NJ Vietnam vet fighting to fly U.S. flag on pole at his house
HOWELL — "I never in the history of this country thought that I'd be fighting to put an American flagpole in my yard," Michael Burtt said.
That's how the 72-year-old Vietnam War veteran explains his ongoing standoff with the homeowners association for his Monmouth County development.
Burtt said he found out only after moving into Equestra at Colts Neck Crossing that there were regulations against residents putting up their own flagpoles. So he tried attaching An American flag to his home, which is allowed by the homeowners association of the active adult community, in the Farmingdale section of Howell.
But, Burtt said, the flag blew off three different times and left behind damage to his house's siding.
In addition, using a ladder to deal with a home-mounted flag is no easy feat for him, as he's had two knee replacements, shoulder replacement, and multiple surgeries.
"You name it, I had it," Burtt said.
So, he took that flag off his home and it's now standing on a makeshift pole, on his front lawn — one the association wants removed.
Burtt said when he asked this past spring what to do to get the rule against flagpoles changed, he was told that he would need to gather at least 130 residents' signatures on a petition.
"I did exactly what they asked me to do," he said, and collected 164 signatures over a month's time and brought the petition to the homeowners association meeting in May.
Weeks later, he received word that the flagpole still wouldn't be allowed, he said.
Burtt then submitted to the association the “Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005” which Pres. Bush signed in 2006.
It states a "condominium association, cooperative association, or residential real estate management association may not adopt or enforce any policy, or enter into any agreement, that would restrict or prevent an association member from displaying the U.S. flag on residential property within the association with respect to which such member has a separate ownership interest or a right to exclusive possession or use."
The law does, though, also state it doesn't permit displaying the flag in any way that's inconsistent with "any reasonable restriction pertaining to the time, place, or manner of displaying the flag of the United States necessary to protect a substantial interest" of an association.
Ilene Jablonski, vice-president of marketing for property management company First Service Residential, said her company sent a compromise offer dated July 31, on behalf of the Equestra At Colts Neck Crossing Home Owners Association. Burt said he received it Saturday.
• Paying for and installing a stronger bracket to keep an American flag attached to Burtt's home
• Forming a flagpole committee of volunteers to raise and lower the three American flags that stand at the various entrances to the gated community
• Installing a fourth flagpole, to fly the American flag in a "community garden area."
The offer came with a 15-day window in which Burtt could accept or reject the proposal, while also calling for Burtt to remove the makeshift flagpole from his property.
Burtt said the proposal to put a new bracket on his home isn't "going to do me any good."
And, he said, he's not interested in the time, energy and association expenses for maintaining a committee to raise all the flags around the development.
In the Vietnam War, he said, he was "shot at, mortared at, and rocket attacked at — and to walk away from being shot down on two airplanes, I'm lucky to even be here today and yet I gotta fight for this now? It's just totally unacceptable to me as an American veteran."
The Equestra Homeowner's Association has an August meeting slated for Thursday evening, Aug. 8. Burtt said he plans to go and continue to press for approval.
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