Condo Flag Ban Has a Family Packing
Article Courtesy of The New York Times
November 1, 2002

SHELTON, Conn. More than a year after the terror attacks, the red, white and blue still blazes out from mailboxes, car windows and front porches all over this middle-class Fairfield County town. But here at the Sunwood Condominiums, Arthur and Jane Buchanan have reluctantly taken the American flag from its rod on the front of their home and packed it away.

Mrs. Buchanan said all their other possessions would soon follow. Last Friday the Buchanans put their unit up for sale to protest the Sunwood Condominium Association's crackdown on outdoor decorations, which forbids flag-flying except on six days each year. 

"We got the letter and when my husband was reading it, he said, `O.K., I'll take it down. But we're moving,' " Mrs. Buchanan recalled. 

Mr. Buchanan, a retired Bridgeport police captain, said the inconvenience of uprooting himself at 75 was nothing compared with the letter's demand. "Nobody's going to tell me where I can put up my flag," he said. "I was in Korea for 13 months, and a lot of my friends who died there would turn over in their graves if they thought I'd put up with that."

The association's board gave residents until today to remove their banners, decals and other patriotic paraphernalia or face a $5-a-day fine, but by this afternoon many of the flags were still up.

Loretta Kichard, like several residents, said she would stand her ground. "My son and my husband were both disabled veterans," said Ms. Kichard, a widow. "I'd like to see them try to take it down."

The flag fight is a twist on similar battles being fought around the nation as homeowners' associations often prodded by residents try to maintain a uniformity of style to keep up property values and keep the peace. But in the patriotic fervor that followed Sept. 11, the battle here has been unusually fierce.

The condo board has taken a pummeling from the local news media, including radio disc jockeys who have painted the board as unpatriotic while urging flag-fliers to stand defiant.

One radio station, WWYZ, even held a fund-raiser two weeks ago in a nearby commuter parking lot that yielded about $600 to help violators pay their fines.

The dispute started on Oct. 8, when owners of the 168 Sunwood units got a letter from the association board, citing the complex's bylaws and ordering them to remove all unapproved items attached to their units' exteriors or placed in a common area. The list of forbidden articles included hose racks, nonconforming light fixtures, statues, lawn furniture and "flags or other banners." 

The letter said the American flag could be displayed only on Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Sept. 11 and Veterans Day.

Paul Lupo, the association president and a condo owner here since 1997, said he and other board members never expected the letter to become such a flash point. He said they had acted after seeing too many violations of the association's code.

"Basically, we're asking those who are flying them to remove torn and tattered flags," said Mr. Lupo at the Sunwood clubhouse, where a flagpole flies the only association-approved, year-round American flag. "They've been out there for more than a year since Sept. 11."

Some condo owners support the flag restrictions. "There were always flags up, and nobody said boo," Maxine Baena said. "And after 9/11, there were a lot of flags. But since then, many of them have become bunched up on railings, sun-bleached and ragged. All the board did was ask them to clean it up. That's the difference between living in a house or a condo. In a condo, you give up some rights."

Mrs. Buchanan said she had seen no tattered banners. She pointed to the unit next door, where each day at dusk, Arnold Paine takes his flag inside.

Mr. Paine said he would keep doing so, and if the association fined him, he would not pay.

"You can't tell me I can't fly the flag," he said. "It's unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has come out with a decision that you can burn the flag, but it has never come out with a decision that says you can fly the flag, because it's never been an issue before."

Emanuel Margolis, counsel to the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, said those upset by the regulations might not be able to prove the ban unconstitutional because Sunwood was privately owned.

Mrs. Buchanan said that if she had known about what she called the "no fly zone," she never would have moved here eight years ago. "I'll find someplace else, maybe in Milford, where they have nice new condos," she said. "The first question I'm going to ask is, `Am I going to be able to fly the flag?' "

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