wins battle, right to fly flag
Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel
By Christopher Sherman
Posted April 22, 2004
Homeowners in a subdivision of tile-roofed
homes on the banks of Lake Tohopekaliga south of Kissimmee will have Dennis
Meek to thank when they run American flags up poles in front of their homes.
After a couple months of frustrated back-and-forth
letter writing, it only took a few minutes Wednesday for Meek, a Vietnam
veteran, to persuade executives from the developer of his Bellalago community
to change its homeowners manual to allow flagpoles in front yards.
"I'm extremely happy with the outcome,"
said Meek, 56. "They knew I wasn't going to back down. I love the American
flag. I love America. I just have to have it."
Meek contended all along that a new state
statute protected his right to put up a flagpole even in a deed-restricted
community. Dennis Getman, executive vice president and general counsel
of Avatar Holdings, drove from Miami to see Meek's flagpole for himself.
Meek pulled it from the ground, explained it could be shortened to 16 feet
and said the flag was 3 feet by 5 feet.
That was enough for Getman.
"I will recommend it to our architecture-review
committee," Getman said. "I appointed all of them, so I think it should
Meek seized the moment to also ask permission
to fly a prisoner-of-war flag on federally recognized holidays, which Getman
also agreed to recommend.
"I'm sorry we couldn't settle this at a
lower level," Meek said before he and his wife, Teresita, invited Getman
to a homemade meal.
After being told in February that his flag
display violated homeowners association rules, Meek took it down and quickly
became an expert on a state law passed in 2002 that says homeowners can
display "one portable, removable United States flag."
A former Marine in Jupiter battled for
years to keep his flagpole, even facing foreclosure on his home. It was
George Andres' case that attracted Gov. Jeb Bush's attention in 2002 when
he signed the new law and then presented a flag that flew over the state
Capitol to Andres on Flag Day.
"It's pretty cut and dried," Meek said.
After he sent his last letter to the property manager, he decided he would
wait until May for a reply, then head to the courthouse to file papers.
But the reply came in a phone call Monday that asked him to put his flagpole
back up so those with the power to change things at Avatar could take a
Meek's phone has been ringing a lot lately.
Bush's office called recently to get the basics and to ask Meek to provide
an update after he met with the Avatar executives.
The homeowners manual required a homeowner
to get written approval from the architecture-review committee for any
flag display that is not an American flag up to 2 feet by 4 feet on a 3-foot
pole attached at a 45-degree angle from the house. Getman had prepared
that manual in 2001 before the new law went into effect, so it will be
changed to reflect the statute, he said.
Meek's flagpole could become the community's
"There's no need for future applications
if it's consistent with this," Getman said.
A homeowner and Marine veteran won a similar
battle against The Villages in Lake County in 1996 after management issued
notices to residents with flags flying in front of their villas. After
complaints, management backed down and changed its rules.