Wooden flag display annoys neighbors

Covenants violated by cutout, say some in Arundel community

October 13, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Janice Tippett says the wooden cutout, shaped like the continental United States and painted like a flag, is the perfect way to show her patriotism in this time of war.

But the sign in front of her Edgewater townhouse is under attack for violating covenants in her upscale development.

As people around her neighborhood and the nation have unfurled American flags since the terrorist strikes Sept. 11, the strict rules governing yard displays and virtually everything else about the exterior of the homes in residential neighborhoods like Tippett's still may apply.

"Patriotism is not an excuse to disobey rules," says Greg Abbott, who lives down the road from Tippett in the Landings section of South River Colony and is on the board of the South River Colony Conservancy. "The president of our country did say something about going about our business as normal."

Business as normal in South River Colony, where townhouses sell for more than $250,000 and single-family homes cost much more, means no objects in front yards larger than a foot tall without approval.

American flags - including the numerous ones flying from the front or back porches in Tippett's neighborhood or the small ones poking out from flowerpots - are OK.

Even in Columbia, which is known for its strict architectural covenants, some officials are turning a blind eye to patriotic displays that violate local rules. But officials in South River Colony have determined that Tippett's sign, which she picked up from a roadside crafts stand in Burtonsville, is not a flag and therefore is not allowed.

Tippett thinks they should give her a break.

"A lot of people are displaying flags," Tippett says. "Mine is just wood."

Tippett, 33, owner of Millennium Printing and Graphics in Laurel, says she thinks her sign, about 4 feet wide and 3 feet tall, is "beautiful" and "classy."

Because flags have been hard to find since the terrorist attacks, she says, the sign is a good way to show her pride in the country and support of the military.

Her roommate's teen-age sons put up the sign, which originally said "United We Stand" before the letters blew off Sept. 30, and they lighted it so that it could be seen at night.

The next evening, after Tippett watched a television show about the hijacked plane that crashed in rural Pennsylvania, she discovered the note from the neighborhood's management company. It said she had seven days to remove her display.

"It knocked the wind out of me," Tippett says.

She says the management company told her that four or five residents called to complain about the sign, which the neighbors said was the first thing you see when you enter that section of the development. Tippett's townhouse is on the corner.

Several neighbors say they think the rules should be bent for Tippett this time.

"If that is going to lift the spirits of people affected by this tragedy, why oppose it?" says Robin Kahler. "I hope they don't make her take it down."

Mary Jane Davison says she and her husband, Michael, who is on the homeowners association board, have complained about the decree telling Tippett to take the sign down.

"If that is the way she wants to show her patriotism, it should be all right," Davison says.

In some parts of Columbia, flying a flag without permission is taboo.

Still, there has been plenty of illicit red, white and blue waving from Columbia houses since Sept. 11, and community association leaders are looking the other way.

"I'm not touching it," says Sue Parker, covenant adviser in the Village of Long Reach. "I bet you if a house put up a 20-by-40-[foot] one I wouldn't do anything unless I got a complaint."

Abbott, the South River Colony board member, says he is not questioning Tippett's intentions.

"I don't have a problem with the patriotism part at all," he says, pointing out that Tippett could apply for a variance to get permission to display the sign. "I have a problem with it setting a precedent."

Abbott says he worries that someone will come along with an even larger display, such as a 10-by-20-foot board with a flag painted on it, and expect to get away with it.

Tippett says she understands why covenants exist in her community but doesn't plan to take down her display unless "they make my life a real nightmare."

"I don't have 10 or 20 flags in my yard," she says. "I'm not a fanatic. Let me keep it up."

She says she doesn't think she should have to apply for a variance, because her display, like the Halloween decorations around the community, is temporary.

"Right now we are at war," she says. "When the war is over and the flags come down, I'll remove mine. It's not a permanent fixture."

Sun staff writer Laura Vozzella contributed to this article.

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