signs

In rejecting a county judge's ruling, the court says the county can limit the size and number of signs on a homeowner's property.

[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Stefan Sieczkowski examines one of the signs in his front yard. A court ruled this week that the county could restrict the size and number of signs on private property. Sieczkowski had won an earlier case, which struck down the county's rules.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2001


SPRING HILL -- Stefan Sieczkowski's victory over the Hernando County sign ordinance was a short one.

Last spring, County Judge Peyton Hyslop deemed the rule an unconstitutional violation of Sieczkowski's freedom of speech. This week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal overturned Hyslop's decision.

"We find there is no unconstitutional regulation of messages inherent in either the ordinance definition of "sign' or in the regulation of the number and size of signs allowed in residential areas," the three-judge panel wrote. "The ordinance is on its face completely content-neutral and is a reasonable time, place and manner restriction on signs."

The county now will fully enforce the ordinance, which allows only one 2-square-foot sign on a residential lot, said Assistant County Attorney Kent Weissinger. It defines a sign as a message displayed or posted for public view.

Weissinger, who wrote a 25-page brief to the court defending the county's position, welcomed the victory. He had worried that, if Hyslop's order stood, the county would have trouble enforcing the sign ordinance because it challenged the way the government defined "sign."

"Now we've got the ammunition to go to Judge Hyslop and say, "Our ordinance is fine. Please enforce it,' " Weissinger said.

Sieczkowski has 15 days to request a rehearing on the case before the ruling becomes final. He said he would urge the judges to reconsider.

"I'm going to try to appeal," he said. "I'm going to try to find out what I can do."

In a neighborhood where most yard signs advertise property for sale, Sieczkowski for years has posted several handwritten, plywood signs in his yard attacking a neighbor whom he accuses of placing a curse on his home and killing his wife.

Neighbors have complained. The Spring Hill Civic Association once threatened to enforce deed restrictions but never followed through.

After the county Code Enforcement Department issued citations stating he violated the sign ordinance, Sieczkowski challenged the rule and won.

He also reduced the number of signs in his yard from eight to the current three -- one on his garage door, one in the front lawn and a faded, barely readable one on a fence. He has a fourth affixed to the back of his aging yellow station wagon.

"What idiots," he said of the judges who ruled against his position. "They support criminals. . . . The signs were protecting me for the past two years, maybe three. The signs were magic."

Sieczkowski said that residents should be allowed to display whatever message they want in their yards, even if the words are untrue. Anyone offended can sue, he said.

"A man should have his right to express his own pain publicly on his own lot," he said.

Weissinger said he expected any motion for rehearing to be rejected.

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