MINNEOLA — The old sailboat has been overlooking U.S. Highway 27 in Minneola for about 10 years now, advertising the Surf Bar & Grill. But after the business sat vacant for over a year, new business owner Mike Nardone discovered there was a problem. The non-complying signage was no longer grandfathered in, and Nardone ended up before a special magistrate on a code violation.

"The first business in the history of Minneola to go before a special magistrate," Nardone is quick to point out.

Nardone had 90 days to remove the boat or face a potential fine of up to $250 a day. His last day to come into compliance was Oct. 18, which coincidentally was the date of the most recent Minneola city council meeting.

Neither Nardone nor his boat were on the agenda that evening, but the matter became a topic of discussion anyway. It all started with a post on Facebook. The post asked the Surf’s supporters to come to the council meeting as a show of support, stating that the business owner and the city manager had met, and that the city manager had agreed to discuss with council the possibility of "accepting an arrangement" that would save the boat.

Turns out the city manager, Mark Johnson, didn't have to discuss the Surf.

About 60 Surf supporters came to the meeting, according to Nardone. Some undoubtedly were among the 400-plus who had already signed an online petition to save the boat. Some were members of American Legion Post 357, which started meeting at the Surf last month free of charge.

Post Commander Jim "Dusty" Douglas was one of the supporters at the Minneola meeting.

"I just wanted to show my support for Mike and the Surf, for what he's doing for the DAV, and for the American Legion," Douglas said.

Public participation comments are the first order of business at the Minneola meetings, so the Surf supporters started commenting. After a while mayor Pat Kelley asked if the business owner was in the audience, and asked what would make him happy.

Quoting himself several days later, Nardone said "I want to be treated just like your gas stations, your CVS's. I want to be treated just like everybody else."

More specifically, Nardone has asked to keep the boat, to put the LED sign he had previously requested in the belly of the boat and to have lettering on his building. In conjunction with that, he would remove the current sign at his driveway and replace it with a small entrance sign.

Council agreed to waive the $800 fee for a new variance request, and Nardone has not been assessed any fines at this point. On Oct. 24, Nardone filed the variance request. It was his second.

Nardone says that when he was found in violation due to the boat, he tried to file a variance request on the boat, only to be told he couldn't file the request unless he first came into compliance (removed the boat), so that's when he decided to ask for a larger sign instead. The large LED sign he requested was not approved, but he was allowed to go up from a 62 square foot sign to a 64 square foot sign.

"Most cities have sign ordinances for the safety of the citizens and the aesthetics of the community," Johnson said. "We're no different. We've always been willing to work with him (Nardone)."

Nardone's request for a variance goes before Minneola Planning & Zoning on Dec. 5. In the meantime, he has removed the lettering from the boat.

"The mayor, he did the right thing," Nardone says. "I'm cautiously optimistic that it will beneficial for both of us — the city and the Surf. This feud has to end."