Kara and Ben Wilkoff's fight for the right to display a Black Lives Matter flag over the objections of the Kensington Ridge/Cobblestone Village homeowners' association was headed for a February 27 virtual meeting with the HOA's board of directors, at which they hoped to find a mutually satisfactory solution. But now that timeline has apparently been disrupted by a February 22 letter from a lawyer representing the association, which states simply that the board can't approve the flag, since it violates language in the covenant for the Littleton neighborhood.
Meanwhile, a Thin Blue Line flag, a pro-police banner sometimes referred to as a Blue Lives Matter flag, is now being flown outside the house directly across from the Wilkoffs'. They haven't been able to speak to the owner, so they don't know if the banner is intended to counter their own flag's message. Whatever the case, Ben Wilkoff stresses that they have no problem with the display, even though some view Thin Blue Line flags as racially offensive (a blue stripe is laid out between two black stripes, with white stripes beyond).
"While we absolutely do not agree with the political perspective espoused by the flag," Ben explains, "we believe that this is actually a positive step forward for our neighborhood, as they are expressing their beliefs, and they should be freely able to do so."
The Wilkoffs put up the BLM flag after purchasing it in August and experienced no pushback from the HOA until December 24, when they received a so-called "courtesy notice" informing them that the flag violated HOA rules and had to come down. In response, Kara collected signatures from twelve neighbors who supported their right to keep the flag in place, and emailed the form to Professional Community Management Services, or PCMS, the company that manages the HOA on behalf of its board, on January 3 — the same date a second offense warning arrived.
On February 6, the couple received a note from PCMS community manager James Fletcher, informing them that their appeal of the original decision had been denied and the flag needed to be removed — after which Kara went public with their story on Facebook and through multiple media outlets.
Neither Fletcher nor the boardmembers he represents replied to Westword's initial inquiries about the flag. But on February 12, the board issued the following statement: "Our property management company is working with the homeowners to find solutions that meet the legal and social demands of this problem. We make every effort to apply our homeowners covenants consistently and impartially. Those covenants allow for signs only for sale and during elections. Now that the elections are over, we are working with the volunteer board and other homeowners to find a mutually agreeable outcome. We have notified all homeowners with signs on display of the sign restrictions, whether the message is sports or issue related. While we work toward agreement and possible updates to our covenants, we have suspended enforcement on the Wilkoffs' sign. We are confident that we can best resolve this or any disagreements by encouraging neighbors to dialogue directly with other neighbors."
On February 14, the Wilkoffs had an extended, and positive, conversation with a boardmember. The chat left them feeling hopeful about a path forward — but the tone of the February 22 letter from Altitude Community Law attorney David A. Firmin was quite different. "The Declaration at Article IV, Section 4.3 prohibits the display of signs on a Lot," it states. "The flag in question constitutes a sign and as such is prohibited by the terms and conditions of the Declaration. As a result, there is nothing that the Board of Directors could approve. Furthermore, the flag in question does not constitute an Improvement to property. Since this is not an Improvement to property, approval by the Board or Architectural Committee could not be obtained."
The letter continues: "As the flag was not, and could not, be approved pursuant to the terms and conditions of the Declaration, display of the flag constitutes an ongoing violation of the Declaration. We hope you understand that the Board of Directors has a continuing obligation to enforce the Declaration as written and cannot decide which of the restrictions it will and will not enforce. If the community as a whole desires to amend this particular provision, it should consider an amendment to the Declaration, but until such time, the Declaration must be enforced as written. As you strive to have a conversation concerning this matter, an amendment to the Declaration must be included in that conversation."
Kara shares her thoughts about this letter in one of her own, arguing that Firmin's communication "is in direct conflict with all of the communication we have received up until this point from PCMS on behalf of the board, which directed us to fill out the Architectural Review form and get it approved." She also questions the assertion that a flag should be categorized as a sign, and refutes "the claim that the flag does not constitute an 'improvement to the home.'
"This seems to be an entirely arbitrary designation," she concludes. "We believe that it does constitute an improvement to the home, and to our community."
The Firmin letter seems to imply that the Thin Blue Line flag would violate the HOA's rules, too. Would they also forbid American flags, like the one outside the house next to the Thin Blue Line house? Or would that qualify as an improvement to the property?
We posed these questions to PCMS manager Fletcher, who feels that "there is no contradiction" between the lawyer's letter and the board's previous statement. In his words, "The legal opinion was received by the board after the Association had already had communications with the Wilkoff family about the flag."
He adds that "American Flags, are protected by the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (CCIOA). The 'Thin Blue Flag' is not allowed per the covenants."
As for the Wilkoffs, Ben stresses that they're continuing "our fight to continue flying our Black Lives Matter flag."
This post has been updated to include a statement from PCMS manager James Fletcher.
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