Tom and Courtney Myers moved into their home in Cherry Creek Farm more than a decade ago, and for many years, they enjoyed their cookie-cut sliver of the moderately affluent neighborhood. Their split-level house, which they share with their aging black Labrador, Max, boasts glinting dark wood floors in the kitchen and dining area, Victorian armchairs and a small cabinet of top-shelf liquor in the living room.
The 33-year-old Englewood development, with 216 houses, seems like a nice place to live, maybe even to start a family. It features two greenbelts and is nicely tucked to the south of the city's hubbub, but not too far from the business epicenter. The grass is green in the summer, and the sidewalks and yards are nicely kept.
A construction contractor, Tom hails from Rhode Island, while Courtney, who was born and raised in Denver, works as an executive assistant at an investment firm. They don't seem like the type to cause trouble, and they certainly never meant to start a war.
But when Tom started asking questions about a proposed nine-foot fence that would run down an edge of the neighborhood and be paid for with homeowners' association dues, he opened the floodgates for all manner of grievances and kicked off a hellish, almost surreal battle with the Cherry Creek Farm Homeowners Association that consumed the couple for two years and landed in them in a court battle with the HOA.
The fight pitted neighbor against neighbor until association meetings became shouting matches that elicited numerous appearances by Arapahoe County sheriff's deputies. One neighbor even filed assault charges against another after an altercation at one of the meetings.
"We just stood up to them, that's all," says Tom, rummaging through the towers of boxes of court documents that once filled the Myerses' living room. "Some of the homeowners don't know they have rights. The frustration is, there's no governmental body that enforces state law. You have to sue your own HOA to enforce the law."
The state legislature may soon consider a bill to create an ombudsman who would be able to mediate or assist in disputes between HOAs and home-owners. But even if it passes, it's too late for Cherry Creek Farm, where some fences will never be mended.
The problems began in early 2008, when the Myerses' next-door neighbor, Colleen Larsen, asked the HOA to consider building a higher fence along the community boundary line that would block out the less-than-aesthetically-pleasing apartment-complex parking lot that abuts the housing development, including the Myerses' yard.
Cherry Creek Farm residents believed the parking lot had been the entry point for a string of recent burglaries in the neighborhood.
Moreover, Larsen didn't like the sight of rusted campers and late-night approaching headlights, so she'd done what any smart homeowner would do: She ran and was elected to the volunteer HOA board.
"It was security more than anything else," Larsen says. "I mean, obviously, when you back up to a parking lot, you're at greater risk for crime, and the fact of the matter is, the fence — it's falling down. It's 32 years old."
In March 2008, the Myerses and about a dozen neighbors on Emporia Circle received notice that the HOA was considering the nine-foot fence and that the homeowners would have to pay for it, as it would be located on their properties.
Tom Myers was immediately and fundamentally opposed to the idea. "I know the parking lot's there," he explains. "I bought it that way. But when did they get the right to say let's take money out of the budget and just bill us back? It's ridiculous."
So, as the notice requested, Myers wrote his feedback in the space provided: "I OPPOSE TO THE BOARD FUNDING IN ANY WAY THIS FENCE." He also gathered signatures from seven of the eleven residents along Emporia Circle and took them to the March 28 HOA meeting to make his case.
At that meeting, the three-member board told Myers that the notice was only a questionnaire, designed to gather information. Satisfied, Myers left. But just minutes later, according to the minutes from that meeting, the board told its management company, Castle Rock-based TMMC, to ask the Arapahoe County planning division for approval of the taller-than-normal structure.
When he found out, Myers was "pissed." The planned fence would have to be paid for with a special assessment, a bill to homeowners on top of the yearly $497 dues per house that go toward maintenance on everything from sidewalks to signs in the neighborhood. So, hell-bent to prevent it, Myers marched to the next meeting, on May 19, 2008, with an attorney.
After listening to Myers's loud opposition to the fence, the board reluctantly agreed to abandon the idea and promised to seek a refund from the county for the $500 permitting process.