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Amid the campaign signs, family posts an ‘In Our America’ message — and their HOA objects

Sarah “Rah” Bickley and John O’Brien live in Woodcroft in South Durham. They were told to take down their “In Our America” sign from their yard, but not campaign signs.
Sarah “Rah” Bickley and John O’Brien live in Woodcroft in South Durham. They were told to take down their “In Our America” sign from their yard, but not campaign signs. Submitted photo

With Election Day just days away, three political signs peppered a yard in South Durham: One for Anita Earls for N.C. Supreme Court. Another against the six proposed North Carolina constitutional amendments. And another, “In Our America.”

All are about the same size.

Yet Woodcroft homeowners Sarah “Rah” Bickley and John O’Brien were told by their homeowners association to take one of them down or they’d face fines.

It was the “In Our America” one, with those words in a blue field. Sentences that follow in alternating red and white lines like the flag are: “All people are equal. Love wins. Black Lives Matter. Immigrants and refugees are welcome. Disabilities are respected. Women are in charge of their bodies. People and planet are valued over profit. Diversity is celebrated.”

After Bickley and O’Brien got a letter from the community manager telling them to remove the sign from the yard, they did. But they aren’t happy about it.

Bickley said she thought the sign they put out two months ago was “a wonderful way to make a positive statement and say this household believes in loving each other, not hating each other.”

She questions why this sign, but not the others, needed to be taken down.

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Sarah Bickley’s “In Our America” sign, which she had in her yard in Woodcroft in South Durham until the homeowners association told her to take it down. Submitted photo

The community manager cited the homeowners association rules to her:

“Except as may be required by legal proceedings, no sign shall be erected or maintained on any Property by anyone including, but not limited to, a Property Owner, a tenant, a realtor, a contractor, or a subcontractor, until the proposed sign size, color, content, number of signs, and location of sign(s) shall have been approved in writing by the Company. Refusal or approval of size, color, content, number of signs, or location of sign(s) may be based by the Company upon any ground, including purely aesthetic considerations, which in the sole and uncontrolled discretion of the Company seems sufficient.”

“I could apply to the architectural review board of the HOA to get permission for the sign, but I shouldn’t have to. This should be an issue of free speech,” Bickley said.

Now the sign is in a window, still visible from outside.

What the HOA says

TR O’Neill is the community manager for Woodcroft Community Association, part of CAS, Inc. He said the property management for the association changed two years ago, and that the rules are part of state law and the HOA’s covenant. He told The Herald-Sun the issue is with the kind of sign.

O’Neill cited North Carolina statute 47, which governs planned communities. Woodcroft allows for sale and for rent signs along with campaign signs, he said. But that’s it.

“Any campaign sign is fine,” he said.

But as for all the other signs, he tells homeowners to take down “every one I see.” He goes through a process to document them.

“It’s very simple. We follow North Carolina law, that’s all,” O’Neill said.

‘Out of touch’ with Durham

Kaaren Haldeman is one of Bickley’s neighbors in the Autumn Woods section of Woodcroft. Her family has lived there for 16 years.

Haldeman said that since the property management took over, things have changed. She got a letter about needing to mow their lawn. And another about cleaning her mailbox. She said another neighbor was asked to remove a Black Lives Matter yard sign.

“It was something that just really rubbed me the wrong way, asking someone to take down those signs, especially here in Durham where we’re a politically aware, politically active community,” Haldeman said.

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Campaign yard signs in front of the home of Sarah Bickley and John O’Brien, who live in Woodcroft. They were told to take down an “In Our America” sign that includes the phrases “Black Lives Matter” and “Love Wins.” Submitted photo

Haldeman has the same Anita Earls for Supreme Court and “Vote Against” the amendments signs in her yard that Bickley and O’Brien have in their yard. Haldeman said she put a “Unity” sign in her yard a few years ago and was not asked to remove it.

Haldeman said that threatening Bickley and O’Brien with fines is ridiculous. She said that Woodcroft has been a “live and let live” neighborhood.

“We have so many people in our neighborhood doing really great work in our community. We aren’t maintaining our lawns like they might in other neighborhoods,” Haldeman said. “Whoever’s running the show now is really out of touch and out of step with the community it’s managing.”

Bickley and O’Brien have had campaign signs up in their yards in years past.

“I’ve never had a peep from the HOA about campaign signs before. I think they don’t know what to make about this sign. It’s a statement of philosophy. It’s a liberal philosophy. It makes me wonder if the HOA is picking and choosing, one week from the election, coming down on this one particular sign we have,” Bickley said.

She’s not pleased with the changes at Woodcroft. They have lived there since 2004.

“There is a general issue in the country with HOAs becoming private governments in effect and going beyond the scope they should have in people’s lives. There’s a reason to have a HOA but ... it’s an overreach,” she said.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan
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