In a battle over a rigid neighborhood covenants restricting what homeowners can and can't do at their homes, a Mountain Shadows neighborhood association is aggressively pursuing legal action against a woman and her temporary basketball hoop.
For more than a year, Susan McConnell has battled the Parkside at Mountain Shadows Owners Association for the right to keep an unobtrusive gray portable basketball hoop in her driveway.
"It's beyond the realm of ridiculous," she said.
McConnell's saga began last summer, when she was told she had to put away the hoop when it was not in use because the neighborhood covenants specifically prohibit basketball hoops. The neighborhood, which was built beginning in 1985, is one of the original developments at Mountain Shadows in northwest Colorado Springs.
Bruce Beers, the former property manager for the homeowners association, said that they tried to be reasonable with McConnell. Though her hoop had already been standing in her driveway for more than four years, McConnell was asked to put hers away after three or four other families put up their own basketball hoops in violation of the covenants, Beers said.
Too heavy to move
However the single mother of two questioned the reasoning for having to put away the hoop whenever it was not in use. For example, what if her children take a break from playing to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water, and the convenant police happen to drive by at the same time and slap her with a violation, McConnell wondered.
The hoop, though portable, is too heavy for McConnell, to move by herself. When the McConnells go away on vacation, neighbors help her move it inside.
When she was notified about the violation, McConnell, who has lived in her home for 8 1/2 years, decided to apply for a variance that would allow her to continue to keep the hoop in her driveway on a permanent basis.
Initially, she thought the technicality could easily be corrected. After all, another nearby home, she noted, had a permanent basketball hoop installed over their driveway for more than a decade, until the owners' children grew up, moved away and they sold the house.
In addition, McConnell lives in a cul-de-sac, and her driveway and basketball hoop are not visible from the main road. In fact, the hoop is not visible to anyone but her neighbors, all of whom signed a petition in support of the variance that would allow McConnell to keep her hoop.
McConnell submitted her request to the architectural control board that oversees such petitions. At the time, McConnell herself was a member of that very committee. Her neighbor, C.J. Moore, was then the chairwoman of the committee, and Moore's husband also served. All three abstained from voting on the matter, citing a conflict of interest. The request was approved.
But then something weird happened, McConnell said. Shortly after the variance was granted, Moore was removed -- without the courtesy of a formal notification -- from the architectural control committee, which she had chaired since 1994.
For her part, Moore said she learned of her ouster when the newly appointed chairman of the committee called her and asked for her files.
"The reason I was given that we were being taken off was that we could only have three members on the architectural control committee," Moore said. "Although now there are about six members"
Though McConnell had already received her variance, the president of the homeowners' association, Chuck Fowler, claimed that Moore (who had abstained from voting on the matter) had not really been the official chairperson at the time of the vote. McConnell said that Fowler asked her to resubmit her request and, believing it was a technicality, she did so. Several weeks later McConnell was informed her hoop had been denied after all.
"That really set me off and was really maddening," she said.
However, believing that she had legitimately retained the right to keep her basketball hoop up, McConnell did not disassemble the equipment.
"A month or two later I got this nasty letter from [the homeowners management company's] attorney, saying if don't cease and desist we're going to take you to court," McConnell said. "So now I thought, I'm in deep doodoo."
Still, McConnell refused to back down.
Earlier this summer, the homeowners association began fining McConnell $10 a week as long as she keeps her hoop in her driveway, a cost that she was told would increase over time to $50 a week. She has refused to pay the fine, currently at about $300, and hired a lawyer.
So far she has spent $1,000 in legal fees.
"Based on my attorney's counsel I'm in good legal standing," she said. "The protracted nature of this whole thing has long felt like harassment and intimidation, and I'm seriously considering my own suit at this point to bring this thing to culmination. Otherwise I can be fined to eternity.
"It just boggles my mind that this has been taken to an extreme," McConnell said. "We're looking at a real Stepford community where there aren't supposed to be any signs of life."
What's the big deal?
Homeowner association president Fowler declined to comment on the case, citing pending litigation.
However, Fowler described the case as a "relatively small, inconsequential story about our neighborhood."
"I don't think that it's in our neighborhood's interest to deal with this situation in your newspaper or any newspaper," he said. "We're not looking for headlines, were looking to get cooperation from all of our owners who live in our neighborhood to abide by our community rules -- that's what you do when you live in a covenant-controlled community.
"Not everyone is going to cooperate, and we spend 95 percent of our time dealing with a few people who don't want to go along with the program."
Susan Sills, a professional community association manager who now oversees the 178-member homeowners association, said that McConnell's request should never have been initially approved. After all, she said, covenants are covenants and need to be strictly adhered to.
"If [the architectural control committee] would have read the portion that says basketball hoops are prohibited, they never would have approved it," Sills said.
Two kids watching
However, Moore said that in the past, the architecture control committee has issued variances on occasion. For example, when the development was first built, satellite dishes at the time were huge, and were prohibited. However, the now-smaller dishes are generally approved, as long as they are not placed in an obtrusive site.
Other convenant restrictions prohibit woodpiles and clotheslines. However, McConnell said that the arbitrary nature -- for which she believes she was unfairly targeted -- of the events leading up to her current predicament is unsettling.
"My basketball hoop is not ugly; it's not an eyesore; it's been there for more than four years; there's a precedent set that allows it; and it just goes on and on," McConnell said. "There are days when I just want to say forget it and take the thing down.
"But I've got two kids watching how I deal with this situation. On one hand it's such a trivial matter; on the other hand it's an opportunity to show it's important to take a stand. I think my kids have a right to recreate on their own property at will and I just can't figure out in my mind why this is an issue."