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Too much pride? Resident asked to take down some American flags

By BYRON HENSLEY

hensley@dnj.com

Richard Zelek resides in a house on the corner of Charleston Court in an upscale neighborhood of fine Southern-style homes designed to create the feel of a traditional American "Main Street."

But his love for America now has him in trouble with the neighborhood's homeowners association, which feels that he's gone too far.

"We're not trying to bring down the neighborhood. We're just trying to be patriotic," said Zelek, who generally considers his Stratford Hall neighborhood a friendly one.

So he was dismayed when he received a letter from the Stratford Hall Homeowners Association asking him to reduce the number of American flags displayed at his home for the Fourth of July.

His Independence Day holiday decoration includes 48 small American flags posted in the ground outside the home. There had been 50, but two of them broke.

There are also flag-themed banners hanging from the gate. Two ceramic Dalmatian dogs on either side of the front door wear Uncle Sam hats and red, white and blue bows for the occasion. And there is the flag that is displayed on the flagpole year round.

"You've got the Fourth of July, and you've got troops supporting our country," Zelek said. "I don't think we're crossing a line.

"I live in a $300,000 house, and I don't care what the neighbors think," he said. "I'm not taking a single flag down to save my life."

Zelek said he had the same display last year with no complaint. This year, he received a letter from Gasser Property Management, managing agent for the Stratford Hall Homeowners Association Inc., with the following message:

"RE: Too many American flags being displayed on your property.

"We are getting complaints from neighbors about the amount of decor (approximately 50 American flags) being displayed in public on your property.

"Although we love our American flags as you do, we must request that you reduce the amount of decor (flags) in an effort to make the neighbors happy."

Efforts to contact the agency after normal business hours Thursday were unsuccessful.

"When I got (the letter), I thought about going out and putting a few more up, to be honest with you," Zelek said.

Zelek claims that after reading the bylaws of the homeowners association, he finds nothing prohibiting him from displaying the American flag or other outdoor decor.

He doesn't know who may have lodged the complaint.

"Maybe they ought to think about what the American flag really means — that's my opinion," he said. "It's the Fourth of July. We're supposed to support the troops. You're supposed to show your colors. They should worry more about fixing the gate or doing something about the stray cats mating in the yard."

Don Williams, who owns the house Zelek is living in, fully supports the display of colors.

"I've had several members of my family give their lives for their country," Williams said. "I've received an award from the Daughters of the American Revolution for my patriotism. I think it's a sad day in America whenever you're asked to take down the American flag."

Zelek's neighbors who were available for comment Thursday said they had not complained. City Manager Roger Haley, who lives across the street, said he likes the display.

"It doesn't bother me at all," Haley said. "I'm glad to see it. I think he he's done it for the last several years, and it looks fine to me."

Another neighbor, Doug Summar, also said it was not he who had complained. As to whether the display goes too far, "I hadn't thought about it," he said.

"I guess everybody's got their own opinion," Summar said. "I guess you can go overboard. You have to use a little bit of judgment. More is not necessarily better sometimes. I don't know how many flags it takes to say, 'I'm a patriot.' He's probably pushing it."

Zelek said the display went up about Memorial Day. He left it up until a couple of weeks after Independence Day last year, but in an effort to be neighborly, he said he will take them down after the Fourth, but not before.

"These are our flags. They will stay up until the Fourth of July. They will be down after that.

"We have only one America, and after 9/11, who knows?" he said. "We should appreciate every thing we have today."

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